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California Legislation Watch: Weekly Update

For social media coverage focused on statewide issues, follow Melanie @currymel on Twitter or like our Facebook page here.

Here’s Streetsblog’s weekly highlight of legislation and events related to sustainable transportation at the California capitol.

The big news out of Sacramento is that Caltrans endorsed the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide.

S.B. 1183, Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord): this is the so-called “bike tax bill”– oops, sorry, the “Local Bike Infrastructure Enhancement Act of 2014.” It was set to be discussed on Wednesday in the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, but the hearing was postponed after committee staff released its analysis. The bill, which would allow park districts to impose a tax on bicycles, is supposed to be a user tax that provides a small but regular flow of funds for the maintenance of trails, including paved bike trails, in the parks. Staff identified several problems with it, including potential difficulties for the Board of Equalization in administering the tax, and the lack of a direct connection between the buyer of a bicycle and the user of a bike path. “The Committee may wish to consider whether S.B. 1183 represents wise tax policy,” says its report.

A.B. 2398, Marc Levine (D-San Rafael): the “vulnerable road user law” was amended in the Assembly’s Transportation Committee this week. The bill would raise fines for drivers convicted of causing bodily injury to a vulnerable road user, including pedestrians and bicyclists. The amendment raises the lowest level fine to $220, which becomes $1,031 after the court adds its fees. In addition, the amendment requires a 6-month license suspension for anyone who has a repeat violation within three years. This bill will be heard again on April 21, when the legislature returns from spring recess.

A.B. 2197 from Kevin Mullin (D-South San Francisco): It takes a while for the DMV to issue license plates to newly purchased cars, and, in the meantime, those cars can be driven as long as they display a DMV-issued, numbered form. This bill would require the DMV to come up with a system for issuing temporary license plates that can be attached on the front and back of a car at the time of purchase. The bill cites a lack of license plates “on hundreds of thousands of vehicles across the state” as a problem for law enforcement and toll collectors. Meanwhile a petition in support of the bill has been started by the family of a hit-and-run victim killed by a driver in a car without plates. Administrative amendments were made to the bill in the Assembly Transportation Committee, and it is scheduled to be heard again on April 21.

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California Legislation Watch: Weekly Update

For social media coverage of California’s statewide transportation issues, follow Melanie @currymel on Twitter or like the Streetsblog California Facebook page.

Here’s Streetsblog’s weekly highlight of legislation and events related to sustainable transportation at the California capitol.

  • News on the implementation of S.B. 743, which removes Automobile Level of Service from consideration as an environmental impact in areas with robust transit. The state’s Office of Planning and Research released the public comments it has received on its update of CEQA guidelines and its draft guidelines for S.B. 743, which Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) introduced and was passed last year. S.B. 743 requires the OPR to come up with a new urban planning metric to replace LOS that measures the effect of development and transportation projects on all traffic, not just car drivers. Proponents are enthusiastic about eliminating an outdated, car-centric measure that has led to wider, faster streets. Critics worry that longer have the means to require developers to improve streets. The next steps: drafting the actual guidelines, releasing them for public comment in late spring, and producing a final draft version of the guidelines by July 1.
  • Caltrans published a new mission statement: “Provide a safe, sustainable, integrated and efficient transportation system to enhance California’s economy and livability.” This is a vast improvement over the old one, “Caltrans improves mobility across California,” and it contains all the right buzzwords. The mission statement was the first item on the Early Action Plan outlined in the State Smart Transportation Initiative report urging deep reforms in Caltrans. Check — now to work.
  • More extensive senate hearings saw debates about the governor’s cap-and-trade expenditure plan and high-speed rail, this time in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee and the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Resources, Environmental Protection, Energy and Transportation. CA High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Jeff Morales defended the use of cap-and-trade funds for high speed rail, and Senator Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) attacked cap-and-trade as a slush fund and high-speed rail as an expensive project that will produce a “puny” reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Plenty of comments from the Legislative Analyst’s Office and various interest groups.
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California Legislation Watch: Weekly Update

California’s legislative season is heating up, and both the Assembly and the Senate are beginning to read and discuss the bills wending their way though the session. Here’s Streetsblog’s weekly highlight of events and legislation related to transportation at the capitol.

