AEP Legislative Update Fall 2023

November 9, 2023

The 2023 Legislative Session came to a close on October 14, which was the deadline for Governor Newsom to sign or veto all bills that had been passed by the Legislature before their September 14 deadline.  AEP followed and engaged on several high profile issues this year and we expect to see more significant policy proposals introduced when the Legislature returns to Sacramento for the 2024 Session on January 3. 

On July 10, Governor Newsom signed infrastructure and budget legislation with stated goals of accelerating infrastructure projects across California that help build the 100% clean electric grid, ensuring safe drinking water and boosting the state's water supply, and modernizing the state transportation system. The legislation was the culmination of an urgent push by Governor Newsom to quickly pass these streamlining measures.  The Governor argued it was necessary to take full advantage of the expected tens of billions of dollars coming from the Federal Government.

As originally proposed, Gov. Newsom's reform package included 11 bills. One of the most controversial pieces was an acceleration of the Delta Tunnels project, long opposed by local community and environmental groups. But this item did not make it into the law.  As finally enacted following negotiations with the Legislature, the content was consolidated into five bills which, among other things, included the following:  

Expanded NEPA Delegation for various transportation projects

Allows expedited judicial review under CEQA for specified energy, transportation, water, and semiconductor projects

Clarifies the scope of internal agency communications that must be included in the record of proceedings, which excludes non-substantive logistical communications, such as scheduling emails and calendar invitations

Extends the date by which an ELDP may be certified by the Governor from January 1, 2024, to January 1, 2032. This bill extends the date a certified project must be approved by the lead agency from January 1, 2025, to January 1, 2034

Recasting the Fully Protected Species Classification

Several significant CEQA-related bills passed from the Legislature and were signed by the Governor.  Among them are bills related to housing, CEQA litigation, and CEQA process.  Below are some of the highlights.

SB 423 (Wiener) aims to recast and extend until 2036 the existing multifamily housing project streamlining process that was created by SB 35.  This bill would expand the ministerial process created by the law to also cover the Coastal Zone, which has drawn opposition from the California Coastal Commission. Additionally, the bill relaxes the labor standards required to utilize the exemption. The bill passed out of the Legislature on September 11, and is now on its way to the Governor's desk.
AB 1633 (Ting) limits the ability to challenge housing projects under CEQA and makes other changes until 2031. The bill expands the definition of disapproval under the HAA to include agency's failure to make a CEQA determination, failure to adopt certain environmental documents and abuse of discretion. The bill had broad support from housing advocates but drew opposition from environmental groups. The bill passed and was sent to the Governor's desk on September 13. 

SB 69 (Cortese) requires local agencies to file all notices, including subsequent and amended notices, with the State Clearinghouse, and for OPR to maintain the notices on the Clearinghouse for at least 30 days.  The bill was in response to the Alviso v. City of San Jose regarding a Microsoft data center and complaints from a local organization that did not receive email notice it had requested, so missed its opportunity to challenge a project.  The court rejected the lawsuit, leading to Sen. Cortese, at the behest of environmental justice and labor groups, introducing this bill.

AB 1307 (Wicks) provides that noise generated by occupants shall not be considered a significant impact on the environment for residential projects.  This bill is in response to the People's Park decision earlier this year which stated that UC Berkeley did not properly consider the effects of noise from young people at a proposed student housing project. On August 28, the bill passed and was sent to the Governor's desk for signature. He signed the measure on September 7. AEP has been supporting the bill and providing technical feedback to the author's office.

The AEP Legislative Review Committee is enjoying the brief fall recess while Legislators are home in their districts but knows things will get busy again in January when the Legislature introduces a fresh batch of new bills.  Also, the committee is beginning to plan its Lobby Day for 2024.