California Once Again Relinquishes Clean Air Act Enforcement Responsibility to the Federal Government

On October 24, 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) published its final rule documenting the failure of the California Air Resources Board (“CARB”) to submit a State Implementation Plan (“SIP”) revision containing measures to control California’s significant contribution to the nonattainment, or interference with maintenance, of the 2006 24 hour fine particulate matter (“PM2.5”) National Ambient Air Quality Standards (“NAAQS”) in other states (“Interstate Transport SIP”).

More specifically, CARB’s failure to submit constitutes a violation of the general provisions of the Clean Air Act (“CAA”), § 110(a)(2)(D)(i)(I) which requires that CARB submit a SIP revision to comply with the implementation, maintenance and enforcement provisions related to new or revised NAAQS within three years after the promulgation of the revised NAAQS; and that such plan contain adequate provisions to prohibit emissions from the state that will contribute significantly to nonattainment of the NAAQS (“Prong 1”), or interference with maintenance of the NAAQS (“Prong 2”), in any other state.  The final rule implementing the “Finding of Failure” transfers to EPA the obligation to promulgate a Federal Implementation Plan (“FIP”) to address the interstate transport requirements, within 24 months.
 
The issue has come to prominence as a result of the federal/state partnership that is the foundation of the CAA, see 42 U.S.C. § 7401(a)(3) and (4), giving EPA the power of approval over locally developed plans.  
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Water's For Fighting Over

California’s unprecedented drought provided the impetus in Sacramento in the closing weeks of the Legislature’s 2013-14 session for the passage of sweeping new regulations governing groundwater. The new rules, which Gov. Brown likely will sign, amount to a broad re-write of California’s existing groundwater law, the first substantial changes to the law in approximately one hundred years. And with the new rules comes significant new authority for a state agency, drawing upon potentially billions of dollars in new fees, to implement new groundwater management plans over the objections of local water authorities. 

Orange County’s groundwater management system, accomplished across numerous governmental jurisdictions and which has, so far, spared Orange County from the full effects of the drought, is held up as the model for the new state scheme. But the legislation goes well beyond anything done in Orange County. Major changes are coming in the way California regulates and allocates its ground water, and in the way our citizens pay for that water.

 

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California Changes the Test of Significance for Traffic Impacts Under CEQA

Taking its queue from the legislature (see Senate Bill 743 [Steinberg 2013]), the California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (“OPR”) published, on August 6, 2014, a preliminary discussion draft of revisions to OPR’s California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) Guidelines, which serve as regulations implementing CEQA, Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 21000, et seq.,  “Updating Transportation Impacts Analysis in the CEQA Guidelines” (“Update”).  The Update revises existing CEQA Guidelines § 15064.3 to comport with Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 21099(b)(1) which establishes new criteria for determining the environmental significance of surface traffic impacts such as traffic delay and increased emissions resulting from a proposed project.  The purpose of both the amended statute and the Update is to shift the focus of the CEQA analysis of significance from “driver delay” to “reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, creation of multi-modal  networks and promotion of mixed land uses.”  Update, page 3.  

 
The change is effected through a change in the metric for determining environmental significance Level of Service (“LOS”), which measures delay at intersections, to vehicle miles traveled (“VMT”), which is a measure of the number of automobile trips resulting from the project.  The stated rationale underlying the change is that the use of LOS encourages mitigation aimed at reducing delays by increasing traffic flow, including expanded roadways, construction of more lanes and other automobile traffic facilitation measures; which theoretically leads to “induced demand,” i.e., more capacity at intersections allowing additional cars to use them; and, ultimately, to more air quality and greenhouse gas impacts from those additional cars.  As the story goes, a standard of environmental significance based on VMT will encourage the use of mitigation measures such as increased bicycle paths, accommodations for pedestrians, and other measures that will reduce automobile ridership in the long term.  The problem is that the theory underlying the Update is made up more of holes than of cheese. 
 
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Happy New Year Except for California Redevelopment Agencies

As far back as 1946 when the California Legislature first passed legislation enabling the establishment of redevelopment agencies, the concept of restoring aging urban neighborhoods has played a key role in the character and identity of California cities. This role, which was enhanced by government money during the era of “urban renewal” in the 1960s, has now been effectively obviated by a ruling of the California Supreme Court which, on Thursday, December 27, 2011, held in favor of a recent State law abolishing the State’s 400 local redevelopment agencies. The Court also ruled against a compromise measure which would have allowed the redevelopment agencies to continue in operation with the sharing of their revenues with the State General Fund. Localities are now faced with the quandary of how to make up the shortfall. Several new ideas have been advanced at both the State and local levels.

