Legislative Update — Let the Wheeling and Dealing Begin!

It’s that time of year when California’s government gets even murkier than usual.  With the end of legislative session fast approaching, the season of wheeling and dealing is upon us.  CEQA, transportation funding and redevelopment are all on the smoky, backroom table.  It’s also the time when legitimate bills that have patiently made their way through the full session either sink or swim.  How will our new Governor play in this environment, and which bills will he sign?  Now’s the time to find out.

Here’s a rundown of some bills to watch –

AB 1220 – Housing Element (Alejo): The housing element is one of the only places where SB 375 has “teeth” that can compel local governments to sync up their land use plans with SCSes.  In the past, advocates had up to 5 years to file suit if a jurisdiction failed to adopt an adequate housing element, but a judge’s ruling in 2008 reduced the statute of limitations to just 90 days. This bill restores the period to challenge a housing element to five years.  For all advocates – affordable housers and beyond – that want to see SCSes get implemented, this bill is a no-brainer.  Hopefully the Governor sees that as well, after spending his days as Attorney General telling cities to grow smarter.  This bill is sponsored by Housing California and other ClimatePlan supporters include: Natural Resources Defense Council, Planning and Conservation League, Public Advocates, Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing, Transform and Urban Habitat.  A link to the bill’s latest analysis is here.  Also, you can find out how to support the bill on Housing CA’s website.

AB 516 – Safe Routes to Schools (Perez): The Safe Routes movement got its start in swell suburbs like Marin, but schools in low-income communities face disproportionate challenges to children’s health and safety.  In fact, two-thirds of the child pedestrian and bicycle accidents that happened in California in 2008 were within one mile of a low-income school. AB 516 ensures that projects serving low-income schools are given priority and gives community residents a stronger role in the development of Safe Routes to School project proposals. This bill is sponsored by PolicyLink and other ClimatePlan supporters include California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, California WALKS, Sierra Club California, TransForm and WalkSanDiego.  A link to the bill’s latest analysis is here.  You can support this bill by writing a letter to the Governor. Click here for a sample letter.

CEQA streamlining for infill – Several proposals to streamline CEQA for infill development are swirling around.  Each of them has a component that deals with infill, along with provisions regarding renewable energy siting. One proposal is by the South Bay Senator Joe Simitian.  His bill, SB 226 would expand SB 375’s CEQA streamlining provisions to include more projects.   The Governor’s office is also circulating a proposal, one that hasn’t found its way into a bill yet.  But rumor has it that the Governor plans to move it in these last few weeks of the session. It would create new CEQA streamlining for infill but unlike Simitian’s bill, it’s not tied to SB 375.  Instead, it would establish a new process to identify performance standards for infill projects that would be eligible to take advantage of a streamlined CEQA process.  Among CEQA attorneys and environmentalists there’s a lot of sturm and drang over these proposals, but to date no one has taken an official position on either.

Rumors are swirling about other proposals related to equally thorny issues like redevelopment and transportation funding, but to date nothing has been unveiled.  As a relative neophyte to the Sacramento scene, I find it bizarre to observe this mad scramble.  There seems to be an inverse relationship between the complexity of the issue and the amount of time a bill has to be formulated, discussed and made into law.  The toughest, thorniest issues are squashed into these last few weeks.

Stay tuned folks, it’s gonna be a wild ride.

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