2015 Legislative session – a rollercoaster of a ride
Joshua Stark Headshot

 Olen SandersThe 2015 Legislative session is over… almost… 

October 11 was Governor Brown’s deadline to sign or veto bills passed by the Legislature. Now that the Governor has laid down his pen for the year, we have some good news to report, but also some work cut out for us for next year’s legislative session.

But, that’s not all! While the regular session has ended, a “special session” on transportation is still taking place. And a big budget decision - how to spend the 40% of cap-and-trade climate revenues that are flexible from year to year - has been further postponed to the new year, which leaves critical clean energy, conservation, and sustainable transportation projects hanging in the balance.

Read on for details on the top bills TransForm followed or supported this year, and what's still to come. (For an overview of all of the other bills we’ve followed, click here).

AB 744: A BIG WIN FOR PARKING REFORM

One huge win was Governor Brown’s signing of AB 744 (Chau). With this bill, California will now have sensible parking regulations that will support building more affordable housing near transit and homes for seniors and individuals with special needs. 

No longer will developers be forced to set aside inordinately large pieces of land for parking that never gets used.  Instead, California will let developers build only as much parking as they need in certain affordable housing developments near transit, developments for seniors, and housing for individuals with special needs. (For more on AB 744, click here.)

This was a hard-fought effort, won with the teamwork of many great organizations working together, including the Council of Infill Builders, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Western Center on Law and Poverty, and many others.

These new regulations can encourage more housing developments near transit – wins for both the environment and for families who will benefit from the thousands of dollars saved by using public transportation.  

SB 350: A VICTORY FOR THE ENVIRONMENT, AND A CAUTIONARY TALE

SB 350, Senate President pro tem Del León’s grand bill to set multiple, visionary goals for our state, passed - but in a way that leaves many advocates yearning for more.

As signed by the Governor, the bill still sets an amazing goal:  by 2030, 50% of California’s energy should come from renewable sources, and we should have a 50% increase in building energy use efficiency.  These are laudable goals, and achievements that would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago.

However, a third goal – which would have codified the Governor’s Executive Order to reduce our petroleum use 50% by 2030 – was cut just a few days prior to its passage.

One major factor played into this loss: the undue influence of Big Oil.  Many legislators found themselves unable to vote for a bill that the powerful oil lobbyists were opposing so vociferously. 

TransForm is pleased that the Governor continues to pursue the goal of his Executive Order, and we sincerely hope he will use his increased “zeal” to double-down on investments in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and our state’s terrible transit maintenance backlog (approximately $40 billion, by one estimate).

SB 32 (Pavley) was another important climate bill that we supported, but was blocked by oil industry lobbyists. Among other things, it would require the state to achieve an 80% reduction in 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The Senate approved it, and it is being held in Assembly for consideration in 2016. 

AB 194 – EXPRESS LANES, BUT WITHOUT EQUITY

This bill by Assemblyman Frazier of Pittsburg creates a state-level process for developing and constructing express lanes (also called high-occupancy tolling (HOT) lanes). TransForm has worked with the concept for a number of years now; we understand that express lanes can be a valuable management tool, but only if they are done right. For an overview of TransForm’s proposal for effective and equitable express lanes, please read our report on how to improve transportation along Highway 101 with Optimized High Occupancy Toll Lanes.

Unfortunately, AB 194 completely neglected the opportunity to explore using toll revenues to help provide better transportation options for people who can’t afford or choose not to drive.  Without this equity provision, we are missing the mark on the potential of express lanes to truly get everyone moving along the freeway in a way that’s fast, affordable, fair, and environmentally sound.

MONEY ON THE TABLE: UNALLOCATED CAP AND TRADE DOLLARS

One item that the Legislature left unresolved is a big one: 40% of the state’s greenhouse gas cap and trade auction revenues. These dollars should go to projects and programs that reduce emissions, as required by law. That’s why TransForm and our allies have been advocating for $50 million to fund transit passes and bike and pedestrian improvement projects throughout the state.  Millions of people will benefit from these investments, and we look forward to the state taking this up when they reconvene in January. 

