California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

In Alliance for Responsible Planning v. Taylor, the Third District Court of Appeal recently struck down a voter initiative requiring a developer to fund all cumulative traffic mitigation as a condition precedent to project approval as an unconstitutional taking.  More specifically, the Court found that El Dorado County’s Measure E, which was adopted in 2016 and amended the County of El Dorado general plan (General Plan) to require developers to fund traffic improvements prior to the issuance of discretionary approvals needed to develop the remainder of the project, would require a development pay more than its fair share.
Continue Reading Mandate to Provide Traffic Improvements Prior to Project Approval Struck Down

Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed into law Senate Bill (SB) 7, the “Housing + Jobs Expansion & Extension Act”, which extends and expands California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) streamlining provisions.  As previously discussed in our February blog post, “California Senate Returns Its Focus to Housing in 2021-2022 Legislative Session,” SB 7 is the first bill from the Senate’s “Building Opportunities for All” housing package to be signed and enacted this year.  SB 7 extends through 2025 the streamlined CEQA administrative and judicial review procedures developed for Environmental Leadership Development Projects (ELDPs) under Assembly Bill (AB) 900 in 2011. AB 900 established a process to expedite legal challenges for large housing, clean energy, and manufacturing projects with a capital investment of at least $100 million.  In an effort to increase housing and job opportunities in California, SB 7 expands streamlining eligibility to smaller affordable housing projects.  Specifically, housing projects on infill sites with an investment between $15-$100 million that meet specified labor and environmental standards and include at least 15 percent affordable housing are now eligible under SB 7.  SB 7 also clarifies that the deadline to resolve legal challenges to ELDPs under the expedited judicial review process is 270 days from the filing of the certified record of proceedings, including appeals to the court of appeal and the Supreme Court.
Continue Reading Senate Bill Extends and Expands CEQA Streamlining Process

In March, the Southern California Association of Governments (“SCAG”)[1] will adopt final Regional Housing Needs Assessment (“RHNA”) allocations for cities and counties within the SCAG region.  This 6th RHNA cycle represents the first update to these targets since the passage of key housing legislation, including Senate Bill (“SB”) 35[2], which grants ministerial approval and streamlining of qualifying housing projects if the jurisdiction has failed to meet its RHNA targets.  Housing developers planning for potential investment can look to these production targets to assess regional and city-based needs.  Cities and counties also will update their Housing Element and other planning documents to address the need.
Continue Reading Southern California Counties To Adopt Major Housing Production Targets

The new 2021-2022 California legislative session has kicked off with the Senate’s “Building Opportunities for All” housing package, its latest effort to tackle zoning and California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) reforms in an effort to address California’s ongoing housing crisis.  “Each one of these bills is targeted at an element of the housing crisis, and together, they give us a unified approach that would create pathways to home ownership, stable housing for vulnerable families, and a pathway to economic stability for Californians across the golden state,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins when announcing the housing package. As anticipated in our summary of new legislation effective in 2021, this housing package builds upon the housing production bills from the previous legislative session that failed to pass out of committee or gain concurrence votes before the session ended.  Given that many of the bills replicate language from the failed 2020 housing legislation, the senators appear confident that more of these bills will be approved in this new session.
Continue Reading California Senate Returns Its Focus to Housing in 2021-2022 Legislative Session

The California Legislature made modest gains on housing production and stimulus bills in 2020, and there are several notable bills that took effect on January 1, 2021.  The new laws tackle COVID-19, project permit streamlining and planning, residential density bonus, and the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”).  Below is a summary of these new laws.
Continue Reading California Housing Legislation Effective in 2021

Two significant changes to California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) noticing and filing requirements and procedures recently took effect.  First, on September 23, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Executive Order N-80-20 (“Order“), which conditionally suspends certain requirements for filing, noticing, and posting of CEQA documents with county clerk offices.  The Order provides an alternate means of complying with those requirements during the current pandemic, and extends the prior suspension by Executive Order N-54-20.[1]  It will remain in effect until it is modified or rescinded, or until the COVID-related State of Emergency instituted on March 4, 2020 is terminated, whichever occurs sooner.
Continue Reading Significant Changes to State CEQA Filing and Noticing Requirements and Procedures

