Streamlining the CEQA Process in Transit Rich Areas

Research Team: Jamey Volker (lead), Susie Pike, Nicholas Marantz

UC Campus(es): UC Davis, UC Irvine

Problem Statement: California faces major policy challenges that stem in part from decades of planning for automobility. For one, the state cannot meet its ambitious decarbonization targets without reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the transportation sector, which produces nearly 40 percent of California’s emissions. Substantial reductions in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) are likely needed to meet the state’s climate change goals. In addition, the state is mired in a historic housing supply and affordability crisis. It ranks 49th in the United States in housing units per capita. It needs millions more units to meet demand, including 1.3 million more affordable rental units, according to one estimate. Transit oriented development (TOD), with denser housing around transit hubs, can solve both challenges—reducing driving and producing more housing. However, TOD is often difficult to achieve in practice. One frequently cited roadblock to TOD is the environmental review process under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which can add considerable time, cost, and uncertainty to TOD plans and developments. There have been numerous attempts to exempt or provide a streamlined CEQA review process for TOD projects, including through Senate Bill (SB) 375 projects (and infill developments generally). These efforts are often “criticized for layering on so many project level restrictions that no developments succeed in meeting all the eligibility requirements.” However, there is limited empirical research on how frequently the provisions have actually been used or how successful they have been at streamlining the entitlement process for TOD projects.

Project Description: This research project will explore the use and effect of the two CEQA streamlining provisions in SB 375 for TOD projects. One provision exempts qualifying transit priority projects (TPPs) from CEQA review entirely (Public Resources Code § 21155.1). The other provision streamlines CEQA review for qualifying TPPs (Public Resources Code § 21155.2). The researchers will catalog projects that have utilized these provisions, identify projects that likely could have taken advantage of SB 375 CEQA streamlining but did not, and interview planners and developers involved with a subset of both sets of projects. The outcome will be an in-depth exploration of how much SB 375 streamlining actually helps reduce the time, cost, and uncertainty of permitting TOD projects, and how it could be improved to better meet those goals.

Status: In Progress

Budget: $55,000