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In response to developers’ continued cry for meaningful reform, changes to or exemptions from the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Res. Code §§ 21000 et seq.) (CEQA) are often included in numerous bills during any California legislative session. 2022 proved to be no exception. While many bills suffered slow deaths in committee, a handful successfully made it to the Governor’s desk and were signed into law. 

A brief recap of those bills and their impacts on CEQA is provided below:

Assembly Bill (AB) 2011: The Affordable Housing and High Road Jobs Act of 2022 is one of the major housing bills of the last legislative session. Championed by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, this act includes a CEQA-exempt ministerial review process for qualifying housing projects on commercially zoned sites. Pursuant to AB 2011, multifamily projects including either 100% affordable units on a commercially zoned site, or mixed-income projects situated on a commercial corridor, are exempt from CEQA so long as they pay prevailing wages and meet specified “Below Market Rate” affordable housing targets. The project site must also meet a number of requirements and restrictions, including that it cannot be on or adjoined to a site where more than 1/3 of the square footage is dedicated to an industrial use; it cannot be within 500 feet of a freeway or 3,200 feet of an active oil or gas refinery; and, if the site has a neighborhood plan, such as a specific plan, area plan, or master plan, the plan must allow multifamily housing development on the site as of January 1, 2022 or allow for such development via an adopted plan and environmental review by January 1, 2024. Projects that fulfill AB 2011’s requirements can benefit from a streamlined approval process as well as the CEQA exemption. Note that this legislation takes effect on July 1, 2023.

Senate Bill (SB) 886: The Student and Faculty Housing Act, Senator Scott Wiener’s legislation to address California’s student and faculty housing shortage, exempts housing projects for students and faculty built on land owned by the University of California, California State University, or California community colleges from CEQA. However, to qualify for this CEQA exemption, such housing projects must satisfy several criteria. Specifically, projects must: (i) be on a campus property; (ii) utilize prevailing wages and a skilled and trained workforce; (iii) be consistent with a certified Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for a long range development plan or master plan; (iv) have a transportation demand management program; (v) mitigate all construction impacts; and (vi) not result in any net additional emissions of greenhouse gases. The buildings must be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certified, have a maximum of 2,000 units or 4,000 beds, and be located within a ½-mile of a major transit stop or the campus boundary, or have 15% lower per capita VMT as compared to the jurisdiction where the project is located. Finally, the projects cannot displace existing affordable or rent-controlled housing or historic structures, nor can they be built on farmland, wetlands, or in very high fire hazard severity zones. Given the numerous requirements that must be met in order to qualify for the CEQA exemption, it is unclear how many projects may be able to rely on the exemption provided by SB 886. Effective January 1, 2023, this law sunsets January 1, 2030.

SB 118: This emergency legislation provides that enrollment or changes in enrollment at a campus or medical center of public higher education, by themselves, do not constitute a project for purposes of CEQA. However, if a court determines that increases in campus population exceed the projections adopted in the most recent campus long-range development plan and supporting EIR, and those increases result in significant environmental impacts, the court may order a new, supplemental, or subsequent EIR be prepared within 18 months. SB 118 is the swift legislative response to the March 2022 decision in Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods v. Regents of the University of California, which imposed an unpreceded cap on enrollment at the University of California Berkeley campus that would have required the university to reduce its incoming class enrollment by over 3,000 students. SB 118 took effect on March 14, 2022 and applied retroactively so as to nullify the court case’s impacts.

AB 205: AB 205 encourages the development of certain kinds of solar, wind, and other clean energy projects through a streamlined environmental review process as environmental leadership development projects. The legislation requires the California Energy Commission to review project applications and make a determination of completeness within 30 days of submission. Like other environmental leadership development projects in the state, AB 205 requires the Judicial Council to adopt a rule of court allowing proceedings related to environmental review to be completed within 270 days after the application is deemed complete. This legislation took effect on June 30, 2022.

Sheppard Mullin will continue to monitor the current legislative session for any new bills proposed that build upon the 2022 legislative CEQA changes or offer new revisions to the law.