At the end of the 2020 legislative session, California Governor Newsom signed Senate Bill 288 (Wiener)[1] (SB 288) into law.  SB 288, amends the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), streamlining the environmental review process for: (i) specific transportation-related projects, including bus rapid transit projects, light rail service projects, construction or maintenance of charging or refueling stations for zero-emission buses; (ii) projects that improve customer information and wayfinding for transit riders, bicyclists, or pedestrians; (iii) city or county projects designed to minimize parking requirements; and (iv) similar transportation oriented projects.  Specifically, SB 288 designates these projects necessary to facilitate development of sustainable transportation alternatives and related infrastructure, encouraging broader use of sustainable transit throughout the state.  Due to this designation, SB 288 exempts these projects from CEQA review as categorical exemptions beginning January 1, 2021.  SB 288 is slated to sunset on January 1, 2030.  In addition, SB 288 extends the existing exemption for bicycle transportation plans (including restriping of streets and highways, bicycle parking and storage, signage, and related improvements to intersection operations) from the existing sunset date[2] to January 1, 2030.
Continue Reading SB 288: Sustainable Transportation and the “Road to Recovery” for Post-COVID Air Pollution and Unemployment Concerns

MAY 8, 2020 – UPDATE: The final version of the New Ordinance has been signed by Mayor Gracetti and takes effect May 12, 2020.

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California Senate Bill (“SB”) 899, introduced in March by Senator Scott Wiener and currently in the Senate Housing, Environmental Quality, and Governance and Finance Committees, would exempt eligible affordable housing projects and mixed use projects on property owned by religious institutions and nonprofit medical facilities from review under the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Res. Code § 21000 et seq.) (“CEQA”) and provide for other permit streamlining.  Eligible entities include nonprofit hospitals, diagnostic or treatment centers, rehabilitation facilities, and nursing homes, as well as religious institutions.  As Senator Wiener noted, “religious and charitable institutions often have land to spare, and they should be able to use that land to build affordable housing and thus further their mission.  SB 899 ensures that affordable housing can be built and removes local zoning and approval obstacles in order to do so.”  These eligible organizations may partner with a qualified nonprofit developer or local public entity to construct the affordable housing developments.
Continue Reading Proposed Legislation Aims to Boost Affordable Housing on Land Owned by Religious Institutions and Nonprofit Hospitals

On April 23, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-54-20 (EO) which, in part, addresses an outstanding question related to the California Environmental Quality Act’s (CEQA) “public review” requirements, which quickly became problematic upon closure of the locations typically used to house and post CEQA-related documents.  These closures, which impact government buildings like the County Recorder’s Office, are just one of the many consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant stay-at-home orders issued in an attempt to safeguard the public and flatten the curve.  Under this EO, while the time periods for public review remain the same, all requirements related to public filing, posting, notice, and public access to draft and final documents set forth in CEQA and the CEQA Guidelines, are exempted and suspended for the next 60 days (until June 22nd), including the Notice of Preparation, Notice of Comment Period, Notice of Intent to Adopt an EIR, Negative Declaration/Mitigated Negative Declaration, Notice of Determination and Notice of Exemption[1] so long as certain substitute procedures are followed.
Continue Reading Digital CEQA: New Executive Order Creates An Alternative Path For Complying With CEQA Notice, Posting And Public Review Requirements

In the belatedly-published Environmental Council of Sacramento, et al. v. County of Sacramento (Cordova Hills, LLC, et al. – Real Parties-in-Interest) (2020) ____ Cal.App.5th ____,[1] the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed judgment against a slew of California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) claims centered on Environmental Council’s and Sierra Club’s (collectively, “Environmental Council” or “petitioners”) contention that the project at issue included a component – a university – that is ultimately not likely to be built.  More specifically, petitioners contended that because the university was not likely to be built, the environmental impact report (“EIR”) prepared pursuant to CEQA was therefore insufficient for failing to analyze the project without the university and thereby understated project impacts to things such as air quality, climate change and transportation.
Continue Reading Failure to Include A No-Build Analysis in Project Description Does Not Violate CEQA

In rejecting a California Environmental Quality Act challenge to a mitigated negative declaration for conversion of a vacant apartment building into a 24-room boutique hotel (the “Project”), the Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the City of Los Angeles’s use of an existing conditions baseline when assessing housing and population impacts. The decision in Hollywoodians Encouraging Rental Opportunities (HERO) v. City of Los Angeles et al. (2019) ___ Cal.App.5th ____ indicates that the time for courts to address population displacement, and more specifically affordable housing, as a CEQA-cognizable impact is fast approaching.
Continue Reading Court of Appeal Rules HERO Cannot Save Previously Vacated Rental Units