California Legislative Update: Bikes, Transit, Environmental Justice, More
Today is the deadline to pass any policy bills that have a fiscal impact out of all California legislative committees, so the last two weeks have seen a flurry of long hearings. Here’s a quick recap of pertinent bills.
Riding side-by-side is okay: Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) has a bill, A.B. 2509, that would clarify existing law that it is not illegal for bikes to ride side-by-side in certain circumstances. It passed the Assembly and now awaits its assignment to Senate committees.
Transit passes for veterans: S.B. 951 is also known as the Golden State Patriot Passes Program from Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg). The bill would use money from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund to develop a pilot transit pass program for veterans. The bill unanimously passed the Environmental Quality Committee this week.
Fair representation: The issue of environmental justice, and the effects of policies on low-income communities in the state, seems to be gaining some traction in the California legislature, at least among some Democrats. Republican lawmakers, however, are sticking to the party line that the economy trumps fairness, and also, usually, the environment. Unfortunately some members who aren’t Republicans are also falling into that trap, including people wielding power as committee chairs.
For example, two bills that would have reconfigured major decision-making bodies to include representatives of low-income and otherwise disadvantaged communities were shot down in the Assembly Transportation Committee. They got a hostile reception from committee chair Jim Frazier (D-Oakley), and some Democrats on the Committee were not willing to stand up to him. The two bills, A.B. 1982 and A.B. 2382, would have added representatives to the California Transportation Commission, which allocates the state’s transportation funding, and to the High Speed Rail Authority.
On the other hand, the Senate Environmental Quality Committee was much more receptive to several similar bills. S.B. 1387 from Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León (D-Los Angeles) easily passed that committee with a 5-2 vote, which fell along party lines. That bill, in addition to forcing the South Coast Air Quality Management District to consider the impacts of its actions on disadvantaged communities, would add three new members to the SCAQMD board, all representatives of environmental justice organizations.
The Senate Environmental Quality Committee also passed S.B. 1000 by Senator Connie Leyva (D-Chino) this week, with the same 5-2 vote. Leyva’s bill would require all local General Plans to include a section on Environmental Justice, to “identify objectives and policies to reduce the health risks in disadvantaged communities [including] the reduction of pollution exposure [and] the improvement of air quality, and the promotion of public amenities, food access, healthier homes, and physical activity,” as well as to “promote civil engagement in the public decision-making process.”
The new element would have to be added the next time a city revises the Housing Element of its General Plan, an important amendment since the housing elements are required to be updated regularly, while the General Plans themselves are frequently left to molder for years.
These are key planning documents, considered the “constitution” of cities, and requiring them to consider environmental justice is an important first step towards recognizing and mitigating planning practices that have ignored or marginalized low-income communities.
“Parking Bill of Rights?” Oh please: The best thing about A.B. 2586, from Assemblymember Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), is that it requires cities that are replacing their parking meters with “high-tech” meters to consider demand-based parking pricing. It doesn’t get too specific about what that means, but at least the idea is out there. Other parts of this bill seem benign enough: not allowing parking valets to hog spaces; prohibiting police from ticketing cars parked at broken meters; prohibiting incentives to increase parking revenue from issuing tickets; making parking spaces available as soon as street sweepers have passed (although that can lead to ridiculous situations like this one). Opposition seems to center around whether locals or the state is the appropriate governmental authority on this issue. This bill passed the Assembly Local Government Committee on a 6-3 vote.
Right turns on red ain’t no thang: Unfortunately, a bill from Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), S.B. 986, has been sailing through the Senate. It would lower fines for violations of laws allowing right turns on red only after complete stops. Apparently none of the lawmakers have witnessed a violation of this law from a pedestrian’s viewpoint. This is the second or third attempt by Hill to get this change made, depending how you count; the first one was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2010. The author says that automatic red light cameras are issuing a large number of citations for rolling right turns against red lights—which is hardly an argument for lowering the fines.
Sort-of automatic license suspension for hit-and-run: Assemblymember Eric Linder (R-Pomona) is joining a long of lawmakers who have tried to find a way to address the growing number of hit-and-run collisions in California. His bill, A.B. 2088, reduces the court’s discretion under certain circumstances. That is, when a driver who gets caught in a hit-and-run that causes property damage pleads guilty, their driver’s license will be automatically suspended for six months, and the court cannot assign community service instead.
This issue is such tricky one. First, there is the problem of identifying and arresting hit-and-run perpetrators; then there is the question of whether people drive with suspended licenses because they feel they “have to.” Meanwhile, bills trying to address the issue get so watered down in the law-making process, and end up applying so specifically to a small part of the problem, that it’s hard to see how they end up helping. Then there’s all the effort that may go for naught: Assemblymember Mike Gatto’s hit-and-run bill last year made it all the way through the legislative process, only to be vetoed by the governor. So far, this bill is doing fine; this week it passed the Assembly Appropriations committee unanimously.
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