The 2013 legislative season in review: a mixed bag for transportation

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California’s first year of the 2013–2014 legislative session has ended, and the results are mixed. Some great gains were made for walking and biking, one reform effort was stalled while another took a very strange turn, and a number of funding opportunities for transportation and housing were set aside for next year. Here are some results from the 2013 legislative session relating to transportation, land use, and housing.

The Good

Walking and biking saw two major victories this year, one through the budget process and one in legislation. 

The Active Transportation Program, which had gotten off to a rocky start earlier in the year, improved dramatically when it was approved by the Legislature as part of the 2013 state budget. The ATP, as it is called, combines a number of separate bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and program funds into one pot, and gives responsibility for its distribution to the California Transportation Commission (CTC). Thanks to the efforts of the legislature and advocates (including TransForm and our allies), Safe Routes to Schools funds were protected and other important aspects of the program improved. 

The ATP has approximately $134 million to spend on bicycle and pedestrian projects. While that’s a modest sum in the transportation realm (about $3.50 per Californian, or about 1% of Caltrans’ budget), it sets a good precedent. The State “flexed in” a small amount of federal money, and there’s good reason to believe that the amount of funds will grow over time. 

The CTC is leading a public workgroup to create a set of draft guidelines that will shape the details of the new program.

Another win came with the passage of AB 1371, Assemblyman Bradford’s bill requiring car drivers to give at least three feet of room when passing bicyclists. This represents a victory three years in the making, as Governor Brown had vetoed earlier legislation with a similar intent. 

The Bad

Unfortunately, a number of good bills were vetoed this year by Governor Brown, including legislation to modernize the California Transportation Commission (AB 1290, by Speaker Pérez), which could have strengthened the new Active Transportation Program (see above). Thanks to the nearly 1,000 Californians who emailed the Governor in support of AB 1290 this fall!  While we didn’t win the Governor’s signature this time, we showed the growing strength of our statewide movement for transportation choices.

Also vetoed were a bill to improve affordable housing protections (AB 1229, by Assemblymember Atkins) and a bill to require a more robust public participation by Caltrans in their I-710 corridor project (SB 811 by Senator Lara).

The Weird

At the beginning of the year, a steady drumbeat had begun around reforming California’s landmark environmental protection law, known as CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act). An up-and-coming moderate Democrat (Michael Rubio) had taken up a series of reforms that would, in effect, have gutted the law. But by the end of the year, Mr. Rubio had left the Senate to lobby for Chevron, his efforts were lost in the maze of the Capitol building, and another effort at reform had passed at the hands of Senator Steinberg. 

The bill that ultimately became law included a giant CEQA exemption for construction of a new basketball stadium in Sacramento, but good language for CEQA in other respects, including an end to the outdated “level of service” metric in urban infill areas. For a great overview of the CEQA traffic reforms, check out Autumn Bernstein’s posts on the ClimatePlan blog.

The As-Yet-To-Be-Decided ...

California legislative sessions run in two-year cycles, and so many bills become “two-year bills” when they are held in a legislative committee during the first year of the session. Often these bills are, for all intents and purposes, dead, but some bills resurface. Those that do come back in the second year are frequently controversial or high-profile proposals requiring deals, compromises, or hard pushes.

TransForm has taken positions on a number of these more controversial bills, and we expect the following to continue to develop and move through the legislature in 2014:

  • Bills (and budget) to use cap-and-trade revenues for sustainable communities. A number of bills were authored concerning the use of cap-and-trade greenhouse gas auction revenues. In the end, the Governor decided to loan the money to the General Fund, and the Legislature agreed. TransForm and our allies are working hard to ensure that the loan is returned and that the state begins to invest these dollars in our transportation, land use, and housing infrastructure in ways that provide real transportation choices for all Californians.
  • Bills to lower the voter threshold for local taxes. No fewer than seven bills have been proposed to lower the voter threshold for tax measures from two-thirds to 55%, and three of them would fund transportation-related projects: SCA 4, SCA 8, and ACA 11. Since these bills are state constitutional amendments, they require two-thirds of the Legislature, plus the Governor’s signature, and then a vote by the people as propositions, before they can become law.
  • Bills to enact some form of redevelopment and/or transit-oriented development financing. Senator Steinberg, Senator Beall, Assemblymember Mullin and others have authored legislation to enact some form of infrastructure financing and/or redevelopment law. These bills, for one reason or another, were held either by their authors or by particular committees in the Legislature. A number of them (SB 1, SB 329, AB 431, to name a few) have a chance next year of making it to the Governor’s desk. 
  • The California Homes and Jobs Act. SB 391, Senator DeSaulnier’s bill to provide a permanent source fund for affordable homes for Californians, was held in the Assembly near the end of the session. TransForm supports the effort and will work next year to enact a permanent source of funds for affordable homes. If you are interested in helping to pass this valuable legislation, please visit the California Homes and Jobs website.

What’s in store for 2014?

This year, California’s legislature had over 60 freshmen – the largest turnover in over forty years. With the change in term limits, these legislators will probably hold their seats for over a decade. This change may bring some moderation to our Legislature, and also the opportunity to build our case for complete communities and real transportation choices for all Californians.

TransForm will continue to build support for public transportation, walking, biking, and affordable homes near transit through our Sustainable Communities for All coalition and the Transportation Choices Campaign. To receive regular updates on our efforts in Sacramento, sign up for the Transportation Choices email list here.

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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.