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 2.09.21 PMToday’s column focuses on four pieces of legislation that moved through the hearing process and another that will have to wait until next year.

A.B. 1532, Mike Gatto’s (D-Los Angeles) hit-and-run legislation, passed its second approval at the Assembly Transportation Committee. The law would suspend the license of any driver found guilty in a hit-and-run crash, even if the crash is labeled a “misdemeanor” and the injuries are minor. From here, the bill moves to the Committee on Appropriations, then to the Assembly Floor for a full vote. You can read more about A.B. 1532 here and here.

S.B. 1183, from Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), was amended to change its name from “Bicycle Tax” to “Local Bike Infrastructure Enhancement Act of 2014,” in an attempt to focus attention on the trails it is meant to support and away from the fact that it is a proposed tax. It is, however, still a tax on bicycles. It’s set to be heard in the Senate Transportation Committee on April 9. Expect to hear more about this one, and catch up on our introduction to the bill here.

A.B. 2013, from Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance), would increase the available number of stickers that allow zero- and low-emission vehicles to use carpool lanes and to ride free in many toll facilities throughout the state. The stickers are seen as a major incentive for people to switch to cleaner vehicles but could have unintended consequences of filling up high-occupancy vehicle lanes in areas experimenting with congestion pricing. The bill unanimously passed the Transportation Committee and now moves to Appropriations.

Read more…

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Transportation Priorities Jostle for CA’s Cap-and-Trade Revenue

A series of hearings in Sacramento have been revisiting California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, Assembly Bill (A.B.) 32, which calls for a statewide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) to 1990 levels by 2020. Two recent hearings have opened discussions of Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed spending plan for the revenue received so far from the state’s cap-and-trade program, implemented as part of A.B. 32, and another recent Senate hearing discussed the program’s impacts to date.

Mary Nichols, Chair of the California Air Resources Board, explains cap and trade.

The auction of cap-and-trade credits is producing money for the state, which, under A.B. 32, must be spent on helping further reduce GHG emissions. Last month, Governor Brown released his cap-and-trade expenditure plan for 2014-2015, in which he proposed to spend $850 million in expected revenue from the auctions. Of that, $600 million would be used for transportation-related projects and programs, with the lion’s share of that ($250 million) for high speed rail.

Other transportation categories include $50 million to Caltrans to expand and modernize existing rail; $200 million towards programs that encourage the use of zero-emission vehicles, including trucks, buses, and cars; and $100 million over the next two years to the Strategic Growth Council for Sustainable Communities programs, including plans that encourage compact and infill development near transit.

The governor’s plan does not include any funds for bicycling, walking, or transit other than what would fall under the above categories, even though these transportation modes offer a huge potential savings in GHG emissions.

At a Senate Transportation Committee hearing Wednesday, a long line of public advocacy groups spoke up for reshuffling the cap and trade funds, mostly in the direction of the respective group’s preferred emissions-reduction strategy (better transit, for example, or forest fire prevention given this dry year).

But only a few speakers questioned why so much money was being given to high speed rail. The Legislative Analyst’s report questioned the GHG benefits of California’s planned high speed rail, which would not have any effect on emissions until 2022 at the earliest, and would at best provide a modest contribution to GHG reductions.

“We need to fund GHG reductions in the near term,” said Catherine Phillips of the Sierra Club. “It doesn’t warrant spending 31 percent of the money on high speed rail. Many other programs will get you reductions sooner than will high speed rail.”

Read more…

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Bill Suspending Hit-and-Run Drivers’ Licenses Passes Assembly Committee

Last week, the Associated Press released a video of a fatal hit-and-run crash in Orange County. The woman is visible lying on the ground just below the crosswalk after the crash in the above picture. The video is available to view here.

The California Assembly’s Public Safety Committee voted 7-0 Tuesday to approve A.B. 1532, which would require an automatic license suspension for drivers who flee the scene of a crash where a person is hit, even if that person is not injured.