LAST, BUT NOT LEAST, THE SPECIAL SESSION: FIXING OUR TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM?

Though the regular legislative session has come to a close for the year, decisions on transportation policy and spending are still open in the Governor’s special session on transportation infrastructure.  This special session is the Governor’s attempt to fix our state’s inadequate and dilapidated infrastructure. Many options have been put on the table to raise the revenue needed to achieve this, including an increase in the gas and diesel taxes and vehicle license fees.

Governor Brown called the special session in June, and organized a conference committee with members from both Houses to work on some of our state’s most pressing issues in transportation infrastructure. Their first informational hearing is scheduled for this Friday, October 16.

California’s single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions comes from our transportation system.  If we plan and build our transportation system to give Californians more affordable, reliable choices for getting around, we can reduce this dangerous pollution and empower people to get where they need to be, reliably and safely, without driving a car. We sincerely hope that the Governor and Legislative leadership will take this opportunity to recognize the important connection between our transportation systems, our climate, and our health.

At the same time, the unallocated 40% of funds from the cap-and-trade climate program have also been put on the table as a bargaining chip. These revenues are currently invested in critical clean energy, conservation, and sustainable transportation projects throughout the state. To meet our long-term GHG targets and invest in a sustainable economy, we must have sustained investment in all of these areas.

With special sessions, unfinished budget business, and many, many bills, this legislative year was a full one.  With your help, we have set new goals for our state that will benefit millions of people throughout the state, and help keep California at the forefront of climate policy in the world.

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Status of bills TransForm supported:

  • SB 9 (Beall, D-San José): Signed by Governor Brown. A bill to modify the Transit and Intercity Capital Rail Program (TIRCP – a competitive pot of funds from cap and trade auction revenues) in a number of ways. We are pleased that Senator Beall amended his proposal in response to concerns raised by TransForm and others. Nonetheless, many poor communities cannot cobble together “non-state” sources of funding for good projects, while many wealthier regions of the state continue to use traditional state funding dollars to build more roads.  The final version was not amended to address all our concerns, but the bill was improved considerably prior to its signing.
  • AB 1335 (Atkins, D-San Diego): Approved by the Assembly; held in the Senate for consideration in 2016. A bill to create an ongoing, predictable source of funding for the State Housing Trust Fund.  This bill, also known as the Building Homes and Jobs Act, would generate an estimated $500 million per year for affordable homes by enacting a $75 document recording fee on real estate transactions, excluding home sales. 
  • ACA 4 (Frazier, D-Pittsburg): Currently being considered by the Assembly as a two-year bill. A constitutional amendment proposed by East Bay Assemblyman and Chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee to lower the voting requirement for local transportation measures from two-thirds to 55% for approval.
  • AB 35 (Chiu, D-S.F.): Vetoed by Governor. A bill to increase the amount of tax credits for low-income housing.
  • AB 156 (Perea, D-Fresno): Passed out of the Assembly; held in the Senate as a two-year bill. A bill to provide funds from the CCIP to disadvantaged communities for technical assistance in grant-writing and applying to various funding opportunities.
  • AB 1360 (Ting, D-S.F.): Passed out of the Assembly; held in the Senate as a two-year bill. A bill to allow rideshare programs to charge individual fares to passengers who share a ride, in whole or in part, with other passengers.
  • SB 508 (Beall, D-San José): Signed by Governor Brown. A bill to modify the State Transit Assistance allocation method.  The bill would allow transit agencies to still use a portion of their STA allocation for operations, even if they do not meet their farebox recovery ratio. This is a good bill that helps transit agencies meet their operations needs.

Status of bills TransForm opposed:

  • AB 194 (Frazier, D-Pittsburg): Signed by Governor Brown. A bill to streamline the approval of express lanes, either by constructing new lanes or by converting existing high-occupancy vehicle lanes. Unfortunately, the bill currently has no provisions to provide real transportation choices for all commuters.  TransForm will work next year to improve the guidelines for planning and developing express lanes – particularly to include strong equity provisions to ensure that all Californians benefit from our public transportation infrastructure. 

 

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About This Blog

TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.