Urban Land Institute calls for streamlining of California Environmental law

June 8, 2010

California’s landmark environmental protection law represents a barrier to building more compact, transit-friendly communities that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report from the Urban Land Institute. The Institute, in a report on SB 375, a new California law that will shape land-use planning in the state for years to come, says reforms are needed to make the California Environmental Quality Act more in tune with the goal of building infill developments in places already close to existing homes and commercial projects.

The report suggests that new regional plans mandated by SB 375 should be substituted in some cases for environmental impact reports required by the Environmental Quality Act. In addition, it recommends that more transit-oriented projects should be exempted or at least get some relief from what the Institute calls CEQA’s “excessive documentation.”

Currently, projects lose the right to win an exemption from the environmental law if they include more than 200 residential units or are larger than eight acres. But those limits, the report says, probably discourage developers of larger projects from moving ahead due to the time and cost of complying with the full CEQA process.

The environmental law should also be changed, the report says, to credit greenhouse gas reductions to commercial and industrial projects served by transit, just as SB 375 already does for primarily residential projects that are transit-oriented.

The report lauds SB 375 as a potential game-changer in California’s land use planning, comparing it to early energy efficiency regulations that were initially controversial but later credited with saving electricity and money for California residents and businesses.

But the report says a failure to finance the expansion and operation of public transit could seriously undercut the new law’s ability to change travel patterns and reduce automobile use.

To see the full report, click here.

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