California Governor Jerry Brown (D) recently signed legislation that exempts some roadway improvement projects from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). (A.B. 890). The new law allows cities and counties with fewer than 100,000 residents to avoid preparing an environmental impact report for a project to repair, maintain or make minor alterations to existing roadways. The CEQA exemption does not apply, however, to those projects that (i) cross a waterway, including any perennial, intermittent or ephemeral streams; (ii) contain wetlands or riparian areas; or (iii) would otherwise have significant value as wildlife habitat, harm endangered or protected species, or affect cultural or scenic resources.

Governments using the exemption must include measures to mitigate potential safety impacts to vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian traffic as well as hold a public hearing on the project and respond to public comments. They also must file a notice with the state Office of Planning and Research and the county clerk for the county in which the project will be located. The exemption statute sunsets on January 1, 2016, unless repealed or extended.