CEQA Review Changes to Accommodate High Density Developments

Senate Bill 743 (Steinberg, 2013) required changes to the transportation impacts evaluated by CEQA reviews. Governor Brown’s administration is now re-writing these guidelines. I believe they waited until now in order that the new housing bills would be in place first. Previous CEQA evaluations looked at “loss of service” (LOS) issues such as traffic congestion at intersections. The new CEQA guidelines will evaluate “vehicle miles traveled” (VMT) instead of LOS.

All high density developments will pass the VMT criteria as long as they are along a current or planned “high quality transit corridor.”  SCAG has many of these corridors “planned.” Their belief is that building high density mixed use infill developments along high quality transit corridors will reduce VMT and help to reach carbon reduction goals.

In addition, in the plan I quoted and linked below, it says “Because location within the region is the most important determinant of VMT, in some cases, streamlining CEQA review of projects in travel efficient locations may be the most effective means of reducing VMT.” I’m assuming streamlining means no CEQA review is necessary.

I don’t believe these guidelines are finalized yet but they’re well on their way.

From the Report (link at end):


This technical advisory is one in a series of advisories provided by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) as a service to professional planners, land use officials, and CEQA practitioners.  OPR issues technical guidance on issues that broadly affect the practice of land use planning and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.).  The purpose of this document is to provide advice and recommendations, which agencies and other entities may use at their discretion.  This document should not be construed as legal advice.
Senate Bill 743 (Steinberg, 2013) required changes to the guidelines implementing CEQA (CEQA Guidelines) (Cal. Code Regs., Title 14, Div. 6, Ch. 3, § 15000 et seq.) regarding the analysis of transportation impacts.  OPR has proposed changes to the CEQA Guidelines that identify vehicle miles traveled (VMT) as the most appropriate metric to evaluate a project’s transportation impacts. The proposed changes also provide that the analysis of certain transportation projects must address the potential for induced travel.  Once the California Natural Resources Agency adopts these changes to the CEQA Guidelines, automobile delay, as measured by “level of service” and other similar metrics, generally will no longer constitute a significant environmental effect under CEQA.    Page 1

Any project that includes in its geographic bounds a portion of an existing or planned Transit Priority Area (i.e., the project is within a ½ mile of an existing or planned [SCAG has these planned] major transit stop or an existing stop along a high quality transit corridor) may employ VMT as its primary metric of transportation impact for the entire project.  (See Pub. Resources Code, § 21099, subds. (a)(7), (b)(1).)
…Therefore, lead agencies may perform a multimodal impact analysis that incorporates the technical approaches and mitigation strategies that are best suited to the unique land use/transportation circumstances and specific facility types they are evaluating.   pages 4 and 5

In other words, vehicle efficiency and better fuels are necessary, but insufficient, to address the greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation system.  Land use patterns and transportation options must also change to support reductions in vehicle travel/VMT.

· New land use projects alone will not sufficiently reduce per-capita VMT to achieve those targets, nor are they expected to be the sole source of VMT reduction.

· Interactions between land use projects, and also between land use and transportation projects, existing and future, together affect VMT.

  • Because location within the region is the most important determinant of VMT, in some cases, streamlining CEQA review of projects in travel efficient locations may be the most effective means of reducing VMT.

First, as described above, Section 21099 states that the criteria for determining significance must “promote the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.”  page 7 and 8

Furthermore, At the State level, a number of important policies are being developed.  Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 743 (Steinberg, 2013), which called for an update to the metric of transportation impact in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). That update to the CEQA Guidelines is currently underway.  Employing VMT as the metric of transportation impact statewide will help ensure GHG reductions planned under SB 375 will be achieved through on-the-ground development, and will also play an important role in creating the additional GHG reductions needed beyond SB 375 across the State.” (Id. at p. 112.)

…The CEQA Guidelines are being updated to focus the analysis of transportation impacts on VMT.  page 9

Residential and office projects that locate in areas with low VMT, and that incorporate similar features (i.e., density, mix of uses, transit accessibility), will tend to exhibit similarly low VMT. page 10

Presumption of Less Than Significant Impact Near Transit Stations

Proposed CEQA Guideline Section 15064.3, subdivision (b)(1), states that lead agencies generally should presume that certain projects (including residential, retail, and office projects, as well as projects that are a mix of these uses) proposed within ½ mile of an existing major transit stop7 or an existing stop along a high quality transit corridor8 will have a less-than-significant impact on VMT.

8 Pub. Resources Code, § 21155 (“For purposes of this section, a high-quality transit corridor means a corridor with fixed route bus service with service intervals no longer than 15 minutes during peak commute hours.”).   page 11

  1. Recommendations Regarding Land Use PlansAs with projects, agencies should analyze VMT outcomes of land use plans over the full area over which the plan may substantively affect travel patterns, including beyond the boundary of the plan or jurisdiction’s geography.  Analysis of specific plans may employ the same thresholds described above for projects.  A general plan, area plan, or community plan may have a significant impact on transportation if it is not consistent with the relevant RTP-SCS.   page 15

When evaluating impacts to multimodal transportation networks, lead agencies generally should not treat the addition of new transit users as an adverse impact.  An infill development may add riders to transit systems and the additional boarding and alighting may slow transit vehicles, but it also adds destinations, improving proximity and accessibility.  Such development also improves regional vehicle flow by adding less vehicle travel onto the regional network.  page 15 and 16

                                    Transit and Active Transportation Projects

Transit and active transportation projects generally reduce VMT and therefore are presumed to cause a less-than-significant impact on transportation.  This presumption may apply to all passenger rail projects, bus and bus rapid transit projects, and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure projects.  Streamlining transit and active transportation projects aligns with each of the three statutory goals contained in SB 743 by reducing GHG emissions, increasing multimodal transportation networks, and facilitating mixed use development.  page 19

Potential measures to reduce vehicle miles traveled include, but are not limited to:

· Improve or increase access to transit. · Increase access to common goods and services, such as groceries, schools, and daycare. · Incorporate affordable housing into the project. · Incorporate neighborhood electric vehicle network. · Orient the project toward transit, bicycle and pedestrian facilities. · Improve pedestrian or bicycle networks, or transit service. · Provide traffic calming. · Provide bicycle parking. · Limit or eliminate parking supply. · Unbundle parking costs. · Provide parking or roadway pricing or cash-out programs. · Implement or provide access to a commute reduction program. · Provide car-sharing, bike sharing, and ride-sharing programs. · Provide transit passes. · Shifting single occupancy vehicle trips to carpooling or vanpooling, for example providing ridematching services. · Providing telework options. · Providing incentives or subsidies that increase the use of modes other than single-occupancy vehicle. · Providing on-site amenities at places of work, such as priority parking for carpools and vanpools, secure bike parking, and showers and locker rooms. · Providing employee transportation coordinators at employment sites. · Providing a guaranteed ride home service to users of non-auto modes.   page 22 and 23



2 thoughts on “CEQA Review Changes to Accommodate High Density Developments

  1. I like to idea of having living space close to transit areas, especially where there is room. I’m not thrilled about the term “High Density” because I then visualize tall, slum like buildings of the past. I see the importance of planning for this environment now because of the lack of actual living space but I believe we need more open discussion to really see how we can develop these spaces effectively.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s