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SB 1183: Proposed CA Bike Tax Becomes Car Fee

Senate Bill 1183, the bill from Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) which was originally proposed as a “bike tax,” is no longer a bike tax. This time the change is not just in the bill’s title – the bill, which originally proposed a sales tax on bicycles to create a stable source of funding to maintain bicycle facilities in regional parks, now proposes a fee on motor vehicle registrations instead.

The Iron Horse Regional Trail in Contra Costa County, one of the East Bay Regional Parks facilities.

The Iron Horse Regional Trail in Contra Costa County, one of the East Bay Regional Parks facilities. Photo: Rails to Trails

If passed, S.B. 1183 would not automatically impose any fees, but allows cities, counties, and regional parks to propose them for the ballot and seek approval from two-thirds of local voters. The new vehicle registration surcharge would be capped at $5.

The original proposed tax was opposed by the California Retailers Association as well as the usual anti-tax organizations, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. In addition, the Senate’s Governance and Finance Committee analysis pointed out serious concerns with how a bicycle tax would be administered. It would have necessitated the unfunded creation of a new set of procedures by the Board of Equalization.

A motor vehicle registration fee, on the other hand, could be administered easily by the DMV without having to set up a new system.

“We were looking for a different mechanism to raise the funds,” said Doug Houston, legislative advocate for the East Bay Regional Park District, the sponsor of the bill. “There was consternation about a sales tax on bicycles, a social good, with some advocates asking why we would want to penalize or discourage bike riding.”

The fee was conceived as a way for regional parks to create a stable, if small, source of funds to pay for the maintenance of bike facilities, including paved trails.

Robert Doyle, the East Bay Regional Park District’s general manager, said the district has grants to complete ten projects that link existing trails within the system. “But then we have to patrol and maintain them,” he said. Read more…

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California Legislation Watch: Weekly Update

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

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

  • This week, the legislature was out for Spring Recess, giving legislative staff time to prepare for the onslaught of bill hearings coming up in the next few weeks.
  • On Monday, Senate President Darrell Steinberg changed his mind about a carbon tax and instead proposed a new plan for spending revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade system.
  • California Senate Transportation and Housing Committee staff published its summary of the committee’s March hearing on CA high-speed rail. Its main conclusion: while numerous legal and fiscal challenges for the project remain, the most pressing issue is the lack of a plan to fill the funding shortfall of $15 to $21 billion.
  • Next week, the State Senate has postponed all hearings that were scheduled for Wednesday, April 23, so that senators and staff can spend the day discussing ethics. This comes in the wake of the recent arrest of Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) on charges of gun trafficking, the arraignment of Senator Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) for bribery and corruption, and the suspension of Senator Rod Wright (D-Inglewood) for pretending to live in a house he didn’t live in.
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CA Sen. Steinberg Proposes New Spending Plan for Cap-and-Trade Revenue

Senator Darrell Steinberg’s new proposed spending plan for CA cap-and-trade revenue.

Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) announced a proposed plan to create a permanent spending strategy for cap-and-trade revenue [PDF] that prioritizes investments in affordable transit-oriented housing, transit expansion, and CA High-Speed Rail. Unlike the Governor’s plan for this year’s budget, Senate Bill 1156 also proposes investments in “complete streets” and transit operations.

Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento)

Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento)

Calling the plan a “long-term investment strategy in greenhouse gas emissions,” Steinberg said he wanted to spark a “healthy debate” about how the state should spend the revenue collected via the state’s cap-and-trade system created under A.B. 32, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act.

“This strategy is designed to achieve the objectives of A.B. 32 through significant reductions in greenhouse gas and the direction of public and private investment to California’s low-income and disadvantaged communities, which are disproportionately burdened by air pollution and the effects of climate change,” Steinberg said in a press release.

Steinberg’s staff emphasized that the plan provides a permanent funding stream for affordable, transit-oriented housing and mass transit, which are key to reaching the goals of A.B. 32 yet lack stable sources of funding. 

The proposal replaces a bill Steinber introduced in February to replace cap-and-trade with a carbon tax. Steinberg acknowledged that the carbon tax proposal was “not that popular.”

