Background on CEQA Transportation Analysis

With the adoption of the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 (Senate Bill 375), the state made its commitment to encourage land use and transportation planning decisions that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles traveled, as required by the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (Assembly Bill 32).

On Sept. 27, 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed California Senate Bill 743, which determined that new practices are needed for evaluating transportation impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act, also known as CEQA, that are “better able to promote the state’s goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and traffic-related air pollution, promoting the development of a multimodal transportation system, and providing clean, efficient access to destinations.” Helping move that process forward, SB 743 added Chapter 2.7, Modernization of Transportation Analysis for Transit-Oriented Infill Projects, to Division 13 (Section 21099) of the Public Resources Code.

Section 21099 of the California Environmental Quality Act requires the Office of Planning and Research, the state’s long-range planning and research agency, to develop revisions to the CEQA Guidelines establishing criteria for determining the significance of transportation impacts of projects within transit priority areas that promote the “…reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the development of multimodal transportation networks, and a diversity of land uses.” Section 21099 states that upon adoption of the revisions to the CEQA Guidelines, automobile delay, as described solely by level of service or similar measures of vehicular capacity or traffic congestion, shall not be considered a significant impact on the environment under CEQA.

Since December 2013, the Office of Planning and Research and the Secretary of natural Resources Agency published several documents to implement Senate Bill 743 and the associated CEQA Guidelines:

  1. Current CEQA Guidelines Update
  2. CEQA: The California Environmental Quality Act

The documents indicate that the primary consideration in transportation environmental analysis should be the amount and distance that the project might cause people to drive. Accordingly, the state proposes that the level of service metric be replaced with a vehicle miles traveled metric, also known as VMT.

Given the negative effects the results of environmental impact analysis can have on beneficial projects in San Francisco and that the change is imminent statewide, San Francisco moved ahead of the state in implementing this change. A resolution adopted by the Planning Commission on March 3, 2016 removed automobile delay as a significant impact on the environment and replaced with a vehicle miles traveled threshold for all CEQA environmental determinations.