Traffic Impact May Get Some Reform Under Smaller CEQA Bill

Sep 16th, 2013 | Posted by

One of the dramas at the end of the legislative session last week involved the fate of reform to the California Environmental Quality Act. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg substituted a new bill, SB 743, for his original CEQA reform bill, SB 731. SB 743 is designed to speed approval and construction of a new arena for the Sacramento Kings basketball team, but it does open the door to a badly-needed reform of one of the worst aspects of CEQA – the rules requiring projects to be evaluated for their impact on the “level of service” (LOS) of roads. This rule has been called “the single greatest promoter of sprawl” in California and has long been a target of sustainability advocates.

As Damien Newton explains, SB 743 begins the process of removing LOS from CEQA, but doesn’t go as far as many advocates had hoped:

While SB 731 would have brought the statewide elimination of LOS — a car-centric transportation planning metric that basically puts the movement of cars over everything else — as part of environmental review, SB 743 would still nix the metric for projects within designated transit priority areas (TPAs). Large swaths of most urban areas are considered TPAs, which are defined as areas within a 1/2-mile of high quality transit: a rail stop or a bus corridor that provides or will provide at least 15-minute frequency service during peak hours by the year 2035.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Steinberg said he would add into SB 743 “a provision at the governor’s request that gives the governor’s Office of Planning and Research the go-ahead to develop a new way of measuring traffic impacts of major projects, based on total ‘vehicle miles traveled’ rather than intersection congestion.”

It’s a good start, but more will be needed. Of course, that has been said of SB 743 as a whole by a lot of people. Transit and sustainability advocates wanted to see LOS completely removed. Environmental groups wanted LOS to be replaced by language requiring assessment and mitigation not of traffic but of displacement of people, homes, and businesses. Business groups still want a much bigger reform to CEQA that would speed – or gut, depending on your perspective – environmental review of most projects.

I choose to see this as a step in the right direction. Once it became clear that a broader fix to CEQA wasn’t going to happen in 2013, it made sense to try and get some improvement to the odious LOS rule in the smaller CEQA bill that did pass. Doing so makes it easier to include a more thorough elimination of the LOS rule in a broader CEQA reform package, and it remains a strong possibility, if not an outright certainty, that some sort of bigger CEQA reform is still coming in 2014.

Transit is a winner with the smaller CEQA bill, since transit oriented development is going to get a big boost with SB 743. That can and should pay immediate dividends, even as the conversation continues about the right way to make bigger fixes to the state’s environmental review laws.

  1. Spokker
    Sep 16th, 2013 at 22:19

    I’ve been out of the loop for a while, but is this thing happening or not?

    synonymouse Reply:

    What the hell happened to you? You are missed.

    What’s happening is Jerry rules. according to the conventional cheerleader wisdom. So nothing new.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Well, people are trying to make it happen, but the old debates (here) about Tejon and Tehachapi rage as before, Syn goes on and on about PB being a bunch of crooks, now he adds that he thinks Brown is senile or something similar, others bug Syn about Pelosi mind-rays and other conspiracies. . .in short, not much has changed around here, kind of like a soap opera. Robert “cheerleads” according to Richard M., and Richard M. is as acerbic as ever. I still like to touch on heritage now and then. . . and now seems like a good time, not only for you, but for Syn, too, who also likes older stuff, including steam. He got a bit excited at the prospect of a UP Big Boy being brought back to life by Union Pacific; I’m looking forward to that myself.

    Anyway, for you and Syn, we have a video clip. This one’s electric, no less–a four-car train, all Chicago, Aurora & Elgin cars at the Illinois Railway Museum. Hey, maybe I’m going to join the 21st century yet. . .

    I’ve had this up before, but I think you may have been away, so here’s something else I think you’ll like.

    Another video of the same trip, featuring interior shots, alas some are a bit shaky, but that’s what’s available.

    Finally, we have a new tourist operation in Pennsylvania with a NEW steam locomotive. I have to say it may be the prettiest steamer you ever saw.

    Have fun.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    And some vintage California stuff that Syn really liked a while back.

    That’s all for now.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Saw this one on Saturday… Saw it on Tueday too for that matter. Didn’t see it on Sunday because it was having techincal difficulties out in the woods. I was hungry, the train was hours late, and I wasn’t in the mood to searching for it. It was somewhere in Hadley or Stony Creek.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    on it’s northbound trip

    Spokker Reply:

    They’d have more luck building a steam train line from your house to the Orange Empire Railway Museum than CAHSR.

    StevieB Reply:

    Land acquisition between Madera and Fresno is underway and contracts are being settled with AT&T and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. for underground utility relocation. Both are necessary before the right of way can be prepared for laying of track.

  2. JB in pa
    Sep 16th, 2013 at 22:44

    Welcome back Spokker.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Same here, glad you’re back, was wondering what happened.

  3. Eric
    Sep 17th, 2013 at 14:24

    Level of Service is a broad term for “grading” the performance of a given facility with a given amount of traffic. It grades the ability of meeting drivers expectations with regards to speeds, freedom of maneuver, delay, etc. It ranges from “A” (best) to “E” (at capacity) to “F” (beyond capacity).
    It measures different things based on what it is you’re looking at.
    For Roundabouts, Stops Signs, and Traffic Signals, LOS is based on average Delay per Vehicle, but the standards for the letter grades are different depending on whether it is sign control or signal control.
    For Freeways, the LOS is based on the Density, or Passenger Cars (equivalents) per lane per mile.
    For Urban Arterials, the LOS is based on speed in the corridor.
    HCM 2000 introduced concepts for determining level of service of pedestrian facilities, such as sidewalks.

    The minimum standards for Level of Service is determined by the local jurisdiction in their planning documents.

  4. StevieB
    Sep 17th, 2013 at 15:51

    The bill requires new guidelines establishing criteria for transportation impacts of projects within transit priority areas to be established and once certified, automobile delay, as described solely by level of service or similar measures of vehicular capacity or traffic congestion shall not be considered a significant impact on the environment.

    Those criteria shall promote the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the development of multimodal transportation networks, and a diversity of land uses. In developing the criteria, the office shall recommend potential metrics to measure transportation impacts that may include, but are not limited to, vehicle miles traveled, vehicle miles traveled per capita, automobile trip generation rates, or automobile trips generated.

    The law also alters parking impacts which could be very significant.

    Aesthetic and parking impacts of a residential, mixed-use residential, or employment center project on an infill site within a transit priority area shall not be considered significant impacts on the environment.

  5. Reedman
    Sep 18th, 2013 at 09:10

    Transportation projects aren’t the only item that politicians want to be exempt from environmental review.
    From the SF Chronicle:

    Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, has gotten an earful from opponents for helping with the Warriors planned waterfront arena by authoring legislation that exempts the team from some of the state’s regulatory hurdles. But one of the strongest reactions has come from South Beach resident Jamie Whitaker, a city employee and active member of the Warriors’ Community Advisory Committee.

    In a note posted on Ting’s Facebook page the other day, Whitaker blamed the assemblyman for “contributing to the premature deaths and asthma of thousands of residents in South of Market.”

    “I never would have thought the politicians in San Francisco would be just as evil as Assad in Syria and pass public policies that will effectively kill its own residents.”

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