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2015 Legislative Wrap-up: California Bills That Won and Lost

In its rush to Friday's deadline, the California legislature managed to pull off a win with the passage of its leaders' signature climate change bill, even if S.B. 350 had been scaled back in the days leading to the final vote. The other main climate change bill, S.B. 32, was held over until next year because it could not muster enough votes to pass. Both bills were held up by demands from Assembly Democrats that the authority of the California Air Resources Board be reduced, subjecting its every action to legislative approval. The governor and Senate leaders refused to give on that point.

Image from a mailer sent out by the California Drivers Alliance, which is funded by the Western States Petroleum Association.
Image from a mailer sent out by the California Drivers Alliance, which is funded by the Western States Petroleum Association.

In addition, the Special Session on Transportation put off any decisions until a yet-to-be-determined time, possibly later in the fall. This means that all the bills being considered in that session, including ones that would increase funding for transit and one that would increase funding for the Active Transportation Program, are on hold for the moment.

All other “regular session” bills had either to be passed by midnight on Friday, or wait until the next session begins in January for reconsideration. The last-minute rush gave the Assembly and Senate chambers the deadline-pushing ambience of a grad school all-nighter mixed with a bit of high school shenanigans. Sleepy legislators sat at their desks waiting to vote or milled about the room chatting and passing notes while their colleagues made speeches. An end-of-session tradition of playing “word bingo” wherein they try to work odd phrases into their speeches made them a little giddy, and brought admonishments  (“You could space those out a little bit, colleagues,” said presiding chair Assemblymember Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo) after one series of incongruous remarks.)

It was a long night. The Senate adjourned just before the midnight deadline, and the Assembly was still finishing up its business on the other side of the building almost an hour later. The votes on the big bills, including S.B. 350, came late in the evening. That bill finally passed the Senate after 10:30 p.m., after being held up most of the day as Assembly holdouts dug in their heels pending the resolution of negotiations on other bills.

The late amendment to S.B. 350 removed the goal of reducing gasoline consumption, and with that the bill also lost any reference to reducing vehicle miles traveled. This is especially disconcerting for bicycle advocates, as the bill had included expanding and improving “transportation choices to reduce vehicle miles traveled” as a means to reducing gas use. The amendment means a lost opportunity to codify encouragement of bicycle and pedestrian travel in the law.

“We were very disappointed that oil industry pressure derailed S.B. 350 as an opportunity to focus not only on cleaner fuels and vehicles, but also on reducing driving with real transportation alternatives like transit, bicycling, and walking,” said Jeanie Ward-Waller of the California Bicycle Coalition. CalBike is looking to the Transportation Special Session as an opportunity to continue the discussion, though, vowing to “push for any new transportation revenue to provide clean, affordable, healthy transportation options.”

Senate Pro Tem Kevin de León and the speaker-elect of the Assembly, Anthony Rendon (D-South Gate), may try again in the new session with another bill. If they do, they will need to do a better job communicating how gasoline use can be reduced without forcing diapered children to push the family mini-van home, as the oil companies' campaign would have people believe (see accompanying photo). This time around, putting off serious negotiations until the last minute didn't work. Like it or not, legislative leaders will have to deal with a group of so-called “moderate” Assemblymembers living in oil-producing regions who are more focused on keeping the economic status quo than on reversing climate change.

S.B. 350 and S.B. 32 were the two main climate change bills we were tracking at Streetsblog. Other bills we've been following, not including the Special Session bills, are listed after the jump.


Hit-and-run alert system: Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) presented his bill, A.B. 8, right at the beginning of the session. Like his version in the last session, it sailed through both houses. Governor Brown refused to sign last year's bill, saying he didn't want to overload the special alert system used by law enforcement to notify the public about kidnapped children. Whether his concern has been allayed or not will decide the ultimate fate of this year's bill.

Bike lights: Freshman Assemblymember Kansen Chu (D-Milpitas) gave us A.B. 28, a bill that would allow bikes to use either a rear red reflector or a red rear light at night. Current law only requires a red rear reflector, which bike advocates, including the League of American Cyclists, say are too passive and difficult to see unless a car's lights hit them just right. With this bill bicycle riders who use red rear lights won't have to also include a reflector just to be in compliance with the law.

No tolls for bicycle riders and pedestrians: A.B. 40 from Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) prohibits state-owned bridges from charging tolls to users of low-impact transportation. It was amended to include a sunset date of 2021 to appease some holdouts, but even so most—but not all—Republicans in both houses voted against it.

Take a class instead of paying a fine for a bicycle ticket: This bill from Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), A.B. 902, makes a small fix to state law that could have a big impact. It would allow bicycle riders who are ticketed for infractions “not involving a motor vehicle” to take a class “sanctioned by law enforcement.” The bill has no requirement that such classes be offered free of charge, which would have added to the incentive for bicyclists to take safety classes, but still, it's a plus. More safety classes, more safety. A bigger win would have been requiring car drivers to take classes that include a bicycle rider's perspective—well, one can dream.

