Against the protests of many environmental and community groups -- but with the support of developers and builders -- Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 226 (Simitian) yesterday, ushering in what some consider a new era of reform to the California Environmental Quality Act.
SB 226 includes the following alternations to CEQA:
1. Exemptions for projects that include the installation of solar power generating systems on the roofs of existing structures and for plants that are converting from solar thermal to photovoltaic systems.
2. New guidelines for scoping meetings regarding projects of "statewide, regional, or areawide" significance.
3. The Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency will certify and adopt guidelines to include a list of classes of projects that have been determined not to have a significant effect on the environment and can therefore receive categorical exemptions.
4. The Office of Planning and Research, on or before July 1, 2012, will prepare guidelines for statewide standards for infill projects that would promote "green" goals.
5. Limit the application of CEQA in the case of the approval of an infill project that satisfies the standards that OPR will be preparing.
Both proponents and opponents contend that the last provision could have a dramatic impact on California cities by streamlining the development of infill projects. Environmental groups are concerned that an overly broad definition of infill could lead to high-density development in locations whose infrastructure and transportation networks are inadequate. Some critics even contend that the law could "dismantle CEQA" and undermine Senate Bill 375 by facilitating development in locations that are not well served by transit and that will, as a consequence, increase vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions.
Curiously, the governor's signing statement [pdf] refers only to the law's impact on the development of rewnewable power plants but makes no mention of its provisions regarding infill development.