California SB 743

CA Senate Bill 743

SB 743 is an evolutionary change to transportation impact analysis. Conventional approaches to transportation impact analysis tend to focus on vehicle level of service (LOS) and similar metrics related to vehicle delay. This focus explains how land use and transportation projects affect driving instead of how those projects change the amount of driving that will occur. While changes to driving conditions that increase travel times are an important consideration for traffic operations and management, these changes do not fully describe environmental effects associated with fuel consumption, emissions, and public health.

SB 743 changes the focus of transportation impact analysis in CEQA from measuring impacts to drivers, to measuring the impact of driving. The change is being made by replacing LOS with vehicle miles of travel (VMT) and providing streamlined review of land use and transportation projects that will help reduce future VMT growth. This shift in transportation impact focus is expected to better align transportation impact analysis and mitigation outcomes with the State’s goals to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, encourage infill development, and improve public health through more active transportation.

In January 2019, the Natural Resources Agency finalized updates to the CEQA Guidelines including the incorporation of SB 743 modifications. The Guidelines changes were approved by the Office of Administrative Law and are now in effect. Specific to SB 743, Section 15064.3(c) states, “A lead agency may elect to be governed by the provisions of this section immediately. Beginning on July 1, 2020, the provisions of this section shall apply statewide.”

Can lead agencies use LOS until July 1, 2020?

We previously reported on this page that the combination of the SB 743 statute and new CEQA Guidelines made it possible that LOS could no longer be used to determine significant impacts after certification of the Guidelines, which occurred on December 28, 2018A recently published court decision confirms this outcome.

Learn more

The 3rd District Court of Appeals in Citizens for Positive Growth & Preservation v. City of Sacramento found that current law is that vehicle delay cannot be used to define a CEQA impact. The key excerpt from the discussion is shown below, and the full court decision can be accessed by clicking on the text-link above.

Although CEQA Guidelines section 15064.3 applies prospectively, section 21099, subdivision (b)(2) provides that, “[u]pon certification of the guidelines by the Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency pursuant to this section, automobile delay, as described solely by level of service or similar measures of vehicular capacity or traffic congestion shall not be considered a significant impact on the environment pursuant to this division, except in locations specifically identified in the guidelines, if any.”

This outcome presents a conundrum for lead agencies that haven’t yet adopted VMT analysis procedures and are now precluded from using LOS or any other metric related to delay.  For projects and lead agencies in this position, we have developed options for complying with the court’s decision.  If you want to learn more, contact Ron Milam, Julie Morgan, or John Gard.

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VMT Mitigation Spotlight

With SB 743 implementation becoming mandatory this summer, lead agencies have already started using VMT and questions are quickly emerging about VMT mitigation. One of these questions asks about the reliability of project site transportation demand management (TDM) mitigation strategies, such as those contained in Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Measures (CAPCOA, 2010). The simple answer is that the effectiveness of these strategies depends on the performance of building tenants that can change over time. Ensuring effectiveness requires ongoing monitoring and strategy adjustment. This answer has led to growing interest in program-based approaches to mitigation that can improve mitigation certainty. In 2019, U.C. Berkeley released a white paper describing the new concept of VMT mitigation banks and exchanges.  Fehr & Peers, in collaboration with WRCOG, recently released a complement to the U.C. Berkeley paper that directly compares VMT mitigation banks and exchanges to traditional impact fee programs for deeper understanding. Further, the new white paper also contains specifics on potential legal requirements, and outlines the creation and implementation steps for each type of program with procedural flow charts. Comments or questions about these emerging mitigation concepts are welcome and may be shared with Ron Milam at r.milam@fehrandpeers.com.

Quick Links

Replacing LOS with VMT

Navigating the evolutionary change to CEQA as transportation impact metrics change from LOS to VMT

Lead Agency Decisions

Summarizing lead agency decisions, options, and recommendations related to VMT and SB 743 implementation

Frequently Asked Questions

Exploring the commonly asked questions SB 743 brings to light

Introducing VMT as the New Metric of Analysis

For those new to VMT analysis, this short video explains a few basic components of VMT. We routinely analyze VMT for air quality and greenhouse gas impact analysis. SB 743 adds VMT to the transportation impact analysis of CEQA documents. If you find this helpful, let us know what other VMT related information you’d like to see in this format.

SB 743
Implementation

While SB 743 implementation is still evolving, a variety of public, private, and institutional entities have contributed to creating implementation resources and addressing the key implementation questions. Fehr & Peers has developed implementation guidance including recommendations on forecasting methodology, thresholds, mitigation strategies, and annotated flowcharts to outline the critical steps and choices for public agencies.

