FAQs: Sustainable Communities Strategy and Senate Bill 375

What is the same and what is different about the Metropolitan Transportation Plan since the passage of SB 375?

The basic components and steps for developing the Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) are the same: prepare a long-range growth forecast; realistically estimate where that growth will occur throughout the cities and counties of the region; and prepare a list of transportation investments within a realistic budget, and that meet federal Clean Air Act requirements. SB 375 adds new requirements: the inclusion of a Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) that strives to achieve a passenger vehicle greenhouse gas emissions reduction target; and additional consideration of natural resource and farmland impacts. SB 375 also adds streamlining benefits under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to assist housing projects consistent with the SCS, and it aligns the SCS with the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process. Therefore, rather than thinking of the MTP and SCS as two separate documents, they are one document that has more detailed requirements in some areas than the past plans, while offering some incentives to achieve the regional greenhouse gas reduction target.

How does SACOG develop the land use and transportation components of the SCS?

Land Use

First, SACOG prepares a long-range, 25-year forecast of the growth in employment, population, and households for the region. Second, SACOG estimates the most likely location, intensity, types, and timing of land development throughout the region. SACOG works closely with local government staff and stakeholders, and estimates the probable land development pattern based on a combination of market and policy/regulatory influences. Federal and state requirements apply to this process.

Transportation

SACOG designs the type and timing of transportation investments to optimize performance with the land use pattern. The investments strive to achieve a range of performance goals, including reductions in congestion, vehicle miles traveled, and environmental impacts, and increases in transit, walking, and bicycling. SB 375, and sound planning principles, require the SCS to be an internally consistent document.

Is the MTP/SCS required to meet the target for passenger vehicle greenhouse gas emission reductions set by the California Air Resources Board for the SACOG region?

Yes, if SACOG determines that there is a feasible way to do so.  If SACOG determines, based on substantial evidence, that it is not feasible to meet the regional target, then SACOG must develop an Alternative Planning Scenario (APS) to show how the target could be met. If SACOG develops an APS, it is not required to implement it.

Are local governments required to demonstrate that their general plans and other policies, or decisions on project entitlement applications, are consistent with the MTP/SCS?

No. The SCS does not impact local land use authority.  SB 375 explicitly states that it does not supersede the land use authority of a city or county and that an SCS does not regulate the use of land. There is no requirement that a city’s or county’s land use policies or regulations, including its general plan, conform to the SCS. Current federal requirements, in place prior to the passage of SB 375, require that the land use allocation in the MTP reflect development patterns most likely to be built in the region, and these federal requirements are specifically protected by SB 375.

Why are there CEQA incentives in SB 375, what are they, and how do they affect local government land use authority?

The CEQA incentives in SB 375 are intended to make it easier to build housing and mixed-use projects that are consistent with the MTP/SCS through regulatory streamlining.

There are 3 types of CEQA streamlining incentives for different kinds of projects: (1) all housing and mixed-use (as defined) projects consistent with the MTP/SCS are exempt from requirements to analyze the impact of the project on passenger vehicle greenhouse gas emissions, the regional transportation system and growth inducement; (2) Transit Priority Projects have an easier legal burden of proof to meet and may prepare a short-form Sustainable Communities Environmental Assessment instead of a full EIR; and (3) a very limited number of infill projects will qualify for a complete waiver from any CEQA review. (See CEQA Benefits of SB 375 for more details.)

For those projects that meet the criteria for CEQA streamlining benefits, local governments will determine whether a project is consistent with MTP/SCS by reference to the land use detail in the SCS for each jurisdiction, including location, general use, density, building intensity, and applicable policies.

It is important to emphasize that the consistency determination is relevant only to the eligibility of a project for CEQA streamlining benefits. As noted, SB 375 does not require that local plans be consistent with the SCS. While there are potential CEQA benefits for projects within the SCS, local governments can approve development outside of the SCS—SB 375 does not change this. In this way, SB 375 protects developments not in the SCS from being disadvantaged in the CEQA process.

Does the MTP/SCS provide flexibility for changing conditions and needed revisions?

By state and federal law, the MTP/SCS must be updated every four years. During each update cycle, SACOG is required to develop a new growth forecast and to reanalyze the land use and transportation elements of the plan; in other words, land use patterns and transportation projects from the prior MTP/SCS are not simply grandfathered into the updated plan.

How does SB 375 align the MTP/SCS with the RHNA process?

Before SB 375, federal and state law ignored that, in most of California, regional transportation plans and regional housing needs plans (RHNP) are prepared by the same regional organization. However, conflicting deadlines and policies historically have caused a disconnection between these two planning activities. SB 375 eliminates this disconnection by integrating the two processes, and by requiring the RHNA process (which results in the RHNP) to be consistent with the projected development pattern in the SCS.

Significantly, SB 375 also extends the RHNA planning cycle in the SACOG region from five years to eight years, which means that jurisdictions in the region will have to update their housing element every eight years, instead of every five years as previously required.

Resources

Institute for Local Government SB 375 Local Official’s Guide: http://www.ca-ilg.org/sites/ilgbackup.org/files/resources/SB_375_Legal_Analysis_11-23-10.pdf

California State Association of Counties Analysis of SB 375: http://www.calapa.org/attachments/wysiwyg/5360/SB375CSACfacts.doc