The most recent and late-breaking bill that was passed at the end of the legislative session was AB 900 (Buchanan), which authorizes the governor to certify large “leadership projects” for streamlined judicial review of CEQA and all other land use entitlements.2 Once such projects are certified, opponents must bring all CEQA and entitlement claims together in the court of appeal (skipping the trial court entirely), which then must render a decision within 175 days.3 AB 900 also provides for preparation of an electronic administrative record concurrently with the administrative process, intended to speed up project review.4
Wind and solar projects are among those that may qualify for this streamlined process. However, whether many wind and solar projects will be able to take advantage of AB 900’s judicial review benefits is unclear. Such projects will compete with other non-renewable projects and must be certified by the governor. To be certified, the governor must make specific findings (subject to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee’s concurrence) that the qualifying project involves a minimum $100 million investment, creates “high-wage” jobs, results in no net additional greenhouse gas emissions, and is subject to monitored and enforceable CEQA mitigation measures as conditions of approval.5 Even where this hurdle can be met, there is a deadline to this process that narrows the scope of its reach: all certifications will expire on June 1, 2014, so all CEQA documents must be certified and the time during which an action may be filed must end by that date.6 On the whole, only a small set of projects are likely to qualify under AB 900 and those that do face procedural hurdles that will require careful planning and effective advocacy at the governor’s office.