That unanimous vote marks an exceptional win for the bill, which was introduced by Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles). Typically, bills which increase penalties for existing crimes or increase the burden on law enforcement are subject to extra scrutiny and face an uphill battle gaining committee votes.

CA’s current hit-and-run laws require drivers to stop when they are involved in crashes, and drivers who kill or seriously injure others and flee the scene can face severe penalties. A.B. 1532 would add penalties for cases where the injuries are minor, including automatic license suspension.

“The bill’s key aspect is that it increases minimum penalties so there is no less than a six-month mandatory license suspension,” explained Damian Kevitt of FinishtheRide.org. “That way prosecutors can no longer mitigate a hit-and-run down to a $500 misdemeanor fine, which is a slap on the wrist.”

“Hit-and-run drivers should be penalized, as this legislation requires,” said Nicole Schneider, executive director of Walk San Francisco, who applauded the bill as “a good step towards creating a culture where people respect each other.”

“This addresses the middle ground for those hit-and-runs that aren’t severe, making a statement that it’s not okay to leave the scene of a crash.”

Read more…

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Caltrans on the Hot Seat: Assembly Looks at State, Local Planning Tensions

It was the California State Assembly’s turn to review the recent State Smart Transportation Initiative (SSTI) report on Caltrans at a Transportation Committee hearing Monday.

Chair Bonnie Lowenthal addresses the Transportation Committee (find a video of the hearing here)

The discussion played out along the same lines as the Senate Transportation Committee hearing last month, where Professor Joel Rogers, who led the team that produced the report for the California Transportation Agency (CalSTA), presented his findings on the dysfunction at Caltrans.

Rogers drew questions from committee members when he cited the lack of coordination between local transportation planning agencies and Caltrans. 

Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo) was defensive of local planning. “Locals need a strong voice in the planning process,” she said. “I don’t see how the state has the resources or ability to do that kind of planning on the local level.”

Rogers was compelled to clarify himself several times. “I do not mean to imply that local control is a bad thing,” he said, but the report was “quite critical that the self-help counties build projects and then push all the maintenance onto Caltrans without doing anything like a lifecycle accounting on the actual costs.”

Professor Joel Rogers emphasizes a point to the Assembly Transportation Committee

Professor Joel Rogers emphasizes a point to the Assembly Transportation Committee

“We just don’t think local control has been well managed,” he said. “Caltrans needs to give locals the flexibility they need. What we heard over and over in our interviews was, ‘It’s such a drag dealing with Caltrans, we just try to go around them.’ As a state agency you don’t want a system that is deliberately at war with itself.”

Rogers skewered both Caltrans and the legislature in much the same words he used in the recent Senate hearing, where he criticized Caltrans for its “hypertrophic aversion to risk” that prevents it from being an effective partner. This time he evoked an appreciative, if sheepish, laugh from the committee members when he remarked that they had a hand in making Caltrans the dysfunctional organization it is today.

Two committee members, Assemblymembers Tom Daly (D-Anaheim) and Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo), seemed eager to move reforms along. ”What’s our plan of action? How can we be involved?” asked Daly.

“This needs to be taken care of on a much higher level than the local level,” Achadjian said. “Let’s not let this end up on a shelf. We need a follow up.”

Read more…

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CA Legislation Watch: Bills Introduced That Could Impact Livable Streets

The deadline to introduce new bills to the California legislature was Friday, so a slew of new legislation is currently being assigned to committees for hearing. Some of them are so-called “spot” bills, as in “hold a spot in line for me, bub,” containing a bare minimum of information, with the plan being to shape them in legislative discussion. All of them are likely to be amended before reaching a vote, and they must go through two voting processes (one in each house) before being passed on to the governor to be signed. Meanwhile, they give some clues about what our lawmakers are thinking about.

Here are the bills in play that could potentially impact livable streets.

