A California Chamber of Commerce-supported bill to expedite and reduce costs for roadway repair and maintenance projects advanced in the legislative process this week with bipartisan support from an Assembly policy committee.
AB 323 (Olsen; R-Modesto) passed the Assembly Transportation Committee with unanimous support.
The bill streamlines infrastructure development by extending indefinitely the current California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exemption for certain roadway repair and maintenance projects.
The current exemption was put in place by another bill by Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen, AB 890, which the CalChamber designated as a job creator bill in 2012.
AB 323 indefinitely extends the current CEQA exemption for repair, maintenance or minor alterations to an existing roadway if the project is carried out by a city or county with a population of less than 100,000 persons. The exemption is set to expire on January 1, 2016.
Importantly, the exemption AB 323 proposes to extend applies only if the project meets certain requirements, including: it does not cross a waterway; there is negligible expansion of use; the site does not contain wetlands or riparian habitat; there is no impact to cultural resources.
From a public safety standpoint, ensuring that minor roadway maintenance and repair projects in small to mid-size jurisdictions move forward expeditiously is critically important.
Although such projects may fall within certain categorical exemptions under the CEQA Guidelines, AB 323 ensures that roadway repair and maintenance projects would continue to be statutorily exempt from CEQA and thus would not be subject to exceptions that may defeat their use. Accordingly, if a proposed project fits within the terms of AB 323’s stated exemption, then that is the end of the inquiry and the exemption applies.
CEQA was initially passed to ensure that California’s environment is considered before moving forward with a project. Over time, however, CEQA has become a hook for litigation and a means to delay worthy projects for reasons that have nothing to do with the environment.
Until changes are made to the underlying process, CalChamber supports legitimate CEQA exemptions, such as AB 323, that will encourage the expeditious approval and implementation of minor but important roadway projects.
Assembly Transportation passed AB 323 on April 20, 15-0:
Ayes: Frazier (D-Oakley), Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo), Baker (R-Dublin), Bloom (D-Santa Monica), Campos (D-San Jose), Chu (D-San Jose), Daly (D-Anaheim), Dodd (D-Napa), Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), Gomez (D-Los Angeles), Kim (R-Fullerton), Linder (R-Corona), Medina (D-Riverside), Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore), O’Donnell (D-Long Beach).
Absent/abstaining/not voting: Nazarian (D-Sherman Oaks)