Senator Wiener Introduces SB 922 to Expedite Sustainable Transportation Projects
SACRAMENTO - Today, Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) announced Senate Bill 922. SB 922 makes permanent and improves upon his previous legislation (SB 288, 2020) to expedite bike, pedestrian, light rail, and bus rapid transit projects by exempting these environmentally sustainable projects from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). SB 922 will accelerate approval of sustainable, climate-friendly transportation projects.
Given the recently approved and historic infrastructure investments at the federal and state levels, SB 922 will help us get projects up and running in record time. This is an important moment to quickly and decisively make use of transformational funds and expand our transportation infrastructure across the state. We cannot allow sustainable transportation projects to get bogged down in years of unnecessary and expensive administrative delays when we could be revitalizing California’s transportation landscape now.
“Expanding public transit, bike, and pedestrian infrastructure puts people to work and mitigates the worst impacts of climate change,” said Senator Wiener. “Our federal and state governments are making huge investments in infrastructure, and we need to get these projects going much faster than we have in the past. We’ve seen just how successful SB 288 has been in jumpstarting sustainable transportation projects – we need to keep this momentum up. Streamlining new transportation infrastructure is a climate issue, it’s a jobs issue, and it’s an equity issue. That’s why SB 922 is so important for the future of our state.”
In the short time – just over a year – that SB 288 has been in place, 10 projects have been streamlined in various parts of the state. Another 20 projects are currently under consideration for streamlined treatment. Transit agencies from around the state, including the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, AC Transit, and CalTrain, have invoked this streamlining. Other transit agencies that have made use of SB 288 include: Yuba-Sutter Transit, Tahoe Transportation District, Napa Valley Transportation Authority, Santa Rosa CityBus, Fairfield and Suisun Transit, Monterey-Salinas Transit District, Culver City CityBus, Long Beach Transit, and Riverside Transit Authority. Streamlined projects include protected pedestrian walkways and bike lanes, bus rapid transit projects, electric vehicle charging for buses, and more.
Without an extension of SB 288, these projects may no longer be viable for these agencies. Whether it’s the significant time and cost to work through CEQA, or the concerns around possible years-long lawsuits and appeals, without this statutory exemption, California will miss out on the necessary changes we need to reduce emissions and provide sustainable transportation options for communities across the state.
SB 288 sunsets on January 1, 2023, and SB 922 will make the law permanent, so that cities and counties across the state can continue to cut down on approval time and costs for sustainable transportation projects. SB 922 will also modify the types of projects eligible for streamlining.
Specifically, projects that apply must now meet one of the following requirements:
-Make streets safer for walking and biking
-Speed up bus service on streets
-Make it possible to run bus service on highways
-Expand carpooling options
-Build new, or modernize old light rail stations
-Support parking policies that reduces drive-alone trips & congestion
-Improve wayfinding for people using transit, biking or walking
Additionally, to ensure that the exemption is not misapplied to projects with detrimental impacts, these projects must also:
-Be located in an existing public right of way
-Must not add new auto capacity
-Must not demolish affordable housing
-Must use a skilled and trained workforce or have a project labor agreement in place.
SB 922 will also ensure California invests in equitable transportation projects. In cases where projects are estimated to cost over $100 million, the lead agency or project sponsor must expand public participation requirements so they occur early in a project when input can be most meaningful. They also must complete a project business case to evaluate benefits and costs so communities can share the project early in the planning. And finally, a lead agency or sponsor must complete racial equity and displacement analyses and suggest mitigations to address any disproportionate impacts.
Building more sustainable transportation is key to addressing climate change and environmental concerns. When more people use alternatives to cars – like transit, walking and biking – greenhouse gas emissions go down. Projects like these will ensure that investment in our infrastructure and economy doesn’t come at the expense of our environment, and in fact helps lower carbon emissions and lessen our cities’ carbon footprint.
CEQA is an environmental law that requires state and local agencies to evaluate and disclose the significant environmental impacts of projects they approve and to avoid or mitigate those impacts if possible. The evaluation is the basis for many state and local approvals needed to deliver a sustainable transportation or public transit project. CEQA is a critically important law for protecting the environment from projects – such as refineries – that pollute natural resources and jeopardize health, especially for historically marginalized and underserved populations. However, each step of the CEQA process is subject to appeals and lawsuits that can increase project costs and create delays. It’s not unusual for it to take three to four years and millions of dollars to resolve a single lawsuit, while appeals regularly take six months to resolve. When CEQA is misused as a tool to delay or halt critically needed projects, it has real consequences for California – making it more difficult to build the sustainable transportation projects that will result in a safer, healthier, and more equitable future for all Californians.
SB 922 is sponsored by SPUR, the Bay Area Council, the California Transit Association and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) is a principal co-author of SB 922, and and Senator Josh Becker (D-San Mateo) is a co-author.
“On behalf of our eight equity neighborhoods and the SFMTA Vision Zero Quick Build Project Team, I want to thank Senator Scott Weiner for his leadership and vision,” said Jeffrey Tumlin, SFMTA Director of Transportation. “SB 288 will give the SFMTA that extra boost in speeding up projects that improve pedestrian safety on prioritized streets, community-identified improvements and the climate. A well-matched legislative initiative with our Vision Zero goal to end traffic-related deaths and serious injuries for San Francisco.”
“To achieve a recovery that works for all Californians, we must increase and accelerate our investment in clean transportation projects that create good paying jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve mobility,” said Michael Pimentel, Executive Director, California Transit Association. “SB 922 helps accomplish this goal by ensuring that federal, state and local dollars are appropriately spent on project delivery and the broader transformation of our transportation network, not frivolous litigation.”
"There's never been a better time to speed up projects that help the environment and make biking, walking and taking the bus easier,” said Jason Baker, Senior Vice President of Transportation for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. “We look forward to this legislation helping us build good common-sense transportation projects for years to come."
"In the past few months, we've seen transit agencies and cities use CEQA streamlining to help reduce traffic fatalities and injuries, reduce pollution, and speed up bus service,” said Laura Tolkoff, SPUR's Transportation Policy Director. "Senator Wiener's SB 922 ensures we build more of the active transportation and transit we need for a safer, healthier, and more equitable future for all Californians."
“California has a golden opportunity to spend infrastructure dollars faster and more effectively to create equitable transportation options that reduce emissions and connect communities,” said
Bay Area Council Senior Vice President, Public Policy Gwen Litvak. “SB922 will help make our region more sustainable and resilient as our economy recovers from the pandemic and give a much needed boost to local economies. The Bay Area Council thanks Sen. Scott Wiener for his leadership and is proud to co-sponsor SB922.”
“Our neighborhood is notoriously known for being disconnected from the rest of the city,” said Theo Ellington, Bayview native and homeowner in the Hunter’s Point Shipyard. “SB 922 cuts red tape and provides neighborhoods like Bayview/Hunters Point more equitable opportunities to streamline transit and infrastructure projects that are long overdue.”
"We need this legislation to ensure that transit and street safety improvements can continue to be implemented faster and to help save lives," said Tilly Chang, Executive Director of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. "We applaud Senator Wiener's leadership on this issue and look forward to advancing this common sense proposal."