A.B. 2398 would raise fines for drivers who injure “vulnerable road users” in California — primarily, bicyclists and pedestrians. Photo: Richard Masoner/Flickr

Vulnerable Road Users Law: Asm. Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) introduced A.B. 2398, which raises the fines charged when drivers cause injury to “vulnerable road users,” defined as pedestrians, bicyclists, and people using farm equipment and riding horses. The bill is loosely modeled on an existing law in Oregon, but the fines in this bill are minuscule, and sanctions don’t include the community service or required license suspension of the Oregon law. Also, both laws depend on how the police assign responsibility for crashes — a significant flaw. For more on the Oregon law, see this interesting discussion from a Portland bike lawyer which predates its enactment, but could offer some guidance on as the CA bill moves through the legislature.

Bicycle Tax: Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) has proposed S.B. 1183, which would allowing local jurisdictions to set a tax on bike sales. Funds from the tax would go towards trail improvement and maintenance. Cyclelicious got this right, pointing out that while bike tax proponents argue that they provide “political credibility that cyclists pay their way,” this is a “bankrupt excuse of an argument,” since road infrastructure is disproportionately bankrolled by non-drivers through general taxes.

Redefining Electric Bicycles: Asm. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) put forward A.B. 2173, which would define electric bicycles with motors that are limited to a top speed of 20 mph as “low-speed” electric bikes, and allow them to ride in bike lanes and on bike paths and trails.

The East Bay Bicycle Coalition’s Robert Prinz is concerned that the wording of this bill may allow a loophole for Specialized’s new “turbo” e-bike, which can go up to 28 mph. “What we’re trying to do is calm traffic, not get bikes to speed up to car speeds,” he says. “There’s a big difference between a crash at 20 mph and a crash at 28 mph, especially for a cyclist.”

Read more…

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Legislative Wrap: How Livable Streets Bills Fared in Sacramento

Everyone wants to see one of these attached to their legislation.

Last week was a busy one in Sacramento as lawmakers scrambled to compromise and pass important pieces of legislation while others will have to “wait ’til next year.” Streetsblog offers the following scorecard for some of the most important pieces of legislation that will impact the drive to create livable streets.

We’re putting the bill’s in numerical order, ignoring the “SB” and “AB” that comes first in their filing numbers so AB 27 would come after SB 4.

SB 1: Sustainable Communities Investment Authority

Synopsis: There was a lot of excitement for Senator Darrell Steinberg’s efforts to allow communities to create investment authorities to raise funds for smart growth transportation projects. Advocates hailed it as the first attempt to create a mechanism to implement the state’s previous smart growth legislation.

Status: Passed in the Senate, shelved in the Assembly at Steinberg’s request so he could “focus on CEQA reform.”

SB 4: Oil and Gas: Well stimulation

Synopsis: Senator Fran Paley’s legislation marks the states first serious attempt to regulate the process of removing natural gas from the ground known as hydraulic fracturing or just “fracking.”  The environmental impacts of fracking are not fully known, but nobody except the most ardent supporters of the natural gas industry would argue that they are anything but terrible for the environment surrounding areas where fracking takes place.

Paley’s legislation was amended so many times, with a large exemption which seems to limit the governor’s power to act if studies show frackign to be as dangerous as many people feel, that the environmental groups that fought so hard for the legislation’s passage withdrew their support in the waning moments. Paley is continuing to push the bill as the best one that was possible.

Status: The bill was passed by both houses. Many people who oppose fracking, including the Los Angeles Times, are now urging Brown to veto instead of sign.

AB 60: Driver’s Licenses: Eligibility, required documentation

Read more…

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New “Kings Arena” CEQA Bill Would Still Nix LOS in “Transit Priority Areas”

Steinberg’s hasty press conference held after the passage of SB 743

Last night, both California’s Senate and Assembly passed SB 743, Senator Darrell Steinberg’s legislation that replaced his original CEQA reform bill, SB 731, which promised to end the reign of Level of Service (LOS)  in California urban planning. SB 743 would still eliminate of LOS to a more limited extent, and although it’s unclear if Governor Jerry Brown will sign the bill, he reportedly assured Steinberg he would do so because he favors a more tepid CEQA reform bill. SB 731 was drafted primarily to streamline environmental review for a new stadium for the Sacramento Kings basketball team.

