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Full Summary of California Senate Bill 375

Assembly Bill 32 requires reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in California to 1990 levels no later than 2020. Since the transportation sector contributes over 40% of California’s GHG emissions, SB 375 seeks to reduce GHGs from vehicle trips by changing growth patterns in a way that reduces overall driving.SB 375 integrates land use, regional transportation plans and housing allocation to decrease GHG emissions from automobiles and light trucks.

Summary of Major Provisions

This Bill imposes several requirements pertaining to regional transportation plans. This Bill applies to the State’s 17 metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), roughly 98% of the State’s population. Exceptions include: transportation projects programmed for funding before Dec 31, 2011; the SCAG region; the San Joaquin Valley MOPs; MPOs in attainment; and regional transportation agencies not within MPOs.

SB 375 addresses three main land use issues: A) regional transportation planning process; B) California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) incentives for specified projects, and; C) alignment of housing element requirements and the regional transportation planning process.

A. Regional Transportation Planning Process

SB 375 requires the California Transportation Commission to update and maintain guidelines for travel demand models used in the development of regional transportation plans. These guidelines must, at a minimum, take into account: the relationship between land use density and household vehicle ownership and vehicle miles traveled; the impact of enhanced transit service on vehicle ownership and vehicle miles traveled; changes in travel and land development likely to result from highway and passenger rail expansion; mode splitting (between automobile, transit, carpool, bicycle and pedestrian trips); and speed and frequency of transit service. Cities and counties are encouraged, but not required, to utilize the travel demand models that are consistent with these models as they develop regional transportation plans.

Targets and Sustainable Community Strategies

SB 375 requires the formation of a Regional Targets Advisory Committee that will set GHG reduction targets with the help of California Air Resource Board (ARB) by January 31, 2009. The Regional Targets Advisory Committee will recommend factors and methodologies for setting those targets, which must be updated every 8 years. ARB must provide greenhouse gas emission reduction targets for automobile and light truck sectors by September 30, 2010. The targets must be established for the years 2020 and 2035. Note that SB 375 does not prevent CARB from adopting additional regulations under its AB 32 authority.

SB 375 also requires regional transportation plans, in areas with MPOs, to include a Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS), to reduce GHG emissions from automobiles and light trucks in that region to the targeted level. The SCS must consider general plans and RHNAs. The SCS is required to:

(1) identify the general location of uses, residential densities, and building intensities within the region;

(2) identify areas within the region sufficient to house all the population of the region, including all economic segments of the population, over the course of the planning period of the regional transportation plan taking into account net migration into the region, population growth, household formation and employment growth;

(3) identify areas within the region sufficient to house an eight-year projection of the regional housing need for the region pursuant to § 65584;

(4) identify a transportation network to service the transportation needs of the region;

(5) gather and consider the best practically available scientific information regarding resource areas and farmland in the region;

(6) consider the state housing goals specified in Government Code §§ 65580 and 65581;

(7) set forth a forecasted development pattern for the region, which, when integrated with the transportation network, and other transportation measures and policies, will reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles and light trucks to achieve, if there is a feasible way to do so, the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets approved by the state board; and

(8) allow the regional transportation plan to comply with Section 176 of the federal Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. Sec. 7506).

SB 375 requires the MPOs to hold one to two informational meetings in each county for local officials. Additionally, SB 375 requires each MPO to adopt a public participation plan and hold several public hearings as part of the SCS process.

Prior to adopting the SCS, the MPO is required to quantify the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions projected to be achieved by the SCS and set forth the difference, if any, between the amount of that reduction and the target for the region established by the ARB. If the SCS fails to meet the GHG reduction targets established by ARB, then the MPO is required to prepare an alternative planning strategy. The alternative planning strategy:

(1) shall identify the principal impediments to achieving the targets within the SCS;

(2) may include an alternative development pattern for the region;

(3) shall describe how the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets would be achieved by the alternative planning strategy, and why the development pattern, measures, and policies in the alternative planning strategies are the most practicable choices for achievement of the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

For purposes of CEQA, an alternative planning strategy shall not constitute a land use plan, policy, or regulation, and the inconsistency of a project with an alternative planning strategy shall not be a consideration in determining whether a project may have an environmental effect.

