On May 29, 2013 a Senate floor vote of a unanimous 39 ayes passed Senator Darrell Steinberg’s (D-Sacramento) bill, Senate Bill No. 731 (SB 731), outlining revisions to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Named the “CEQA Modernization Act of 2013,” the bill is intended to streamline projects that are consistent with an adopted specific plan, projects in urban areas, and projects in transit priority areas, as well as streamline the process for judicial review of such projects.

As currently amended, SB 731 would provide that additional environmental review is not required for residential development projects that are consistent with an adopted specific plan that was the subject of a prior environmental impact report. SB 731 also requires development of guidelines to provide agencies greater guidance when determining whether noise and traffic impacts associated with transit priority projects are significant, and would streamline litigation processes for projects meeting certain thresholds. SB 731 would eliminate a lead agency’s ability to define aesthetic impacts of residential, mixed-use residential or employment center projects within a transit priority area as significant impacts, without removing that agency’s ability to consider aesthetic impacts pursuant to its local design review ordinance. Other changes to the law are aimed at renewable energy projects and reducing litigation delays. The bill would revise the definition of “new information” under Public Resources Code section 21166 to avoid redundant CEQA compliance and unnecessary litigation. Additionally, SB 731 would create a new post in the Governor’s Office entitled, “Advisor on Renewable Energy Facilities.” The bill would also authorize appropriations of $30 million annually in competitive grants to local agencies from the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission to implement sustainable communities strategies.

Although SB 731 does not make the monumental changes to CEQA originally touted in 2012 and it is not likely to have sweeping impacts on the environmental review process, the bill does offer streamlined review for projects that are consistent with an adopted specific plan, targeted infill projects, and renewable energy projects.

Our team at Stoel Rives will continue our monitoring of SB 731 and will provide updates as the bill proceeds to make its way to the governor’s desk by the September 13th deadline.