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2022 CEQA Legislative Recap – Environmental Law

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In response to developers’ continued cry for meaningful
reform, changes to or exemptions from the California Environmental
Quality Act (Pub. Res. Code §§ 21000 et seq.)
(CEQA) are often included in numerous bills during any California
legislative session. 2022 proved to be no exception. While many
bills suffered slow deaths in committee, a handful successfully
made it to the Governor’s desk and were signed into law.

A brief recap of those bills and their impacts on CEQA is
provided below:

Assembly Bill (AB) 2011: The
Affordable Housing and High Road Jobs Act of 2022 is one of the
major housing bills of the last legislative session. Championed by
Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, this act includes a CEQA-exempt
ministerial review process for qualifying housing projects on
commercially zoned sites. Pursuant to AB 2011, multifamily projects
including either 100% affordable units on a commercially zoned
site, or mixed-income projects situated on a commercial corridor,
are exempt from CEQA so long as they pay prevailing wages and meet
specified “Below Market Rate” affordable housing targets.
The project site must also meet a number of requirements and
restrictions, including that it cannot be on or adjoined to a site
where more than 1/3 of the square footage is dedicated to an
industrial use; it cannot be within 500 feet of a freeway or 3,200
feet of an active oil or gas refinery; and, if the site has a
neighborhood plan, such as a specific plan, area plan, or master
plan, the plan must allow multifamily housing development on the
site as of January 1, 2022 or allow for such development via an
adopted plan and environmental review by January 1, 2024. Projects
that fulfill AB 2011’s requirements can benefit from a
streamlined approval process as well as the CEQA exemption. Note
that this legislation takes effect on July 1, 2023.

Senate Bill (SB) 886: The
Student and Faculty Housing Act, Senator Scott Wiener’s
legislation to address California’s student and faculty housing
shortage, exempts housing projects for students and faculty built
on land owned by the University of California, California State
University, or California community colleges from CEQA. However, to
qualify for this CEQA exemption, such housing projects must satisfy
several criteria. Specifically, projects must: (i) be on a campus
property; (ii) utilize prevailing wages and a skilled and trained
workforce; (iii) be consistent with a certified Environmental
Impact Report (EIR) for a long range development plan or master
plan; (iv) have a transportation demand management program; (v)
mitigate all construction impacts; and (vi) not result in any net
additional emissions of greenhouse gases. The buildings must be
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum
certified, have a maximum of 2,000 units or 4,000 beds, and be
located within a ½-mile of a major transit stop or the
campus boundary, or have 15% lower per capita VMT as compared to
the jurisdiction where the project is located. Finally, the
projects cannot displace existing affordable or rent-controlled
housing or historic structures, nor can they be built on farmland,
wetlands, or in very high fire hazard severity zones. Given the
numerous requirements that must be met in order to qualify for the
CEQA exemption, it is unclear how many projects may be able to rely
on the exemption provided by SB 886. Effective January 1, 2023,
this law sunsets January 1, 2030.

SB 118: This emergency
legislation provides that enrollment or changes in enrollment at a
campus or medical center of public higher education, by themselves,
do not constitute a project for purposes of CEQA. However, if a
court determines that increases in campus population exceed the
projections adopted in the most recent campus long-range
development plan and supporting EIR, and those increases result in
significant environmental impacts, the court may order a new,
supplemental, or subsequent EIR be prepared within 18 months. SB
118 is the swift legislative response to the March 2022 decision in

Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods v. Regents of the University
of California
, which imposed an unpreceded cap on
enrollment at the University of California Berkeley campus that
would have required the university to reduce its incoming class
enrollment by over 3,000 students. SB 118 took effect on March 14,
2022 and applied retroactively so as to nullify the court
case’s impacts.

AB 205: AB 205 encourages the
development of certain kinds of solar, wind, and other clean energy
projects through a streamlined environmental review process as
environmental leadership development projects. The legislation
requires the California Energy Commission to review project
applications and make a determination of completeness within 30
days of submission. Like other environmental leadership development
projects in the state, AB 205 requires the Judicial Council to
adopt a rule of court allowing proceedings related to environmental
review to be completed within 270 days after the application is
deemed complete. This legislation took effect on June 30, 2022.

Sheppard Mullin will continue to monitor the current legislative
session for any new bills proposed that build upon the 2022
legislative CEQA changes or offer new revisions to the law.

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