A bill to change the way that public transit, bicycle, and pedestrian projects are handled vis a vis the state's environmental impact laws has passed the legislature. And State Senator Scott Wiener, the sponsor of the bill, hopes it will aid in California's economic recovery after the pandemic.
Wiener's bill, SB 288, has been making its way through the legislature for over a year, but Wiener was championing it in June specifically as a way to speed up development of sustainable transportation projects once the state emerges from the current virus-caused recession.
"To recover from this economic disaster, we must prioritize economic recovery and investment,” Wiener said in a statement at the time. "S.B. 288 will put people back to work on projects… It will also reduce carbon emissions by expediting the approval and construction of environmentally sustainable transportation projects. We can’t just cross our fingers and hope that jobs come back. Rather, we need to be intentional about jump-starting our economy."
Today on Twitter, Wiener celebrated the bill's passage, saying, "I’ll always fight for sustainable transportation in San Francisco & California. It’s in my blood & part of who I am."
Critics have attacked Wiener's development-related bills in the past, suggesting that his controversial SB 50, for instance, was a gift to developers who simply had to locate large condo or luxury apartment projects a short distance from transit in order to bypass local zoning reviews and height restrictions. That bill failed in its last iteration in February, in part also because it didn't have strict enough mandates for affordable housing.
From Wiener's perspective, it was simply a path forward toward greater housing density near transit — something that isn't always an easy sell in some parts of the state. And in San Francisco, under the bill's wording, nearly every part of the city would have qualified as "near" transit.
"I don’t just support sustainable transportation when it’s easy," Wiener says today in his Twitter thread, touting the transit project he's advocated for in San Francisco and at the state level.
As Streetsblog previously reported on SB288, the bill will help expedite projects involving bike lanes, pedestrian routes, bus rapid-transit, bridge repairs, and the installation of new zero emission vehicle charging infrastructure. It does this by removing the ability of a few individuals to file requests for review under CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act) — something that is often done to slow development projects of all kinds, often making them cost more than they should to complete.
And over the years, many projects large and small, in San Francisco and beyond, have been stalled by CEQA reviews that are rarely ever about protecting the "environment" so much as the interests of a few neighbors.
"In other countries, transit and sustainable transportation projects are commonly presumed to have a positive impact on the environment by reducing driving and greenhouse gas emissions," said Laura Tolkoff, regional planning policy director for SPUR, to Streetsblog back in June. "In Canada, most public transit projects do not have to complete a full environmental assessment. In Germany, agencies can self-certify that they are compliant with environmental laws."
The bill will still have to face Governor Newsom for sign-off.
Photo: Andrew Gook