ARB must be certified that the SCS will meet reduction targets; no conditional approvals are allowed. If the ARB determines that the SCS submitted would not, if implemented, achieve the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, the MPO must revise its strategy or adopt an alternative planning strategy, and submit the strategy for review by ARB. At a minimum, the MPO must obtain ARB acceptance that an alternative planning strategy would, if implemented, achieve the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets established for that region by the ARB.


SB 375 does not supersede city or county land use policies and does not require consistency of local general plans with the SCS. So, local land use powers are preserved. However, cities and counties are encouraged, but not required, to voluntarily implement the SCS and to use the travel demand models required by SB 375.

B. CEQA Incentives for GHG Reductions

Both Transit Priority Projects and residential or mixed use projects that are consistent with an ARB-certified SCS are subject to several CEQA exemptions and/or streamlined review.

Transit Priority Project Exemptions

Transit Priority Projects are projects that: (i) have at least 50% residential use, (ii) have a density of at least 20 units per net acre, (iii) are within a half mile of a regional transit corridor with 15 min. service at peak times, and (iv) are consistent with the ARB-approved SCS.

For the Transit Priority Project to be completely exempt from CEQA, it must also meet eight environmental criteria, including but not limited to:

i) the projects is not more than 8 acres and not more than 200 residential units.
ii) the project must be adequately served by existing utilities
iii) the project site must not contain wetlands, riparian areas, endangered species or significant habitat.
iv) the project is subject to a preliminary endangered assessment by a registered environmental assessor to determine hazardous substance release.
v) the project does not contain significant historical resources.
vi) the project does not contain significant public health risks, such as seismic activity, as defined in the statute.
vii) The buildings on the site are 15 percent more energy efficient than as required by Title 24, chapter 6 and landscaping is designed to achieve 25 percent less water usage.
The project also must meet certain land use criteria including housing requirements, proximity to a particular type of mass transit, and includes affordable housing or provides open space.

Streamlined Review

A Transit Priority Project that does not satisfy the requirements above may also qualify for a sustainable communities environmental assessment, or a streamlined review process. This environmental assessment is reviewed under the “substantial evidence” standard, not the “fair argument” test.

A residential or mixed-use residential project is one that designates at least 75 percent of the total square footage for residential use and is consistent with the SCS or alternative planning strategy and incorporates mitigation measures from a previous environmental report; Transit Priority Projects can also fit under this definition. These projects will not need to analyze growth-inducing impacts, project and cumulative impacts from vehicle trips on global warming and the regional transportation network, and a reduced residential density alternative.

C. Alignment of Housing and Transportation Plans

SB 375 promotes consistency between regional transportation planning (RTP) and regional housing policy. It requires the RTP to plan for the RHNA, and the RHNA plan to be consistent with the projected development pattern in the RTP. This portion of SB 375 aligns the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) with the regional transportation planning process and creates an eight-year planning period for cities within Metropolitan Planning organizations (MPOs). Allocation of housing share to various cities and counties must be consistent with the SCS.

Implementation of Housing Element

Existing law requires that the housing element contain a program that sets for a five-year schedule of actions to implement the goals and objectives of the housing element. Existing law also requires cities and counties to review and revise their housing elements at least every five years. SB 375 extends the time for a local government to review and revise housing elements, also known as the RHNA planning process, from 5 years to 8 years in certain areas within the state, including nonattainment regions covered by an MPO. SB 375 requires the development of an eight-year program that includes a schedule of actions, with timetables for each action, during the program period. If the local agency fails to submit a valid housing element, it is subject to a four-year review cycle.

Rezoning Required

Existing law only requires the program to identify actions that will be undertaken to make sites available to accommodate various housing needs. SB 375, however, generally requires rezoning of certain sites to accommodate certain housing needs within specified times, with an opportunity for an extension time under specified circumstances. Rezoning of the sites includes adoption of minimum density and development standards. Under certain conditions, if a local government fails to complete a required rezoning within the timeframe, SB 375 prohibits the local government from disapproving the housing development project or from taking other actions that would make the project infeasible unless the government can make health and safety findings.

Public Hearing

Local governments must now hold a public hearing and provide an annual report on the progress made during the year on the programs within the housing element.


SB 375 allows the project applicant or any interested person to bring an action to enforce these provisions. SB 375 would also allow a court to compel a local government to complete the rezoning within specified times and to impose sanctions on the local government if the court order is not carried out.


SB 375 has not changed the way in which the housing element is adopted except to the extent that the regional housing allocation plan must be consistent with the SCS. The RHNA process remains the same. Self-certification of the housing element remains an option.