AEP Legislative Update April 2021

Addressing COVID-19 remains the defining issue for policymakers in Sacramento, from the Governor to legislators. In the first two months of the year the legislature passed, and Governor signed numerous budget bills to spend federal stimulus money on COVID relief, such as financial support for renters and landlords and tax breaks and stimulus money for restaurants and other small businesses. However, the Governor and Legislative leadership are also acting on other important issues facing the state. An early budget deal was reached to accelerate some funding for wildfire prevention efforts that will allocate $536 million towards fuel breaks and other projects.

Like he has done much over the last year, Governor Newsom has also continued to issue executive orders to declare new state policies. In response to the newly recognized drought, he issued a formal drought declaration for Sonoma and Mendocino counties, leading to water restrictions in those areas. It’s likely such orders will expand if the drought worsens over this year with water supplies short in many areas. Governor Newsom, under pressure from environmental justice advocates, also issued an executive order regarding fracking. Following the failure of a bill that would have banned new fracking permits immediately, Newsom issued an executive order that would ban the issuance of new permits in 2024.

The Governor also appointed a new state Attorney General to replace Xavier Becerra who joined President Biden’s Administration. Assemblymember Rob Bonta was appointed to the position. One of his first acts as AG this week was to announce the expansion of the DOJ’s Bureau of Environmental Justice.

The California Legislature is in full swing, despite the limitations due to COVID-19. The Capitol is not yet fully open to staff or the public. Committee hearings are spaced out and only a small number occur at any given time. Additionally, almost all public testimony is done via telephone line rather than in person. Still, the legislature introduced over 2,000 new bills. While committees are being more strict than usual, well over 1,000 of those bills have passed through the policy committee process and are now in fiscal committees. The policy committee deadline is the first week of May, by which all bills must be out of policy committees or will be considered dead for the year. Then, fiscal committees will consider the financial implications of bills for two weeks, followed by Floor Session when all bills must pass over to the opposite house.

AEP is watching several CEQA related bills. SB 44 (Allen) would create an Environmental Leadership program like AB 900 did in the past, but for transportation projects. The bill would give them expedited judicial review in some cases. AEP is monitoring AB 819 (Levine) which would make some changes to CEQA noticing provisions and require more documents to be posted to OPR. AEP has also provided feedback on AB 1486, which would have created a CEQA exemption for local governments to adopt new housing elements but now would limit the ability of courts to issue injunctive relief against housing elements being challenged under CEQA.

AEP is also closely monitoring many climate adaptation and sea level rise bills. SB 1 (Atkins) would require the Coastal Commission to consider sea level rise in resource planning and require regional entities to mitigate the effects of sea level rise, along with establishing a grant programs to assist in the planning and implementation at the regional/local level. SB 1 is awaiting consideration in the Senate Appropriations Committee. AB 897 (Mullin) is the combination of over a half-dozen Assembly bills on the topic. The bill would authorize local entities to form regional climate networks and would direct OPR to develop standards and required content for regional climate adaptation action plans. The bill is awaiting action by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

The state Senate introduced a package of housing production bills which it hopes will help spur more housing production in the state. Many of these bills were introduced last year but stalled in the Assembly, so this will be round two. The bills in the package are the following, with their current status:
  • SB 5 (Atkins) establishes a statewide affordable housing bond for $6.5 billion. This bill was pulled from consideration this year.
  • SB 6 (Caballero) allows certain housing developments to be built on land zoned for office or retail commercial. This bill has passed from the Governance & Finance and the Housing committees.
  • SB 7 (Atkins) recasts and expands the AB 900 Environmental Leadership program, which requires expedited judicial review of CEQA challenges to certain types of projects, with a new emphasis on housing projects. This bill has already passed over to the Assembly and has passed from the Assembly Natural Resources Committee.
  • SB 9 (Atkins) allows certain duplexes and lot-splits in single-family residential zones by-right. This bill has passed from the Governance & Finance and the Housing committees.
  • SB 10 (Wiener) grants local governments the ability to rezone parcels close to job centers, transit and existing urbanized areas to allow up to 10 residential units without undergoing CEQA review under certain circumstances. This bill has passed from the Governance & Finance and the Housing committees.
  • SB 15 (Portantino) establishes a grant program to incentivize local governments to rezone idle retail sites for specified housing. This bill passed from Senate Housing Committee.
AEP continues to monitor and analyze bills as they are amended and move through the committee and floor process. Also, with the Governor’s announcement that COVID restrictions from the state will likely be lifted by June 15, there is beginning to be serious talk of the Capitol reopening to the public before the 2021 session ends in September.