Darrell Steinberg to Unveil CEQA Reform Bill Tomorrow

Feb 21st, 2013 | Posted by

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg today said he intends to propose a bill tomorrow that would reform the California Environmental Quality Act.

11343 West on Market from Fell to Van Ness

The proposal is co-authored by Senator Michael Rubio, but it has also been shaped by the blue-green alliance of unions and environmentalists who have joined forces to oppose bad reform:

“There will be an outline of a bill with detail intent,” Steinberg said in an interview with The Chronicle editorial board Thursday. Or, as his press secretary Rhys Williams explained, what comes out Friday “will signal the intent of where the law wants to go.”…

The opposition from organized labor, including the 2.1 million-member California Labor Federation, has prompted Steinberg to hit the pause button, he acknowledged.

However, Steinberg is already making one huge concession to the opposition. “The standards-based approach won’t fly with the Legislature,” he said, referring to a key provision previously favored by Rubio that would allow a standard set by other federal, state or local ordinances to override CEQA when they come into conflict.

Steinberg says he is all for other proposed reforms, like streamlining the CEQA process; making it easier for infill projects that adequately address noise, traffic and other environmental issues to get a quicker pass; and prohibiting last-minute legal “document dumps” by project opponents that can stretch court proceedings into eternity.

Environmental groups had objected loudly to the so-called “standards-based approach” based on a concern that it would create a major loophole, especially if state or federal standards were ever weakened.

Steinberg’s other reforms that he described are potentially useful, but there is one significant problem – his mention of addressing “traffic” issues. One of the things that has generated the most demand for CEQA reform is the so-called “LOS problem.” LOS stands for “level of service” and it consists of letter grades for how much traffic congestion there is on a given road. LOS F is considered the worst, LOS A the best. If a project could create more traffic and degrade LOS – even if it is environmentally friendly and would reduce carbon emissions – then under CEQA, there are grounds to block the project.

The LOS problem is what allowed one person to sue under CEQA and hold up the implementation of the San Francisco Bicycle Master Plan for four years. As a result, sustainable transportation advocates have been hopping mad about the LOS rule in CEQA for many years now. The SF Bike Coalition has declared war on the LOS provision, and in 2006, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to declare “auto LOS to be an inappropriate measure of a given project’s environmental impact, and requesting that the Planning Commission act to replace LOS with a more meaningful measure, such as vehicle trip generation.”

At the Atlantic Cities in December 2011, Eric Jaffe declared the LOS provision to be The Transportation Planning Rule Every City Should Reform. In 2009, a three-part Streetsblog series Jeffrey Tumlin of transportation consultants Nelson\Nygaard called the LOS rules “the single greatest promoter of sprawl” in California.

I’ve always understood, and often agreed with, the environmentalists’ concerns and objections to some aspects of the early elements of a possible CEQA reform proposal. I would hope that they in turn share the concern that transportation and sustainability advocates have had for many years with the flawed LOS provision and urge that it be fixed in any CEQA reform bill. That would be a great way to use this reform proposal as an opportunity to do some good and not just try to mitigate something that might not be good.

Tomorrow is the deadline for submitting new bills, and Steinberg is acting to ensure that there is a bill for CEQA reform in place before that deadline hits. We may not see a fully articulated bill and many key details may still be under development, to be proposed as an amendment to the bill at a later time. Overall this seems like a potentially workable start for meaningful CEQA reform, but I know I speak for many transit advocates when I say I would really like there to be an LOS fix in this bill.

  1. Derek
    Feb 21st, 2013 at 21:34

    Any argument that LOS will suffer from a project, makes the false assumption that adding supply is the only way to eliminate a shortage. Why has this assumption been allowed to go unchallenged for so long?

    VBobier Reply:

    I have No idea.

  2. Reality Check
    Feb 22nd, 2013 at 06:09

    High-Speed Rail Won’t Be Four Tracks on the Peninsula, Officials Hope
    Legislation calls for limiting HSR on the Peninsula to 2 tracks along the Caltrain right-of-way, not 4.

    State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) is unveiling legislation Friday at the Palo Alto Caltrain station that would close loopholes and ensure that money from Prop 1A, the high-speed bond measure approved by California voters in 2008, would be used to build a two-track blended system from San Francisco to San Jose. Funds originally allocated to the Peninsula segment cannot be transferred to other segments of the high-speed rail.

    VBobier Reply:

    That bill if passed would require an override of a Governors veto & that has never happened in California…

    joe Reply:

    And Gov Brown will oppose The Bill on the grounds that locking the Statewide money solely to the Peninsula’s project puts the money at risk.

    It can’t be moved if say, the City of Palo Alto Menlo Park or Atherton sues the CAHSRA, which they have, and uses the threat of delay by litigation to control how the project is engineered.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    It hasn’t happened in a really long time and it most definitely will not happen in this instance. But Hill’s bill won’t even make it out of the Senate.

    Jerry Reply:

    FOUR track PLANNING all the way.

  3. TomW
    Feb 22nd, 2013 at 06:59

    Ontario has an EA process not unlike California’s. The big difference is that for most projects, the first step in an EA is prove a Need For The Project exists. However, transit projects are allowed to skip that – in effect, the law decrees there is always a need for transit, so you don’t have to prove it.

  4. Eric
    Feb 22nd, 2013 at 09:35

    Removing the LOS provision is problematic. It is the primary tool by which mitigation measures for roadway improvements are funded these days. SB45 (1997) gutted Caltrans ability to maintain and improve roadways and so mitigation dollars are most of what’s left.

