One new state environmental law that local governments are keeping a close eye on is SB 375 (Senate President Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento).
The implementation of this new, landmark law is just now getting underway. And state lawmakers have already introduced bills looking to shape how the law is implemented and enforced.
Signed into law last year, SB 375 requires the California Air Resources Board (CARB) by 2010 to provide regions with greenhouse gas reduction targets for cars and light-duty trucks. For cars, these targets would have to be met by 2020, while the light-duty truck sector targets would have to be met by 2035, under the law.
Local governments are then allowed to come up with their own plans to meet these greenhouse gas targets.
The main point of the law: To transition Californians away from residential development that is reliant on cars, and instead promote more walkable, transit-friendly communities in order to cut gasoline use and thus greenhouse gas emissions.
During the legislative process last year, SB 375 was considered a very controversial bill and faced opposition from local governments and developers, who feared that the state would take control of local land use decisions.
In order to advance the bill last year, environmentalists agreed to a compromise in SB 375 with developers and local government groups that development projects would be exempt from certain environmental review requirements if the projects are seen reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the long run.
When Schwarzenegger signed SB 375, he said he wanted to see follow-up legislation in 2009 to allow for more of this environmental streamlining of projects under “CEQA,” or the California Environmental Quality Act.
CEQA requires local governments and developers to assess and mitigate, if necessary, harmful environmental impacts of new development projects.
But environmentalists are usually opposed to CEQA “streamlining” and often use the law to take local governments to court to force “greener” projects.
In response to the signing of SB 375 last year, state lawmakers have introduced a number of bills seeking to revise SB 375 further:
For example, Steinberg has introduced SB 575, which is expected to be amended soon to address some remaining SB 375 issues. The bill currently does not contain language addressing SB 375 directly.
SB 575 is expected to be heard in the Senate Transportation committee April 21.
Steinberg committed last year to carry a bill in 2009 to at least discuss with stakeholders and the governor’s office more CEQA streamlining opportunities. However, environmentalists are expected to strongly oppose expanding the types of CEQA exemptions that SB 375 enacted.
Environmentalists and most Democrats in the Legislature are also expected to oppose the following new bills seeking to revise SB 375’s requirements:
– Republican Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries has introduced AB 782, which would essentially block environmentalists or others from suing local governments once they have adopted an SB 375 strategy that CARB has signed-off on.
– Democratic Assemblywoman Alyson Huber has introduced AB 1204, which would expand CEQA exemptions in SB 375 for all different types of development projects. Under SB 375, only residential or mixed-use residential projects can get CEQA exemptions.