The Office of Planning and Research (OPR) staff members working on the SB 743 transportation impact metric are showing signs they may be receptive to criticism, possibly slowing the CEQA Guidelines changes down and rethinking the "regional average" metric for vehicle miles traveled that they proposed last month.

In a September 25 webinar so popular it overloaded the meeting software, senior counsel Chris Calfee and senior planner Chris Ganson announced they would push back the comment deadline on the August 6 proposed draft from the original October 10 to November 21. They said the decision followed conversations with groups including the Association of Environmental Professionals and American Planning Association.

New at the presentation was a distinctly tentative stance on two key aspects of the proposal.

On the date for full statewide implementation – as distinct from initial implementation in transit-rich areas, or voluntary adoption where local agencies prefer the new metric – Calfee said, "We put as a placeholder January 1, 2016, but we know that that time period is likely to move, given how long the rulemaking process is likely to take." Separately he reassured listeners that the current discussion process was "pre-regulatory," to be followed by a formal rulemaking via the state Natural Resources Agency.

Possibly more important, Calfee implied willingness to change the draft's proposed approach to assessing projects' VMT levels by relating them to regional average VMTs. That approach has been criticized as difficult to apply fairly to local areas that don't match the averages taken across large regional government areas. (See prior discussion at

He said OPR "would really appreciate your input on things like, what might be the appropriate recommendation for a threshold? We started out with regional average but we know others have some good ideas as well so please submit those." He said the staff knew the safety discussion needed to be further refined, "and also, give us your thoughts on whether the timing that we set out is appropriate."

(On the webinar recording, which is available at, these key comments show up around Minute 41. Note this is a different, more extended recording than the webinar recording shown at, which stops just past Minute 38.)

[Update 11/2/14: the full recording, lasting 1 hour, 54 minutes, was later posted at]

Otherwise, in a tag-team presentation, Calfee and Ganson offered reassurances on the advantages of the SB 743 Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) analysis for infill projects; among much else they emphasized the tendency of existing Level Of Service (LOS) analysis, which it would replace, to impose mitigations on infill projects that are intended to reduce auto traffic congestion even if the projects are well served by transit, bicycle or foot travel.

They leaned hard on the discretion the draft would still offer to local lead agencies, both in choosing VMT analysis methods and in using LOS analysis outside the CEQA context. Calfee and Ganson have repeatedly emphasized that the CEQA Guidelines will permit lead agencies to use "professional judgment" regarding both inputs and outputs of VMT models.

In Q&A discussion late in the presentation, Ganson said it would be permissible, and in fact important, for local lead agencies to choose VMT measurement tools that have sensitivity to different relevant factors. He said standardized measurements may work well in some circumstances but will "miss a big part of the picture in other circumstances."

As expressed earlier this month at a forum in San Diego (see, the team confirmed the proposed SB 743 analysis approach could trump local general plans' analysis on the narrow issue of whether congestion and auto delay count as a significant environmental impact under CEQA.

And as discussed at a prior forum during the American Planning Association - California convention (see, they addressed the question whether an agency might be required by its local planning standards to increase roadway capacity as a means of avoiding congestion under an LOS analysis, hence raising local vehicle trips through the induced demand effect of added capacity. Their response in the webinar was that, as with renewable energy, projects that have mixed good and bad environmental effects must always be analyzed as a matter of overall policy, and a roadway expansion might still be pursued after adopting a statement of overriding considerations.

Reactions to the SB 743 analysis during the late summer have included strongly worded attacks by the real estate firm of Holland & Knight. As initially reported at, the firm responded to a list of potential mitigation measures as an impermissible attempt to expand CEQA law by pushing economic and social policies such as affordable housing near transit. At the September 25 presentation, the OPR team said the mitigation measures in question were optional suggestions derived from a list prepared by the California Air Pollution Control Officers' Association. More recently, a widely posted Sacramento Business Journal commentary by writer Allen Young at quoted Holland & Knight's Jennifer Hernandez as claiming that sponsors of infill projects would be pushed by the new rules to justify projects that did not minimize vehicle trips.

Comments on the draft are due by November 21 to Details related to the presentation are in a new FAQ document posted at and otherwise on the general OPR SB 743 site at