    TomW Reply:

    The trick is to allow a bigger picture to be drawn.

    If a transit project removes 100,000 cars/day from the road, then the decreased LOS at one intersection used by 5,000 cars/day shouldn’t matter. This is doubly true if the 100,000 ex-car users have a quicker trip because of the transit project.

    Private development (almost always) creates trips/traffic, so can only have a negative effect on LOS unless the developers provdie mitigation.

  5. StevieB
    Feb 22nd, 2013 at 12:51

    Another CEQA lawsuit dropped against CAHSR Authority.

    Four Central Valley businesses that brought a lawsuit against the California High-Speed Rail Authority have dropped their litigation against the project.
    Fresno companies Timeless Investments, Millennium Acquisitions, Horizon Enterprises and Everspring Alliance cited CEQA violations when they brought their suit against the project’s Merced-to-Fresno section last June.

    Another minor hurdle toward construction has been breached.

  6. datacruncher
    Feb 22nd, 2013 at 14:00

    Michael Rubio, coauthor of the CEQA reform bill, just announced his resignation from his State Senate seat effective today. He will take a job in governmental affairs with Chevron.


    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Nice company our esteemed blogmeister and fellow construction mafia shills (witting or dim-witted) are keeping with the whole “needed” “sensible” “reforrms” of “unnecessary” environmental “red tape” business, no?

    joe Reply:

    He probably conspired with Chevron OR he had a life changing event.

    Rubio, who was elected to the state Senate in 2010, dropped plans to run for Congress in 2012 after his daughter was diagnosed with Down syndrome.

    Wikipedia tells me Down syndrome children can be raised to be literate and self-dependent provided they are given the appropriate level of attention and early intervention.

    It’s not cheap so I bet he decided to not run for Congress and leave the public sector for the money.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yeah, members of Congress are really poor with their $175k salary.

    joe Reply:

    How Creepy.

    1) He was not a member of congress and had no such income.
    2) If he ran, he would have to maintain two residences and be away from his family in DC ~ 8-12 hours door to door each way.
    3) You obviously haven’t a clue about children and expenses for medical care and special programs.
    As a Senator he earns ~90K a year. That’s far below the private sector wages he could earn hence he stepped down.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Chevron’s must be proud. Unpaid employees are hard to beat.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    What’s creepy about complaining that people running for a position that gives them a lot of power and income in the top 5% for families in the US (much higher for individuals, much higher relative to the rest of the world) should stop whining about needing more money?

    joe Reply:

    Creepy and now Petty.

    You’re a 1st world fat-cat sitting in Canada of all places dictating how He’s supposed to work and set an example with his child and work in our crappy medical system.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:


    joe Reply:


    I don’t golf.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Your retort would be cute if you lived in Kinshasa. Coming from someone who lives in Gilroy, it’s not so cute.

    Jo Reply:

    I can understand his family situation. But basically he will become a lobbyist for Chevron, and probably spend a lot of time in Sacramento well – lobbying. A politician is a politician, but still I expect more commitment from our representatives than this. He may have been a bit too conservative for my taste, but still he was somebody I respected. I am disappointed that he is leaving. Hopefully his replacement will be at least – okay.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    On some level I can understand. But the same people who say that We Must Understand his difficult situation raising a family with a disabled child on only $90k (or $175k if he got into Congress) are the ones who want politicians to ask people to sacrifice and made fun of Bush for not asking for sacrifice after 9/11. Did Rubio even try to pass a bill giving more state aid to people who have children with Down’s who are making less than $90k before deciding a legislative salary was too little for him?

    joe Reply:

    Maybe you can set an example and live on 1/10 your income because of Bangladesh.
    Relative to The Poors in the world you’d still be a rich person. Why should you not?

    Maybe then I’ll entertain arguments that Rubio is being selfish or whatever he’s supposed to motivate him to stay in government to please our sensibilities.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Do you tell white allies of black civil rights activists to wear blackface, too?

  7. StevieB
    Feb 22nd, 2013 at 23:59

    A few details of the Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg CEQA bill now called SB 731 have emerged.

    The bill provides more specifics about how lawmakers can speed up the CEQA process to avoid delays. In particular, Steinberg says his bill will:

    Reduce duplication in Environmental Impact Report filings by expanding the use of “tiering.” This streamlines and limits further paperwork whereby local land use plans that have sufficient detail and recently completed EIRs can be used by people building projects within those plans.

    Where Environmental Impact Reports have been successfully challenged, allow the courts to send back for repair only the portion of the EIR that is found to be incomplete or lacking required specificity. This would eliminate the need for the entire EIR to be recirculated for public comment which can create additional delays.

    In those cases where project developers and agencies haven’t made any substantive change to a project and the public has already had time to comment on it, limit or prohibit so-called “late hits” and “document dumps” designed solely to delay projects late in the environmental review process.

    Appropriate $30 million in new funding to local governments to update their general, area, and specific plans so that they can be better used to “tier” and streamline environmental review of projects built pursuant to those plans.

    StevieB Reply:

    Steinberg press release.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Chevron must be proud.

    jimsf Reply:

    Getting rid of the last minute document dumping is a good idea. There has to be common sense to the process.

  8. D. P. Lubic
    Feb 23rd, 2013 at 09:42

    Off topic, but one of the advantages of trains over airplanes is a lack of restrictions on the use of electronic devices (other than the restrictions of you making a nuisance of yourself):


  9. Neville Snark
    Feb 23rd, 2013 at 10:46

    Meanwhile they are debating similar issues in Massachusetts having to do with offshore wind projects:


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