On July 10, Governor Newsom signed the infrastructure package, which is a result of extensive negotiations between the governor, legislators and advocates.  The package of legislation aimed at accelerating infrastructure projects passed the State Legislature as separate policy bills over the past few weeks.

After introducing the measures in late May, the Newsom Administration sought to move the infrastructure package swiftly to compete for billions in federal funding made available in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, as well as the CHIPS and Science Act.

Five measures were approved as part of the infrastructure package. This article is focused on one of those bills, SB 149 authored by Senator Caballero (D-Merced) and Senator Becker (D-Menlo Park) and Assemblymember Rivas (D-Salinas), which seeks to address roadblocks resulting from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) litigation, which can take years to resolve.

SB 149 is primarily directed at addressing the protracted CEQA lawsuits oftentimes used to stop or delay infrastructure projects in California, including water supply and storage projects.  The measure includes:

  • CEQA judicial streamlining;
  • CEQA administrative record reform; and
  • Extension and expansion of the Jobs and Economic Improvement through Environmental Leadership Act (the Leadership Act).

Ag Council supported this measure to provide tools to more quickly advance desperately needed water supply and storage projects in California.  As an urgency measure, it took effect immediately upon the governor’s signature.

The bill extends the sunset date of what is known as the Leadership Act, which currently allows judicial streamlining of certain clean energy and small housing projects.

Under SB 149, new types of infrastructure projects can be added to the Leadership Act to allow expedited judicial review for a broader range of projects, such as: water resiliency projects, clean energy and transportation projects. Water resiliency projects encompass new and expanded reservoirs, groundwater storage, water recycling and desalination, among others.

In addition, this measure establishes a 270-day limit in which CEQA lawsuits are to conclude, if feasible.  This includes appeals.

SB 149 also shortens the administrative record by eliminating internal communications on non-substantive materials, such as meeting invitations.

After pushback from a group of legislators and others, the Delta conveyance project is expressly removed from the quicker timelines in SB 149.

The bill does not change CEQA requirements relating to public engagement, environmental studies and consideration of alternatives or the imposition of mitigation measures.

SB 149 is not a guarantee that water or other infrastructure projects will move forward faster, given the complexities of CEQA.  However, the measure is an important step in the right direction to address litigation obstacles and focus on expeditiously developing needed infrastructure in California.  This action is especially necessary to help build resiliency and prepare for the severe weather and climate events we face, such as droughts and floods.