BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    



                                                                    AB 1268


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          Date of Hearing:  May 11, 2015


                       ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES


                                 Das Williams, Chair


          AB 1268  
          (Steinorth) - As Amended May 5, 2015


          SUBJECT:  California Environmental Quality Act:  exemption for a  
          housing project


          SUMMARY:  Eliminates the exclusion of projects located within  
          the boundaries of a state conservancy from an existing  
          California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exemption for  
          specified housing projects.  


          EXISTING LAW:  


          1)CEQA requires lead agencies with the principal responsibility  
            for carrying out or approving a proposed project to prepare a  
            negative declaration, mitigated negative declaration, or  
            environmental impact report (EIR) for this action, unless the  
            project is exempt from CEQA (CEQA includes various statutory  
            exemptions, as well as categorical exemptions in the CEQA  
            guidelines).
          2)Requires metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to include  
            a sustainable communities strategy (SCS), as defined, in their  
            regional transportation plans, or an alternative planning  
            strategy (APS), for the purpose of reducing greenhouse gas  
            emissions, aligns planning for transportation and housing, and  
            creates specified incentives for the implementation of the  








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            strategies, including CEQA exemption or abbreviated review for  
            residential or mixed-use residential "transit priority  
            projects" if the project is consistent with the use  
            designation, density, building intensity, and applicable  
            policies specified for the project area in either an approved  
            SCS or APS.  [SB 375 (Steinberg), Chapter 728, Statutes of  
            2008]  


          3)Exempts from CEQA residential, mixed-use, and "employment  
            center" projects, as defined, located within "transit priority  
            areas," as defined, if the project is consistent with an  
            adopted specific plan and specified elements of a SCS or APS  
            adopted pursuant to SB 375.  [SB 743 (Steinberg), Chapter 386,  
            Statutes of 2013]

          4)Establishes abbreviated CEQA review procedures for specified  
            infill projects, where only specific or more significant  
            effects on the environment which were not addressed in a prior  
            planning-level EIR need be addressed.  An EIR for such a  
            project need not consider alternative locations, densities,  
            and building intensities or growth-inducing impacts.  Infill  
            projects may include residential, retail, commercial, transit  
            station, school, or public office building projects located  
            within an urban area.  [SB 226 (Simitian), Chapter 469,  
            Statutes of 2011]  

          5)Exempts from CEQA any residential development project,  
            including any subdivision, or any zoning change that is  
            undertaken to implement and is consistent with a specific plan  
            for which an EIR has been certified after January 1, 1980,  
            unless substantial changes or new information require the  
            preparation of a supplemental EIR for the specific plan, in  
            which case the exemption applies once the supplemental EIR is  
            certified. (Section 65457 of the Government Code).
          6)Exempts from CEQA specified housing projects which meet  
            detailed criteria established to ensure the project does not  
            have a significant effect on the environment, including  
            excluding projects within the boundaries of a state  








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            conservancy.  [SB 1925 (Sher), Chapter 1039, Statutes of 2002]  
             The SB 1925 exemptions are available to:  


             a)   Affordable agricultural housing projects not more than  
               45 units within a city, or 20 units within an agricultural  
               zone, on a site not more than five acres in size; 
             b)   Urban affordable housing projects not more than 100  
               units on a site not more than five acres in size; and,


             c)   Urban infill housing projects not more than 100 units on  
               a site not more than four acres in size, which is within  
               one-half mile of a major transit stop.

          7)Requires local agencies to file notice of the SB 1925  
            exemptions with the Office of Planning and Research (OPR),  
            however, failure to file this notice does not affect the  
            validity of the project.  [AB 677 (Firebaugh), Chapter 677,  
            Statutes of 2003]

          THIS BILL eliminates the exclusion of projects within the  
          boundaries of a state conservancy from the SB 1925 exemptions.


          FISCAL EFFECT:  Non-fiscal


          COMMENTS: 


          1)Background.  CEQA provides a process for evaluating the  
            environmental effects of applicable projects undertaken or  
            approved by public agencies.  If a project is not exempt from  
            CEQA, an initial study is prepared to determine whether the  
            project may have a significant effect on the environment.  If  
            the initial study shows that there would not be a significant  
            effect on the environment, the lead agency must prepare a  
            negative declaration.  If the initial study shows that the  








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            project may have a significant effect on the environment, the  
            lead agency must prepare an EIR.
            
