All Kinds of Safety and Sustainability Bills Made it to the Governor’s Desk
And some have been held for next year
1:53 PM PDT on September 18, 2023
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If it feels like a bit of a bonanza for sustainability legislation this year, it is because a lot of bills championed by safety and sustainable transportation advocates actually made it all the through the sausage making and on to Governor Newsom's desk. He has until October 14 to sign or veto them, so their fates are not certain yet.
First, a list of some of the sustainability bills that passed both the Assembly and Senate. At the end are some that did not make it, at least this year.
Speed cameras: A.B. 645 would create a pilot program to allow a few cities to test out the efficacy, efficiency, and equity impacts of using cameras to enforce speed limits. It took a long time and a lot of negotiating to get the bill this far.
Transparency on highway building: Senator Lena Gonzalez's S.B. 695 would give Caltrans until 2026 to publicly report details about its highway building, including number and type of all new lane miles, number of homes and businesses relocated or demolished, and new bike lane and sidewalk miles. Because this information is very hard to find, this should be a useful tool going forward for tracking and understanding where state transportation investments are going.
Accountability and transparency on emissions: At Climate Week in New York City this past weekend, Governor Newsom indicated that he intends to sign Senator Scott Wiener's S.B. 253. This bill would require large California corporations to publicly disclose their emissions data - which many companies are already tracking anyway.
No misdemeanor for fare evasion: Some transit agencies, notably BART (at least, the majority of the BART board), opposed A.B. 819 from Assemblymember Isaac Bryan. It would put fare evasion on a more equal footing with traffic tickets by considering it an infraction and subject to fines rather than a misdemeanor with all the court burdens and complications that entails.
Visibility at intersections: Assemblymember Alex Lee's A.B. 413 would make it illegal to park close to an intersection, so that sightlines are not blocked. Local authorities can allow these areas to be used as commercial loading zones, however, as long as they are marked as such.
Allow tenants to have e-bikes: S.B. 712, from Senator Anthony Portantino, would make it legal for renters to store and recharge their personal e-bikes and e-scooters in their units.
Biking on sidewalks: A.B. 825, from Assemblymember Bryan, would make it okay for bike riders to use the sidewalk where there is no bike lane in the adjacent street. This would override local ordinances prohibiting sidewalk riding - and presumably would encourage cities to add bike facilities.
Bike Czar: S.B. 538, another one from Senator Portantino, would create the position of Chief Advisor on Bicycling and Active Transportation within Caltrans.
Bike lane enforcement: Assemblymember Chris Ward's A.B. 361 would allow local authorities to use vehicle-mounted cameras to enforce parking restrictions in bike lanes.
Heavy vehicles and road maintenance: Assemblymember Ward's A.B. 251 would require the California Transportation Commission to study the relationship between vehicle weight and injuries to vulnerable users, as well as to road degradation, and to study the costs and benefits of imposing weight-based fee for vehicles. They should just go ahead and charge a fee, but these things take time.
Transit task force: A.B. 761 was introduced by Assemblymember Friedman to create a task force to study how the state supports transit. The idea was suggested long before COVID and knocked the agencies for a loop, but it never got off the ground. One of the goals of A.B. 761 was to explore a different way to financially support transit than the current, somewhat backwards method of basing funding on what percentage of its revenue a transit agency can produce via fares.
But the transit task force was included in S.B. 125, a budget bill that restored $2 billion in cuts to transit funding that had been floated by the governor. That budget bill also made the funding more flexible than state funds usually are, so that transit agencies could use it for operations if they needed to. This is a first in California transit funding, and the task force needs to study whether to use this as part of a permanent solution.
Meanwhile Assemblymember Friedman rewrote A.B. 761 to allow L.A. Metro to use tax increment financing to help it finance some of its transit projects. That is a bill for next year.
Autonomous trucks: Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry's A.B. 316 would require a human operator to be present when large autonomous vehicles, including trucks and buses, are being tested on public roads.
Separate cost of parking from rent: Assemblymember Wendy Carillo's A.B. 1317 would require landlords to "unbundle" parking costs from housing rents, thus lowering rents for non drivers as well as making super clear how much it costs to store a car.
Share unused parking: Assemblymember Friedman tackled another parking issue with A.B. 894, which would allow businesses with empty parking lots to create a shared parking agreement with other business and thus potentially lower the size of parking lots.
Bills that did NOT make it - and may get another chance in the second year of the 2-year session - include:
No Pretextual Stops: S.B. 50 from Senator Steven Bradford would prevent police from using what are called "pretextual stops" as an excuse to search people. This bill is aimed at preventing harassment of people on bikes and foot, and prevents police from stopping people for low-level infractions like a missing bike light. It had a provision that would also have allowed unarmed civilian traffic enforcement, but that was stripped out of it recently. S.B. 50 did not pass the Assembly floor.
Transportation project selection: A.B. 7 from Assemblymember Laura Friedman was an attempt to make sure California highway planners take state climate goals into account in their work. It got held in the Senate, after passing every committee vote. This bill is a piece of a much larger, longer fight to get the state to put its money where its mouth is in terms of climate.
Bikes at stop signs: Despite strong support for this common sense bill, the author pulled A.B. 73 from the Senate Transportation Committee when it was clear it would not be signed by the governor. Will it come back again? The idea has been resurrected every year for the last few years.
Free transit passes for youth: Assemblymember Chris Holden keeps trying on this issue, but hasn't been able to get it into a budget bill, which is where it needs to be so it can be funded. A.B. 610 was held in the Senate, after passing all its assigned committees. Expect it back next year.
Improving air monitoring of pollutants: S.B 674 from Senator Gonzalez was held for next year. This bill - which would require more thorough air monitoring from polluting industries, especially ones located near housing - faced strident opposition from the oil and gas industry, who argued that it would raise the price of gas. Oh, and they feel "demonized."
This is another bill, like Senator Scott Wiener's Climate Corporate Accountability Bill, that would merely increase transparency so people would have a better idea what pollution they are living with. It doesn't even include actions or sanctions in response to that information, nor to any of the many fires, explosions, and unpermitted flaring - more than two hundred of which are known to have happened since the start of 2021 - that local residents are subjected to. The only reason those incidents are known about is because of the work of environmental organizations like Earth Justice.
Streetsblog California editor Melanie Curry has been thinking about transportation, and how to improve conditions for bicyclists, since her early days commuting by bike to UCLA long ago. She was Managing Editor at the East Bay Express, and edited Access Magazine for the University of California Transportation Center. She also earned her Masters in City Planning from UC Berkeley.
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