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SCAG's Regional Transportation Plan Falls Down Hard on Aviation Policy

The recently published Southern California Association of Governments (“SCAG”) Draft Regional Transportation Plan 2012-2035, Sustainable Communities Strategy (“Draft RTP”) is a study in contrasts. The Draft RTP is meant to be a roadmap to “increasing mobility for the region’s residents and visitors.” Draft RTP, p. 1. Its “vision” purportedly “encompasses three principles that collectively work as the key to our region’s future: mobility, economy and sustainability.” Draft RTP, p. 1. SCAG’s jurisdiction falls largely into compartments: (1) surface transportation such as roadways and rail; and (2) aviation. SCAG has funding authority over the former, but none over the latter.

The purpose of the Draft RTP is to portray transportation from a broader regional, rather than merely local, perspective. On the one hand, the Draft RTP’s analysis of surface transportation growth estimates, trends and proposed policies for the Southern California Region to the year 2035 contains relatively sophisticated and substantially complete analysis and projections that meet its goals. On the other hand, the Draft RTP’s analysis of aviation trends and policies for meeting airport demand is reminiscent of a high school science project.
 

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CEQA and the Law of Unintended Consequences

On September 27, 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 292 and Assembly Bill 900, both of which are aimed at expediting, or “fast-tracking,” the litigation of lawsuits brought under the California Environmental Quality Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321 (“CEQA”). SB292 is basically an earmark that will “fast-track” CEQA challenges to the Farmer’s Field National Football League Stadium proposed for downtown Los Angeles, next to the Los Angeles Convention Center and Staples Center, by requiring that such challenges be brought directly in California Courts of Appeals and be heard within 175 days. AB900 reaches more widely, “fast-tracking” all projects costing $100 million or more.

The stated intentions of the Bills’ sponsors are, on their faces, noble ones --- to provide more job opportunities, and spur increased spending and attendant tax revenue for the State, matters which seem urgent in light of the State of California’s economy. The problems raised by the Bills are less immediate, but no less important.
 

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California Airport Land Use Planning Handbook 2011 Update Delayed Again

The California Department of Transportation, Aviation Division (“Caltrans”) has announced yet another delay in the publication of the “California Airport Land Use Planning Handbook” (“Handbook”). The Handbook constitutes guidance for California’s airport land use commissions (“ALUC”) in the establishment of height, density and intensity restrictions for land uses around California airports. This delay continues and even increases the risk of conflict between ALUCs and local land use jurisdictions throughout California. 

ALUC restrictions are not the last word concerning land uses around airports, as local land use jurisdictions have final authority to approve or disapprove land uses within their own boundaries. However, ALUC restrictions can make it more difficult for a local jurisdiction to effectuate previously enacted development plans in the vicinity of an airport. This is because, to overcome the ALUC determination of inconsistency with ALUC restrictions, the local jurisdiction must overrule the ALUC by a two-thirds vote, a hurdle often difficult if not impossible to overcome because of fears of liability.

 

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Draft California Airport Land Use Planning Handbook Available for Review and Comment

It has come to our attention that the most recent revision of the California Airport Land Use Planning Handbook (Handbook) has just been released for public review and comment. The review period will end December 27, 2010.

 

 

The Handbook and the Airport Land Use Compatibility Plans (ALUCP) approved by many jurisdictions based on it, have a profound impact on development potential and cost. This is so because ALUCPs contain stringent development restrictions on projects within as much as six (6) miles of each publicly owned airport in California, independent of, and in addition to, the restrictions imposed by local land use jurisdictions within those areas. The only way to avoid such increased restriction is for the public entity to “overrule” the ALUC by a two-thirds (or four-fifths) vote which does not often happen. Absent such an “overrule,” the project, upon which a developer may already have expended significant resources, may have to be significantly down-sized or even abandoned.

Because new versions of the Handbook are typically published 10 years or more apart, any increased restrictions arising from the most recent version will have impacts on developments into the indefinite future, even if there is no currently impacted project pending. Therefore, Chevalier, Allen & Lichman strongly recommends that you file comments on the Handbook draft and thereby influence the final edition of the Handbook, or, in the alternative, ensure the right to a future challenge to the Handbook’s unreasonable development restrictions.