While SB 731 would have brought the statewide elimination of LOS — a car-centric transportation planning metric that basically puts the movement of cars over everything else — as part of environmental review, SB 743 would still nix the metric for projects within designated transit priority areas (TPAs). Large swaths of most urban areas are considered TPAs, which are defined as areas within a ½-mile of high quality transit: a rail stop or a bus corridor that provides or will provide at least 15-minute frequency service during peak hours by the year 2035.

According to the Sacramento Bee, Steinberg said he would add into SB 743 “a provision at the governor’s request that gives the governor’s Office of Planning and Research the go-ahead to develop a new way of measuring traffic impacts of major projects, based on total ‘vehicle miles traveled’ rather than intersection congestion.”

Darrell Steinberg. The Sacramento Bee reported, "Steinberg and Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, showed team pride by wearing purple ties for the occasion."

Despite the LOS victory, many advocates fumed that it didn’t go far enough. Not a single environmental group backed the legislation, and thirteen — including The Sierra Club, Trust South L.A., and the Planning and Conservation League — signed a letter blasting the legislation as a “gut-and-amend.” SB 731, Steinberg’s larger CEQA reform bill that didn’t pass, would have ended the requirement to use LOS for the entire state. Under current law, the impact of projects, even ones that are building bike lanes, must be measured based on how the project interrupts or supports the flow of car traffic. This has lead to the creation of wider, faster streets and the laying of more asphalt to “mitigate” those projects’ impacts.

While most environmentalists and transportation reformers agree that this change to LOS is a positive step, many are angered that SB 731 was shelved so that a basketball team owned by billionaires could get an expedited environmental review that would lack teeth because the legal options available to the opposition are greatly reduced.

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Draft CA Budget Ups Bike/Ped Funds, Leaves Safe Routes to School in Doubt

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The budget proposed yesterday by Governor Jerry Brown and state lawmakers includes a new “Active Transportation Program” that would increase overall funding for walking and biking improvements but may put California’s Safe Routes to Schools program at risk.

A family makes a car-free commute to school in Berkeley. Photo: EBBC/Flickr

Under the proposed ATP, currently separate funding streams would be consolidated into one larger program, increasing the overall pot of bike/ped funds from $100 million to $134 million. Details on how that money will be doled out have yet to be defined, however, and unless SRTS is guaranteed at least the same amount of funding it currently receives — $46 million — the SRTS Partnership won’t support the ATP, said Jeanie Ward-Waller, the organization’s California advocacy organizer.

“We’re very much in support of the concept” of the ATP, said Ward-Waller. “We just want to see more clear details spelled out, and more security before we can get on board with this program.”

SRTS funds could be protected with State Assembly bill AB 1194, which was passed by the Assembly in late May, and must still be approved by the Senate and Governor Jerry Brown. The Assembly already removed a provision that would have retained the current $46 million minimum in combined state and federal funds set aside for SRTS, but the bill could “protect it from consolidation in the ATP if the ATP does not guarantee funding to SRTS,” said Ward-Waller. She explained in a blog post:

In order for AB-1194 to come off suspense, the Appropriations Committee struck a line from the bill that would ensure $46 million (level funding from state and federal sources) be guaranteed for future years for Safe Routes to School. Instead, level funding for the program will have to be approved through the state budget process each year.  Though the amendment removing the $46M guarantee makes more work for advocates in future years, the bill still effectively simplifies and continues the structure of the program.

Governor Brown and the state legislature must approve a state budget by Saturday, June 15, and it would go into effect on July 1. But AB 1194 isn’t expected to pass the Senate and go to the Governor’s desk until September, and during that time, Ward-Waller said lawmakers decided to put ATP funds on hold while an agreement regarding their use is worked out.

Although advocates will have a challenge in ensuring the SRTS program isn’t shorted, California Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Dave Snyder said the ATP will be an overall positive step toward increase walking and biking funding in the state, as well as creating a more efficient and centralized program to move projects forward.

“We do support the ATP, and we want to see the consolidation of those programs as soon as possible,” he said, while adding a note of caution. “We do need to have a better idea of what the California Transportation Commission wants to do with those funds.”