While most attempts to push-through last-minute CEQA reform were parked until next year, one bill, AB 2245, glided through the legislature and now heads to the finish line on Governor Brown’s desk for signature. The bill, which provides streamlined environmental review for certain bike lane projects, was unanimously passed by the State Assembly on August 24th after receiving only one dissenting vote in the Senate.
AB 2245 exempts from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) bike lane projects in urbanized areas that require repainting of streets and highways, as opposed to widening, when the restriping is consistent with a prepared bicycle transportation plan. CEQA is the state’s landmark environmental law that requires a public agency to identify significant environmental impacts of projects it proposes to carry out or approve. CEQA’s procedural and substantive requirements aim to prevent damage to the environment and encourage informed-decision-making. Recently, the law has come under increasing fire for its potential to be misused for non-environmental purposes. The law frequently results in extended project delays, and when the project being delayed is considered “green” or one that will reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, the law can seem counterproductive.
In place of the normal CEQA review process, the bill requires the public agency responsible for approving or carrying out such project to prepare an assessment of the project’s traffic and safety impacts, including mitigation measures, and hold noticed public hearings in affected areas. As part of the public hearings, public agencies are expected to hear and respond to public comments. Public agencies that find a project is exempt under this provision would also be required to file a notice of determination.
The bill’s exemption is expected to help expedite creation of some of the more than 800 miles of new bikeways planned for Los Angeles County. If Governor Brown signs the bill into law, the exemption will sunset by its own terms on January 1, 2018, unless extended.