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CEQA Guidelines Changes Downplay Automobiles

The Natural Resources Agency has altered proposed amendments to the California Environmental Quality Act Guidelines. The changes appear to shift the focus of environmental analysis away from a project's effects on automobile traffic and toward impact on the overall transportation system. The amendments are scheduled to take effect January 1, 2010.
 
Under legislation approved in 2007, the amendments are supposed to address greenhouse gas emissions (see CP&DR Environment Watch, May 2009). However, experts who commented on the draft amendments said that the continued reliance on traffic level of service (LOS) standards would only maintain an emphasis on automobile travel, even though less automobile travel is necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is because a high LOS requires roads, highways and intersections that can carry automobiles without undue delay.

In response, the agency changed Appendix G of the guidelines to give lead agencies more discretion in choosing methodologies to examine the transportation related effects of projects. The notice of proposed changes states, "The proposed revisions would refocus the question from the capacity of the circulation system to the performance of the circulation system as indicated in an applicable plan or ordinance. The proposed revisions also clarify and update language regarding safety considerations and other mass transit and non-motorized transportation issues."
 
In addition, the Natural Resources Agency deleted a question dealing with adequate parking capacity from the Appendix G checklist. Transit-oriented developments often run into CEQA difficulty because they provide a limited amount of parking, which is then considered a significant effect that must be mitigated.
 
The agency made other changes intended to clarify that greenhouse gas emissions are best analyzed as a cumulative impact.
 
The public comment period on the changes ends November 10. The entire CEQA Guidelines package is available at http://ceres.ca.gov/ceqa/guidelines.