Essential Implementation Questions

All lead agencies will need to answer the following SB 743 implementation questions:

What is the preferred methodology for estimating and forecasting VMT considering that this metric is a required input for air quality, energy, GHG, and now transportation impact analysis in CEQA?

  • If the lead agency wants to follow the OPR Technical Advisory recommendations, what travel forecasting model will be used to estimate baseline VMT for citywide or regional averages?

 

  • How will the lead agency ensure that project-scale VMT analysis is consistent with the methodology used to estimate thresholds?

What are the significance thresholds for VMT impacts
under ‘baseline’ and ‘cumulative’ conditions?

  • Does the lead agency accept the OPR Technical Advisory recommendation that land use projects and plans within metropolitan planning organization (MPO) areas can achieve a 15 percent reduction in VMT per capita or per worker compared to existing conditions?

Does the lead agency want to take advantage
of VMT impact screening?

  • Will VMT impact screening be allowed for residential and employment land uses based simply on location within a transit priority area (TPA) or low-VMT generating area?

 

  • Will screening also be allowed for local-serving retail projects consisting of less than 50,000 square feet?

What mitigation does the lead agency consider
to be feasible for VMT impacts?

  • If TDM is used, how will the lead agency verify its effectiveness over time since many TDM programs are building tenant dependent?

See how one agency addressed these questions through a comprehensive SB 743 implementation process.

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Where do the guidelines apply (TPAs in California)?

Text of New Section 15064.3 (b)(1) Land Use Projects. Vehicle miles traveled exceeding an applicable threshold of significance may indicate a significant impact. Generally, projects within one-half mile of either an existing major transit stop or a stop along an existing high quality transit corridor should be presumed to cause a less than significant transportation impact. Projects that decrease vehicle miles traveled in the project area compared to existing conditions should be presumed to have a less than significant transportation impact.

The SACOG map layers were developed using data from the SACMET Metropolitan Transportation Plan / Sustainable Community Strategy (MTP/SCS) model provided by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. MTC layers were developed using modified GIS data provided by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. SCAG and SANDAG map layers are displayed as received courtesy of Southern California Association of Governments and the San Diego Association of Governments. Note that this information is subject to change as transit networks are modified over time. The current data reflects 2018 conditions.

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Implementation Resources

SB 743 is quite different from conventional approaches to transportation impact analysis, and we know the transition can be challenging. Let us help with breaking down the complexity and navigating the path to conversion. Find informative charts, documents, guides, and many other resources to help you better understand SB 743 at these links.

How Does SB 743 Apply to My Project?

Curious about how to navigate your Land Use Project, Transportation Project, or General Plan through SB 743? We’ve developed flow charts to help.

Land Use Project

Transportation Project

General Plan

What are Effective Methods of Mitigation?

An important part of VMT impact analysis under SB 743 is finding effective methods of mitigation. The CAPCOA Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Measures is a common reference guide to VMT reduction strategies relying on built environment changes and transportation demand management (TDM) strategies. While this is a popular guide, it was produced in 2010 and reflected even older research. Fehr & Peers has completed a comprehensive review of published research through 2017 and is available to assist with VMT mitigation services including: CEQA Mitigation Strategy Development and Monitoring, Local and Regional TDM Ordinance Development and Monitoring, Employer TDM Program Development and Monitoring.

Disruptive Trends Influence on SB 743 Implementation?

Forecasting VMT involves uncertainty,

Land use and transportation network decisions are a small part of future VMT. Disruptive mobility trends including internet shopping and autonomous vehicles (AVs) will have a much larger influence on VMT.

and understanding potential risks.

Including the influence of disruptive trends on VMT is essential when selecting analysis methods and especially in setting impact thresholds. Agencies have a risk of setting unattainable expectations for VMT reduction without first considering how VMT is likely to change due to disruptive forces beyond their control.

Analyzing disruptive trends can help.

Fehr & Peers has developed the TrendLab+ tool and AV modeling tests to quickly assess the potential effects of disruptive trends on VMT. This is an essential starting point for any agency making decisions about VMT analysis methods and impact thresholds.

OPR's December 2018 Technical Advisory

The new OPR Technical Advisory details include:

  • Specifications for cumulative analysis
  • Clarity that consistency with an RTP/SCS does not necessarily lead to a less than significant impact (the ARB SB 150 Report provides evidence substantiating this position)
  • Highlighting the importance that VMT impact thresholds align with all three statutory goals: “the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the development of multimodal transportation networks, and a diversity of land uses”
  • Adding consideration of ‘displacement’ when analyzing redevelopment projects
  • Applying project level VMT impact thresholds to general plans

Caltrans SB 743 Implementation

What Does SB 743 Not Do?

