About one year after being placed in the California Legislature’s “Inactive File,” SB 122 (concerning concurrent preparation of the CEQA administrative record and OPR electronic database) is back “off the shelf.” The bill passed in the State Assembly yesterday, and will next be considered by the Senate for concurrence in the Assembly’s amendments. It must be passed by both houses between now and the end of the month (if it is to be sent to Governor Brown for signature).
As originally proposed in early 2015, SB 122 contained only one detailed statutory provision – the addition of Public Resources Code § 21167.6.2 – which would create a detailed new alternative method for expedited preparation of the record of proceedings (i.e., the “administrative record”) in CEQA cases, at the election and expense of the applicant and with the consent of the public agency. It also contained two “placeholder” sections declaring the Legislature’s intent to establish an electronic database clearinghouse of CEQA documents maintained by the State Office of Planning and Research (OPR) and to establish a public review period for Final EIRs.
The substantive provisions of proposed new Public Resources Code § 21167.6.2 have not changed since the bill’s introduction. Those provisions and their likely practical implications are analyzed in detail in my prior January 22, 2015 post on the originally introduced SB 122, which also criticized the final EIR public review period proposal as “troubling” and “unwarranted”; those interested in the proposed bill’s proposed alternative method for expedited record preparation should review my prior post, which can be found here.
As amended since its introduction, SB 122 (thankfully) makes no effort to add a Final EIR public review period, and adds meat to the OPR electronic database proposal, which would be embodied primarily in an amended Public Resources Code § 21159.9. That section currently requires OPR to “implement, utilizing existing resources, a public assistance and information program to ensure efficient and effective implementation of [CEQA].” (Emph. added.) In addition to the current requirement that OPR “[e]stablish a public education and training program for planners, developers, and other interested parties” to further this effort, the amended statute would also require OPR to “[e]stablish and maintain a database for the collection, storage, retrieval, and dissemination of environmental documents, notices of exemption, notices of preparation, notices of determination, and notices of completion provided to [OPR]” (emph. added), which “database shall be available online to the public through the Internet.” The proposed new law would also provide that OPR “may phase in the submission of electronic documents and use of the database by state and local public agencies” and would require OPR to submit a report on its plans for implementation by July 1, 2017, and on the status of implementation by July 1, 2019.
Having passed in the Assembly, it appears likely that this modest CEQA reform bill may also be approved by the Senate and sent to the Governor for signature and passage into law in its current form.