October 1, 2013
On Friday the Governor signed SB 743,
a CEQA bill that blends home court politics (go Kings!) with
game-changing reforms for the rest of California. While some observers –
including me – were exasperated with the process, the final product is an important step forward for sustainable communities in California.
But there’s work to be done, if we want the best aspects of SB 743 to
be successful – and that work must begin immediately. SB 743
eliminates traffic congestion and its proxy, Level of Service (LOS), as
the focus of CEQA’s transportation analysis. That’s great news for bike
lanes, bus rapid transit, and infill projects that are essential
strategies for healthier, greener communities.
But this provision won’t take effect immediately. First, we need a
new methodology to replace traffic and LOS. That new methodology will
be developed by the Office of Planning and Research (OPR), and it must
“promote the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the development of
multimodal transportation networks, and a diversity of land uses.” But
here’s the kicker: OPR must develop a first draft by July 2014.
The million-dollar question OPR has to answer is: what comes next,
after LOS? Should the new methodology focus on vehicle miles traveled
(VMT), as SB 375 does? Or should it focus on trip generation (the number
of car trips a particular building is likely to produce)? Should it
only focus on an individual project, or look at the neighborhood and the
region as a whole? How will it impact traffic impact fees, a tool many
communities rely upon to fund transportation improvements? These are
the types of questions that OPR must answer in the next 9 months. It’s
an exciting and daunting task, and one that demands the attention of
advocates and CEQA experts. We have to get this right.
Another place we need to get it right is around displacement. For a
brief moment, the primary CEQA bill included our recommendations that
OPR produce a study on the phenomenon of economic displacement, where
low-income residents are displaced from their neighborhoods by
escalating rents and property values. Our modest language provoked a
firestorm of response. Normally cooler heads such as Bill Fulton and
Don Perata slammed the provision and attacked environmental justice
advocates and the “meddling” foundations that fund them.
These misguided over-reactions demonstrate the work ahead. No one
can deny that rents are escalating in desirable transit-rich
neighborhoods, and these changes are driving unprecedented demographic
shifts. But there is clearly disagreement about how to address it – or
whether we even should address it. This issue is not going
away. We desperately need to have a conversation about displacement and
what to do about it. We intend to keep this issue on the table, and we
hope the next round will be more civil and constructive.
ClimatePlan, along with Greenbelt Alliance and the Planning and
Conservation League Foundation, was proud to convene a dialogue of
diverse interests who came together in support of ending LOS and
addressing displacement. Our July 19 letter,
signed by ten diverse organizations, was the first to call on Senator
Steinberg to make these needed reforms. Now that SB 743 has become law,
we’re committed to ensuring its successful implementation.
(Note: SB 743 is a wide-ranging bill with many provisions, most of
which weren’t covered here. Ascent Environmental has produced a good summary. )