            Generally, an EIR must accurately describe the proposed  
            project, identify and analyze each significant environmental  
            impact expected to result from the proposed project, identify  
            mitigation measures to reduce those impacts to the extent  
            feasible, and evaluate a range of reasonable alternatives to  
            the proposed project. 

            SB 1925, enacted in 2002, exempts from CEQA certain  
            residential projects providing affordable urban or  
            agricultural housing, or located on an infill site within an  
            urbanized area, and meeting specified unit and acreage  
            criteria.  The stated intent of the Legislature in enacting  
            those provisions included "creating a streamlined procedure  
            for agricultural employee housing, affordable housing, and  
            urban infill housing projects that do not have an adverse  
            effect on the environment."  Projects located within the  
            boundaries of a state conservancy were excluded from the SB  
            1925 exemptions, but not from other existing exemptions  
            available for residential projects.


          2)Need and purpose of this bill.  According to a Legislative  
            Analyst's Office (LAO) report entitled "California's High  
            Housing Cost: Causes and Consequences" published on March 17,  
            2015, the authors conclude that CEQA requirements are a  
            significant factor in causing increased housing costs in  
            California.  According to the author, although there are  
            existing laws exempting various housing projects from CEQA,  
            these projects are not exempt if the site is located within a  
            state conservancy, which covers 56% of the state. The author  
            states:
            
          Eliminating the overbroad preclusion of conservancy land, while  
          still maintaining other existing preclusions against development  
          upon land with wildlife value, would prove to be a practical and  
          careful reform to CEQA in order to achieve a balance between  








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          environmental protection and California's critical need for  
          low-income housing.
          


          3)LAO report conclusions unsupported.  The conclusion that CEQA  
            is a significant driver to inhibiting housing development in  
            California was based on data between 2004-2013 from OPR that  
            found the average delay of a project associated with an EIR  
            was 2.5 years.  Using this single value to draw this  
            conclusion is problematic for several reasons:

             a)   Due to a few very long delays, the average value is  
               inflated upwards as the middle value (median) is two years  
               and is more appropriate to use for analytical purposes.

             b)   To conclude that EIRs are a significant cause of  
               California housing supply shortage, knowing the proportion  
               of EIR projects in relation to total housing projects is  
               necessary.  If EIR projects represent a very small  
               proportion, it would be inappropriate to conclude that  
               EIR's have a significant effect on development.   
               Unfortunately this data is not available.

             c)   Additionally, EIR projects that could be categorized as  
               frivolous need to be separated from others that might  
               provide larger cost reducing benefits in the long run.  For  
               instance, if a two-year EIR process avoided larger and  
               long-term environmental quality costs to the community and  
               future development, the EIR process should not be  
               categorized as a costly delay.  Unfortunately, this  
               analysis was not undertaken in the report.

          4)The SB 1925 exemption is rarely used.  When a local agency  
            determines that a project is exempt from CEQA pursuant to SB  
            1925, the local agency must file a notice of exemption with  
            OPR.  According to OPR, it has received just four notices of  
            exemption pursuant to the SB 1925 exemption since 2004.   
            Curiously, two of those projects, affordable housing  








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            developments in the City of Inglewood and the City of Goleta,  
            appear to be located within the general jurisdiction of the  
            State Coastal Conservancy.  
            
            Besides the restriction of a project not being located on  
            state conservancy lands, there are numerous other criteria  
            that must be met to receive an exemption through SB 1925.  The  
            lack of use of the SB 1925 exemption is likely due to a  
            combination of the complication and difficultly of meeting all  
            its conditions and the availability of other exemptions with  
            broader application and/or fewer conditions.

          5)Other CEQA exemptions are available for housing projects  
            within state conservancies.  Although SB 375 and SB 743 offer  
            CEQA exemptions for only limited "transit priority areas,"  
            both SB 226 and Section 65457 of the Government Code offer  
            broader opportunities for housing projects to be either exempt  
            from CEQA or subject to abbreviated review requirements.  All  
            of these existing exemptions apply to housing projects located  
            on state conservancy lands. 

          REGISTERED SUPPORT / OPPOSITION:




          Support


          None on file




          Opposition


          Environmental Action Committee of West Marin









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          Natural Resources Defense Council


          Sierra Club California







          Analysis Prepared by:Paul Jacobs / NAT. RES. / (916) 319-2092