A New Edition of the California Airport Land Use Planning Handbook May Mean Trouble

Developers and local land use jurisdictions beware.  The California Department of Transportation (“CalTrans”) has initiated an update of the 2002 California Airport Land Use Planning Handbook which is scheduled to be completed in 2010.  The Handbook provides guidance to County Airport Land Use Commissions (“ALUC”) in the imposition of height and other zoning and land use restrictions around airports.

An initial problem arises from the Handbook’s interpretation of the airport land use planning process as set forth in the California Aeronautics Act, Public Utilities Code § 21670, et seq.  The California Supreme Court has defined airport land use plans as in the nature of “multi-jurisdictional general plans,” Muzzy Ranch Co. v. Solano County Airport Land Use Commission, 41 Cal.4th 372, 384 (2007), that often supercede local zoning at distances as great as five miles from the end of each runway.  For land use jurisdictions, this means that carefully crafted local regulations within those areas are rendered essentially null, because land use jurisdictions must bring their general and specific plans into consistency with airport land use plans within 180 days of the airport land use plan’s approval, or overrule the approval of the Airport Land Use Plan by a two-thirds vote.  Gov. Code § 65302.3.

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California Air Resources Board Approves Scoping Plan for Implementation of AB 32

The California Air Resources Board unanimously adopted its Scoping Plan to implement the sweeping changes in greenhouse gas emission dictated by AB 32.

As envisaged by the Scoping Plan, the state's greenhouse gas emissions would be cut by 15% over the next 12 years.  Although it seems to lay out targets for most sectors of the economy, there are some sectors that are missing, like aircraft and airports. All told,  it amounts to an average cut of four tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases for every person in the state.

The Scoping Plan, which  will be implemented over the next two years, puts California at the forefront of national climate policy at a time when President-elect Barack Obama has vowed to put control of greenhouse gas emissions at the top of his environmental agenda.

Past posts on this topic:

California's Proposal for Interim Significance Thresholds for Greenhouse Gases Will Affect Airport Planning

As part of the California Air Resources Board's (CARB) "Climate Change Proposed Scoping Plan," the Board, on October 24, 2008, released its Preliminary Draft Staff Proposal on recommended approaches for setting Interim significance thresholds for greenhouse gases under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  Since these thresholds of significance will affect the conduct of EIRs for projects subject to CEQA, such as airport development projects and Airport Land Use Compatibility Plans, participation in the setting of these standards is critical.

California law provides that climate change is an environmental effect subject to the CEQA.  Lead agencies, such as Airport Land Use Commissions, are therefore obligated to determine whether a project's climate change-related effects may be significant, thereby requiring preparation of an Environmental Impact Report and to impose feasible mitigation to substantially lessen any significant effects.

CARB is specifically requesting participation from the public stakeholders and local lead agencies.  The Preliminary Draft Staff Proposal suggests a "sector approach" due to the fact that "(1) some sectors contribute more substantially to the problem, and therefore should have a greater obligation for emissions reductions, and (2) looking forward, there are differing levels of emissions reductions expected from different sectors in or to meet California's climate objectives."

The PDSP includes flowcharts that address CARB's "threshold concepts" for industrial projects and for residential and commercial projects.  The PDSP also states that that the staff is working on a proposal for an interim approach for thresholds for transportation projects.  CARB proposes, for example, a significance threshold of 7,000 metric tons of CO2e/year.  For Projects that go over that amount, an EIR would have to be prepared and "all feasible GHG mitigation measures implemented."

CARB has identified a few questions to solicit public comment, but notes that the "list is not exhaustive."

  • Will the recommended approaches have any unintended consequences, for example, encouraging the piecemealing of projects?
  • As set out in the attachments to the Staff Proposal, staff proposes to define certain performance standards (e.g., for energy efficiency) by referencing or compiling lists from existing local, State or national standards.  For some sub-sources of GHG emissions (e.g., construction, transportation, waste), ARB staff has not identified reference standards.  How should the performance standards for these sub-sources be defined?
  • Are any of the industrial, residential, or commercial project types eligible for categorical exemptions likely to contribute more significantly to climate change than staff's preliminary analysis indicates?
  • For residential and commercial projects, staff has proposed that the GHG emissions of some projects that meet GHG performance standards might under some circumstances still be considered cumulatively considerable and therefore significant.  What types of projects might still have climate change-related impacts?

As noted above, since these thresholds of significance will affect the conduct of EIRs for projects subject to CEQA, such as airport development projects and Airport Land Use Compatibility Plans, participation in the setting of these standards is critical.