Planning for less driving, and thus less parking: A.B. 744 from Assemblymember Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park) was a big win, prohibiting the imposition of parking requirements beyond certain thresholds on certain types of affordable housing. See earlier Streetsblog coverage here. Basically, by requiring more parking than residents of some types of housing were ever going to use, affordable housing was not affordable to build under any scenario. This bill should, by requiring lower amounts of expensive-to-build parking, make it possible to build more affordable housing in areas where people can take transit.

Taking the plan off the shelf: Carol Liu (D-Glendale) wrote S.B. 64 to ensure that the California Transportation Plan won't just sit on the shelf, but would actively inform policies set by the legislature and the California Transportation Commission by requiring it to include “specific, action-oriented, and pragmatic recommendations” for both entities. This is key because the California Transportation Plan, in its current draft form, recommends some pretty major changes to transportation policy thinking, based on projected population growth and climate change.

Funds for pedestrian safety and transit: S.B. 508 from Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose) seeks to make it easier for transit operators to qualify for state grants, and to allow certain categories of funds to be used for pedestrian safety programs. It's a deeply wonky subject, and this bill is a quick fix to make some outdated performance metrics more consistent. Ultimately those metrics, used to judge a transit agency's efficient use of state funds, need to be changed.

Categorizing and regulating electric bikes and electric skateboards: David Chiu (D-San Francisco) wrote A.B. 1096 to define different classes of electric bikes, including “low-speed” bikes that do not provide any power assistance once the bike reaches 20 mph. Defining different types of electric bikes allows them to be regulated differently; for example, the bill prohibits what it calls “Class 3” bikes, which can go up to 28 mph, from bike paths and trails. A.B. 604, from Assemblymember Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto), addresses electric skateboards, which under current law basically cannot be ridden anywhere. Under this bill,  they could be used on “public facilities,” with certain restrictions, including that riders be at least 16 years old and wear a helmet.


Speed up the planning process for a bike lane on the Richmond-San Rafael bridge, sort of: Assemblymember Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) has been pushing for a quick lane restriping on this long bridge between Marin and Richmond in the Bay Area. His bill, A.B. 157, tries to speed up the process by allowing planners to complete design work at the same time as environmental review. Levine's focus is on a car lane for the lower, westbound deck, which he believes will relieve traffic backups in Marin. Planners, however, say that the process is going as quickly as it can—a lane can't be added to the bridge until a high retaining wall on the Richmond end is moved. The notable aspect of this project is that it will include a new two-way bike lane on the bridge's upper deck, adding a crucial bike link to the Bay Trail. The bike lane, by the way, has no effect on the speed of the planning process, despite the claims of several editorials in a local paper.

State highway relinquished to local governments: Senator Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) wrote S.B. 461 to move responsibility for State Highway 164 from Caltrans to the cities of Los Angeles and El Monte. This is necessary before LA County can design a safer corridor along Rosemead Boulevard in those cities, to complete the current bikeway on that route in Temple City. Bike San Gabriel Valley has more details here.

San Francisco's buses can take pictures of vehicles blocking transit lanes: San Francisco's Muni system had permission to try a pilot program wherein bus-mounted cameras recorded parking violations that blocked the buses. It has been successful, so Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) wrote S.B. 1287 to make it permanent.


Passing slower vehicles on the highway: A.B. 208 from Assemblymember Frank Bigelow (R-Madera) got lost in the weeds of arcane verbiage for a while, but seems to have emerged unscathed, and in a way that will leave bicycles unscathed. It clarifies when a slow-moving vehicle must pull over to let other traffic pass: that is, when it's moving slower than “the normal speed of traffic” and there are five or more vehicles piled up behind. That goes for bicycles, too: if you're enjoying a ride on a country highway and five cars pile up behind you, do pull over--where safe--and let them pass.


The final vote tally for S.B.  350:

Assembly: passed 52-27
Voted "NO": Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo), Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach), Bigelow (R-Placerville), Brough (R-San Juan Capistrano), Chang (R-Brea), Chavez (R-Oceanside), Dahle (R-Grass Valley), Beth Gaines (R-Granite Bay), Gallagher (R-Chico), Gray (D-Modesto), Grove (R-Bakersfield), Harper (R-Costa Mesa), Jones (R-Santee), Kim (R-Buena Park), Lackey (R-Palmdale), Linder (R-Corona), Maienschein (R-San Diego), Mathis (R-Visalia), Mayes (R-Rancho Mirage), Melendez (R-Murrieta), Obernolte (R-Hesperia), Olsen (R-Modesto), Patterson (R-Fresno),  Steinorth (R-Rancho Cucamonga), Wagner (R-Tustin), Waldron (R-Escondido), Wilk (R-Valencia)

Didn't vote: Williams (D-Ventura) (one of the bill's coauthors, he missed the vote to be at the birth of his new son, who was born on Friday)

Senate: passed 26-14
Voted "NO": Anderson (R-El Cajon), Bates (R-Encinitas), Berryhill (R-Fresno), Cannella (R-Merced), Fuller (R-Bakersfield), Ted Gaines (R-Redding), Huff (R-Brea), Moorlach (R-Irvine), Morrell (R-Rancho Cucamonga), Nguyen (R-Santa Ana), Nielsen (R-Roseville), Runner (R-Santa Clarita), Stone (R-Murrietta), Vidak (R-Hanford)

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