Governor Brown recently signed Assembly Bill (“AB”) 900 to expedite judicial review of certain "leadership projects" with hope that the streamlining efforts will improve the job market for Californians.  The bills provide an incentive for applicants to move forward with their projects because any challenge to a leadership project Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) will be venued immediately in the Court of Appeal.  The court will then have a maximum of 175 days to issue its decision on the challenged EIR.

To qualify as a leadership project, the project must exceed $100 million and not result in any net additional emissions of greenhouse gases.  The project also must create high-wage, highly skilled jobs that pay prevailing and living wages and provide construction jobs and permanent jobs for Californians.  As a prerequisite to receiving certification approval from the Governor, the applicant also must enter an agreement with the lead agency that all mitigation measures will be enforced and monitored.  Additionally, the applicant bears the burden of costs for any hearing or decision before the Court of Appeal.

The applicant must gain certification approval from the Governor and notify the lead agency prior to release of the Draft EIR for public comment that the applicant is electing to proceed as a leadership project.  If the Governor finds the project is eligible, he or she must submit the project to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee (“Budget Committee”) for its concurrence.  If the Budget Committee concurs with the Governor’s decision within 30 days, the project will be certified for streamlining as a leadership project.  If the Budget Committee fails to take action within 30 days, the project is deemed to be certified. 

Because any EIR challenge of a leadership project will proceed directly to the Court of Appeal, AB 900 significantly reduces the time to resolve a project challenge.  Normally, CEQA litigation commences at the superior court level where a case may not be decided for several months, and often as long as one year.  Under this bill, final determinations regarding EIR challenges will be made quickly and well-funded projects will be expedited with the hope that they will stimulate job growth. 

Already, several projects throughout the state are slated to proceed under the bill, particularly sports and entertainment arenas.  The City of Sacramento hopes to process the proposed downtown sports arena for the Sacramento Kings as a leadership project.  Similarly, the Anshutz Entertainment Group’s proposed football stadium in downtown Los Angeles is another project of first impression. 

AB 900 will remain in effect until January 1, 2015, at which time the Assembly will assess its success.  Click here to read a copy of the bill.