A.B. 32 requires California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020, and calls for the California Air Resources Board to create a market system for helping achieve those reductions. In response, CARB created a cap on emissions from GHG producers and an auction system to allow those who don’t meet the cap to buy emission “credits” from those who do. This cap-and-trade system currently applies to the state’s manufacturing sector, and is scheduled to include fuel producers next year.

Meanwhile, the auctions are producing revenue, which by law must be spent on further reducing GHG emissions to help California reach A.B. 32′s the goals.

Steinberg’s proposal was well-received by transit advocates.

Read more…

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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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Senate Committee Grills CA High-Speed Rail Authority on Its Funding Plan

The California High Speed Rail construction and phasing plan. Source: CAHSRA’s 2013 Report on the Contribution of the High-Speed Rail Program to Reducing California GHG Emissions Levels

Doubts about the High Speed Rail Authority’s ability to fund its estimated $68 billion program dominated last week’s Senate Transportation and Housing Committee hearing (see the background report in this PDF). Committee Chair Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) said he was “somewhat skeptical” about the Authority’s 2014 Draft Business Plan and questioned CAHSRA CEO Jeff Morales on the authority’s reliance on uncertain funding sources.

“You couldn’t get a [small business loan] based on what we’re assuming here,” DeSaulnier told Morales, referring to the high cost estimates and funding prospects in the Business Plan.

DeSaulnier asked all the questions at the informational hearing, since he was the only Committee member who showed up for it. However, he came well prepared, so instead of  yet another presentation on how cap-and-trade works, there was a pointed exchange about the funding capabilities of high speed rail.

DeSaulnier warned Morales that the Authority may have a hard time getting the necessary votes in the state legislature to pass the governor’s cap-and-trade expenditure plan, which proposes giving $250 million to high-speed rail from the proceeds of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions law, A.B. 32.

“If the legislature does not approve the governor’s allocation of cap-and-trade funds, what do you foresee would be the impact on the high-speed rail program?” DeSaulnier asked Morales.

Morales responded, “The governor’s proposal allows us to move forward with certainty. If we can accelerate the program, it saves money.”

Read more…

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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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Leland Yee’s Downfall No Loss for Livable Streets

Now that State Senator Leland Yee has been arrested on charges of accepting bribes to facilitate trafficking of illegal firearms from a militia group in the Philippines, it’s probably a safe bet that his political career is over. State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has called for Yee’s resignation in light of the FBI’s charges.

Leland Yee being arrested by the FBI at his home in the Sunset yesterday. Photo: NBC

Yee has hardly led on sustainable transportation and livable streets since he joined the Board of Supervisors, representing the Sunset District in 1996, before moving on to the State Assembly and Senate, and running for SF mayor in 2011. He participated in a “Critical Mass for cars” in 1999, fought for full reconstruction of the Central Freeway, and blocked a traffic camera that protects bicycle commuters from illegal right turns where the freeway ends today, at Market Street and Octavia Boulevard. (Yee saw the camera “as a police state issue,” his aide told the Bay Guardian at the time.)

On the other hand, Yee also pushed double-fine zones on SF’s street level highways – 19th Avenue, Van Ness Avenue, and Lombard Street — first instituting a pilot, then attempting (but failing) to permanently enshrine them, even when their effectiveness on improving safety wasn’t clear. Yee also had a mixed voting record on state budgets that illegally raided Muni’s funds, before protesting the “golden parachute” given to SFMTA CEO Nat Ford upon his departure.

“He was certainly never any kind of leader in sustainable transportation,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich. “For San Francisco, you really want somebody who’s going to be a leader.”

Even Yee’s push for double-fine zones seemed largely “symbolic,” he said. ”They sound good, but design changes would be much more effective.”

Yee “was an early adopter of whining about the ‘war on cars’ in San Francisco,” Radulovich added, highlighting his participation in the “Critical Mass for cars” (which occurs daily citywide, whether organized or not). “Folks involved in sustainable transportation and livability do remember all that.”

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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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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…