AEP Legislative Update - August 2019

The California Legislature is nearing the end of business for 2019, with September 13th being the final day of Session.  During the final month of session, legislators and the Governor will be busy negotiating and dispensing over one thousand bills that are still navigating the legislative process.  They have already taken major actions on wildfires, water, housing and homelessness, but have more to do on all those fronts before September 13th.  The Legislature is also considering several CEQA bills that remain alive.

One such bill is AB 782 (Berman), which would codify a categorical exemption for transfers of ownership of interests in land in order to preserve open space, habitat, or historical resources, thereby eliminating the exceptions for project-specific effects which apply to a categorical exemption. AEP has elected to support this bill as it is supportive of land preservation efforts. This bill will strengthen and clarify the existing regulation that a public agency can fund and acquire property to preserve open space, habitat, or historical resources without a CEQA analysis. Further, it will clarify ambiguity when a jurisdiction is entering a Disposition and Development Agreement (DDA) earlier on in the process.

Another is AB 1560 (Friedman). This bill would revise the definition of “major transit stop” to include a bus rapid transit station, which is served by a local circulator or a local serving on-demand transit program. This is another bill AEP has chosen to support, as we are supportive of legislation that promotes use of alternative transportation modes which reduce reliance on the automobile, including bus rapid transit systems.  The definition of “major transit stop” is of course used in many other places, including CEQA streamlining provisions, SB 35 provisions, and some grant programs.

AB 147 (Quirk-Silva) would expand a CEQA exemption for homeless shelters during a declared local emergency to additional cities and counties.  The statutory exemption is extended to local governments that want it, and this bill would expand from the current small list to many new cities and counties, including Orange County.

AEP is also watching AB 168 (Aguiar-Curry), which would require that no housing project approved under SB 35 streamlining be located on a tribal cultural resource.  AEP members have expressed some concern that this may delay streamlined permitting under SB 35 and require tribal consultation on all projects.  However, the language of the bill is still being negotiated by stakeholders.

Following early statements from Governor Newsom calling for CEQA streamlining for affordable housing like stadiums receive, the Legislature introduced many but only moved several bills to implement such a proposal.  SB 744 (Caballero) would create several CEQA exemptions for supportive housing projects under the state’s No Place Like Home program and local efforts.  While that bill is moving, the effort to streamline review of affordable housing projects, SB 621 (Glazer), stalled.

Regarding housing and homelessness, the state budget included nearly $2 billion in funding for affordable housing and other housing grants and enacted new processes and punishments for cities that do not properly make available land suitable for housing development.  The budget also included over $1 billion in homelessness response efforts, included grants to local governments as well as additional funding for state programs.

On wildfires, the Legislature pass and Governor Newsom signed AB 1054 (Holden) which changes dramatically the wildfire mitigation planning and activities to be undertaken by the investor owned electric utilities and the California Public Utilities Commission.  It also establishes a large fund to be used to pay claims to victims of future fires.  Additionally, the final state budget included hundreds of millions of additional spending for wildfire prevention and response.  This includes additional funding for forest management, response equipment, and sensor technologies throughout the state’s high fire risk regions.

Lastly and relatedly, the Legislature has proposed several bills regarding egress routes, general plan safety elements, and building retrofits.  SB 182 (Jackson) would require safety elements to include a retrofit strategy to help reduce the risk of property loss during wildfires.  AB 747 (Levine) would require safety elements to include an examination of current evacuation routes and consider them in various emergency scenarios.  Finally, AB 394 (Obernolte), if numerous conditions are met, would create a CEQA exemption for projects to construct a new egress route for a community.

AEP’s Legislative Committee will continue to monitor and weigh in on legislation in the final weeks of session and report back on the changes coming down the pike.