Legislative Wrap-Up: Bills on Bike and Ped Safety, Climate
The dust is still settling, and Newsom hasn't signed on the dotted line yet
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The California legislative session ended on Wednesday, and the dust is still settling, but here’s a list of some of the bills moving on to the Governor’s desk. He has until the end of September to sign or veto them.
Note that a bunch of last-minute climate bills made it through, though not all of them. Several were “gut-and-amends,” meaning a bill that was still floating around the system was entirely rewritten with a new topic. This allows legislators to sidestep some of their own deadlines on bill introductions.
Note also that there were also big moves on housing and zoning, which will be the subject of a future post.
ACTIVE TRANSPORTATION & TRAFFIC SAFETY
Safe Street Crossings/Decriminalizing Jaywalking: Assemblymember Phil Ting’s A.B. 2147 passed; it would legalize pedestrian mid-block crossings when safe.
Bicycle Omnibus: Assemblymember Laura Friedman’s A.B. 1909 passed easily. This bill would make several clarifications to state law, including prohibiting mandatory bike registration requirements, requiring drivers to change lanes if possible when passing bikes, clarifying that bikes are allowed to cross with a pedestrian “walk” signal, and allowing e-bikes to use bike lanes.
CEQA Exemptions for Bike, Ped, Transit Projects: Senator Scott Wiener’s S.B. 922 would extend existing exemptions under state environmental law for projects that clearly have minimal environmental impact, as long as they don’t include capacity increases for cars.
Speed limits: Another Friedman bill, A.B. 1938, also passed. This one further loosens the 85th percentile rule that is used to set speed limits by allowing cities to round speed limits down. It also exempts local speed limits that are lowered within this new rule from the definition of “speed trap,” thus guaranteeing they are enforceable.
Tax Breaks for Living Car-Light: Senator Anthony Portantino’s bill to encourage people to own fewer cars, S.B. 457, passed easily. It garnered some snide comments from Republican Melissa Melendez in its final Senate hearing, who complained that it was “inequitable” because there are no such breaks for people who have to buy gas for their cars. The tax breaks are for lower-income households (below $60K for joint filers, $40K for single filers), some of whom may not even file for tax returns anyway.
Traffic Calming and Active Transportation Plans Everywhere: Portantino’s S.B. 932 passed. This bill would require cities to consider the needs and safety of people on foot and on bike, applying Safe System – aka Vision Zero – principles, within their general plans. Currently cities are only required to consider traffic in their “circulation elements.” The bill also requires regular review of these plans to make sure their goals are met. S.B. 932 gathered a lot of co-authors on its way to being passed, including Assemblymembers Tasha Boerner Horvath and Cristina Garcia, and Senators Henry Stern, Tom Umberg, and Scott Wiener.
Youth Pass Pilot: A.B. 1919, from Assemblymember Holden, would create a statewide pilot to provide grants to transit agencies so they can provide free transit for youth.
Existing Free and Reduced Fare Programs: S.B. 942, from Senator Josh Newman, would allow transit agencies to indefinitely extend free or reduced fare transit pass programs being paid for by the state cap-and-trade system.
Align Transportation Funding with Climate Goals: Assemblymember Friedman’s A.B. 2438 would require all state and locally funded transportation projects to align with the California Transportation Plan (CTP) and the Climate Action Plan for Transportation Infrastructure (CAPTI) adopted by the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) last summer. This could be a sea change for transportation funding throughout the state, although it wouldn’t begin applying until 2024 and there are many projects “in the pipeline” that may not align with climate goals (such as freeway widenings). It also clarifies that funding under the Solutions for Congested Corridors program, one of the relatively new programs funded under S.B. 1, is for “comprehensive multimodal corridor plans,” not just “comprehensive corridor plans.”
No Parking Minimums Near Transit: A.B. 2097, also from Assemblymember Friedman, would prohibit cities from imposing any minimum parking rules on projects close to transit. This is a first step in changing the mindset that says every driver should be allowed to park wherever they want to go for free. See previous posts for more information.
Buffer Zones Around Oil Wells: S.B. 1137, from Senator Lena Gonzalez, was a last-minute gut-and-amend that defines “health protection zones” as 3,200 feet surrounding oil wells. No new wells within that distance of “sensitive uses,” including schools, hospitals, and housing, would be permitted starting in 2023, and the following year all existing oil wells would have to comply with stricter rules on emissions, venting, noise, public notice, and chemical analysis of water.
Legislators have tried, and failed, to pass similar measures in the past. This time around, oil interests pushed back again. Senator Shannon Grove took up a lot of time during the last Senate floor session to complain that 1) it would cause oil companies to concentrate their production in other places – specifically, Ecuador – where environmental protections are weaker, and 2) methane fields like the one in Aliso Canyon are “exempt” from this bill. To be fair, she also argued that it would cost some of her constituents – namely small oil businesses – money.
Senator Henry Stern succinctly shut her arguments down, reading a statement from an Ecuadorian environmental activist who expressed disgust that the oil industry would threaten to destroy the environment in Ecuador if California moves to protect its own residents. Stern pointed out that the Aliso Canyon facility, and other methane fields, are already required “to far exceed the requirements in this bill, and in fact those regulations were the model for this bill. Under S.B. 1137, they would finally also apply to oil wells.”
“To invoke burdened communities” as an excuse to do nothing, he added, “is profane.” The final vote on this bill was 25 to 10.
The California Climate Crisis Act: A.B. 1279 was another a gut-and-amend, this one from Assemblymembers Al Muratsuchi and Cristina Garcia. This would set a higher and more urgent target for eliminating greenhouse gas emissions in California, specifically aiming for “net zero ghg emissions as soon as possible, but no later than 2045,” and to maintain it thereafter. By 2045, the goal would be to reduce ghg emissions to at least 85 percent below 1990 levels. This bill was made contingent on the passing of S.B. 905, which would require the Air Resources Board to evaluate and regulate carbon sequestration, an untested and unproven technology currently heavily relied on in CARB’s plan to reduce carbon emissions. That bill, from Senator Ana Caballero, would also require CARB to develop ways to track and report on carbon sequestration to ensure it’s not a total waste of time.
Another bill that would have tightened ghg emission reduction goals, A.B. 2133 from Assemblymember Bill Quirk, was a different gut-and-amend. This one passed the Senate but failed when it went back to the Assembly, with 21 members abstaining.
Among the bills that did not pass was Senator Wiener’s S.B. 260, the Climate Corporate Accountability Act. It failed on the Assembly floor by one vote, with eighteen Assemblymembers abstaining (Aguiar-Curry, Alvarez, Arambula, Calderon, Cervantes, Cooper, Flora, Gipson, Gray, Grayson, Irwin, Maienschein, Ramos, Rodriguez, Blanca Rubio, Villapudua, Wilson, and Wood). This bill – which Streetsblog has written plenty about – would simply have required large corporations in California to publicly disclose their carbon footprint.
The idea was to make it harder for polluters to greenwash their practices, but that must just be too scary.