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.
First, the current draft of the Update rejects the LOS metric categorically, based on the bare conclusion that “a project’s effect on automobile delay does not constitute a significant environmental impact.” Update, § 15064.3(a). However, the adoption of the VMT metric, which supposedly captures the emissions impacts caused by a number of cars rather than the time of idling at intersections, is based on a distinction without a difference. This is because numerous studies have established that a larger number of cars operating at optimal speed will emit fewer air contaminants than a smaller number of cars idling for long periods at congested intersections.