2023 CEQA Legislative Recap: Insignificant Effects, Housing Exemptions, and Streamlining
See all Insights

2023 CEQA Legislative Recap: Insignificant Effects, Housing Exemptions, and Streamlining

Brownstein Client Alert, March 6, 2024

Several modest amendments to CEQA took effect on Jan. 1, 2024. Our CEQA News You Can Use team summarized a few of changes to keep in mind in the new year.

Cover Your Eyes and Ears—Exemptions for Aesthetic, Noise and Alternative Location Analysis

When refurbishing, converting, repurposing or replacing an existing building, the lead agency has not been required to analyze for aesthetic effects under CEQA. AB 356 extends that shield until Jan. 1, 2029. Taking aim at whether loud college parties can be a significant environmental effect under CEQA, AB 1307 provides that noise generated by project occupants and guests of a residential project does not count as a significant effect. It also establishes that public higher education institutions are not required to consider alternatives to a residential or mixed-use project where the site is less than five acres and substantially surrounded by urban uses, or was previously analyzed under the university’s long-range development plan.

Lowering Barriers to Affordable Housing—New and Expanded Exemptions

With 30% of the nation’s homeless population residing in California, a handful of bills were recently passed to improve the state’s disheartening housing statistics. Added to the list of CEQA exemptions, AB 785 exempts activities related to affordable housing, low barrier navigation centers, supportive housing and transitional housing for youth and young adults supported by the City and County of Los Angeles and other eligible public agencies. Additionally, AB 1449 more broadly exempts, until 2033, actions taken by a government agency related to affordable housing projects to improve the ease and rate at which affordable housing is entitled, leased and financed.

Additionally, local agencies not acting as the lead agency may now benefit from a CEQA exemption when providing financial assistance or insurance for the development and construction of residential housing for persons and families of low or moderate income thanks to SB 406. This exemption was previously reserved only for the Department of Housing and Community Development and the California Housing Finance Agency.

SB 91 indefinitely extends the exemption for projects related to the conversion of a structure with a certificate of occupancy—such as a motel, hotel, residential hotel or hostel—to supportive or transitional housing that meets certain conditions.

Finally, AB 1633 imposes greater restrictions on a local government’s ability to disapprove a housing development project under the Housing Accountability Act. The bill is designed to make the denial or withholding of a CEQA clearance to a housing development legally entitled to such clearance a violation of the Housing Accountability Act. This will help prevent project opponents from using CEQA to delay or stall needed developments. These provisions will only apply, however, to a housing development project that: (1) is not located on a sensitive environmental site, (2) follows the CEQA timelines, (3) is located within an urbanized area and (4) meets or exceeds 15 dwelling units per acre. (See also Brownstein's client alert on AB 1633.)

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun Streamlining

Environmental leadership transit projects located within Los Angeles County benefit from a special set of procedures for the preparation of EIRs and judicial review of said EIRs. The time for securing those benefits is extended from 2025 to 2026 thanks to SB 91. Similarly, SB 149 extends the time for certifying projects for streamlining under the Jobs and Economic Improvement Through Environmental Leadership Act from 2024 to 2032.

SB 149 also now allows a lead agency to deny the petitioner’s election to prepare the administrative record for a CEQA lawsuit—a process commonly used to extend the litigation process. If the lead agency chooses to prepare the record itself, however, it is not permitted to recover the costs incurred in doing so from the petitioner. The litigation process is also streamlined by the new requirement to schedule a case management conference within 30 days of filing, further accelerating judicial scrutiny on preparation of the administrative record.

Public Notices Catch Up with the 20th Century Internet Thing

It’s 2024, over a quarter of a century since we’ve all become dependent on the internet for, well, almost everything. Finally, CEQA Notices of Determination and Notices of Exemption are catching up with the trend.

SB 69 now requires local agencies to file a Notice of Determination, or Notice of Exemption as the case may be, with both the county clerk where the project is located and the Office of Planning and Research State Clearinghouse. The notice then will be posted to the county and State Clearinghouse websites within 24 hours of receipt and remain posted for 30 days. Note to the wary, however, it is still the posting of the notice by the county clerk that matters for purposes of calculating the statute of limitations to challenge an act or decision.

This document is intended to provide you with general information regarding CEQA-related legislative updates. The contents of this document are not intended to provide specific legal advice. If you have any questions about the contents of this document or if you need legal advice as to an issue, please contact the attorneys listed or your regular Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP attorney. This communication may be considered advertising in some jurisdictions. The information in this article is accurate as of the publication date. Because the law in this area is changing rapidly, and insights are not automatically updated, continued accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

Recent Insights