This question may be more important to some agencies than what SB 743 does. This statement is particularly true for cities or counties that feel that continued use of vehicle LOS is an important part of their transportation analysis process. In these communities, vehicle LOS analysis in CEQA documents has achieved the desired outcomes of the jurisdiction and they want to know if they will have to change their process due to SB 743. While a definitive answer won’t be possible until the final CEQA Guidelines are adopted, we do know that SB 743 did not change laws related to general plans, police powers granted to cities and counties by the State constitution, the subdivision map act, or traffic impact fee programs. As such, no changes have occurred for jurisdictions wanting to use vehicle LOS to size roadways in their general plan or determine nexus relationships for their impact fee programs. They can also continue to condition projects to build transportation improvements through the entitlement process in a variety of ways, such as using general plan consistency findings.
 
If anything, the potential loss of vehicle LOS (and similar measures) in CEQA could reinforce the importance of general plans and supporting implementation methods (such as impact fee programs) as the primary means for defining a jurisdiction’s policy approach to transportation. As the importance of general plans increases, it is worth noting that many general plan circulation elements were developed without consideration of capital and O&M financial constraints. These constraints often become apparent in subsequent project-level environmental reviews, frequently leading to significant and unavoidable impact findings because the jurisdiction does not have financial mechanisms that generate sufficient funding to build all of the circulation element improvements. Jurisdictions may also find themselves in this situation if the traffic impact fee necessary to fully fund the circulation element exceeds a reasonable level that could be supported within the development marketplace.
 
Ideally, the general plan would establish vehicle LOS expectations (and commensurate development levels) based on the amount of infrastructure the jurisdiction could afford to build, operate, and maintain. Development projects consistent with this type of general plan would require little (or no) vehicle LOS impact analysis, but instead could focus on issues such as multi-modal site access and parking provision to comply with applicable design standards. This could substantially reduce the effort required in typical CEQA transportation impact studies. In order to achieve this outcome, jurisdictions may need additional resources to update their general plans and transportation financing programs, which is an issue for further discussion.

Frequently Asked Questions

Click here for answers to frequently asked questions, such as:

  • What was the legislative intent of SB 743 (2013)?
  • What does the new CEQA Section 15064.3 adopted by the state in December 2018 require?
  • What decisions do a local agency need to make to implement these new guidelines?
  • How does the OPR Technical Advisory recommend implementing CEQA Section 15064.3?
  • Is a lead agency required to follow recommendations in the Technical Advisory?
  • What are the pros and cons of following the Technical Advisory guidance with respect to CEQA defensibility?
  • What other challenges should a lead agency consider?

Knowledge Sharing Opportunities

Additional Resources

Important findings from the implementation work have revealed that simply analyzing the VMT generated by a project is insufficient to identify potential significant impacts and that TDM mitigation effectiveness cannot be guaranteed since it is often building-tenant dependent.

Key Publications on VMT

Click to view key VMT publications and CEQA guideline updates.

RTP/SCS Info at SACOG.org

Click to view the SACOG website and learn more about RTP/SCS

Getting Trip Generation Right: Eliminating the Bias Against Mixed-Use Development

Click here to view a PDF on Trip Generation & MXD

Leaving LOS Behind

Click to view a PDF on Leaving LOS Behind

Determination of RTP/SCS Consistency Worksheet

Click to view a PDF of the Determination of RTP/SCS Consistency Worksheet

MXD Model at EPA.gov

Click here to view the Mixed Use Trip Generation Model developed by Fehr & Peers

Smart Transportation Metrics for Smart Growth

Click here to view a PDF on Smart Growth

FHWA Publication on Forecasting VMT

Fehr & Peers contributed to the Handbook for Estimating Transportation Greenhouse Gases for Integration into the Planning Process published by FHWA in 2013. FHWA describes the publication as “..a handbook designed to provide information on how to analyze on-road greenhouse gas emissions at the state and regional level, and how to incorporate those analyses into transportation planning efforts.” The handbook is actually quite a bit more than that because it also includes substantial detail on how to forecast VMT given its importance in mobile GHG emissions. Key information includes step by step calculations and summary strengths and weaknesses for each VMT forecasting method.

MXD+ from Fehr & Peers

Click to view the our MXD+ webpage and watch our informational video

Use of Impact Fee Programs for CEQA Mitigation

Click to view a PDF of the Impact Fee programs for CEQA Mitigation

2010-2012 California Household Travel Survey

Click here to view a PDF of the results of a 2010-2012 California Household Travel Survey

Additional Research on LOS

Transportation  impact analyses in California have largely focused on auto LOS, which measures transportation network performance only from a driver’s perspective. This document, authored by Fehr & Peers Principal Ron Milam, explains the limitations of this traditional analysis approach and provides additional methods for a more complete analysis.

In addition to viewing the paper online, you may also Download iBook at iTunes or Contact the author: Ron Milam 

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