On January 20, 2016, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (“OPR”) released a revised draft of thresholds for measuring transportation impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). These draft thresholds are designed to promote the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (“GHG”) pursuant to its mandate under Senate Bill 743 (Steinberg, 2013).  The initial draft was released for review in August 2014.

OPR’s revised draft is fundamentally similar to its initial draft.  In particular, under both drafts, the focus of a project’s transportation impacts analysis under revised Guidelines would shift from analyzing the project’s potential to increase traffic delays to the project’s effects on GHG emissions by focusing on vehicle miles traveled (“VMT”).  The CEQA Guidelines have always focused a project’s potential transportation impacts analysis on the project’s potential to increase traffic delays by analyzing the project’s level of service (“LOS”).

Agencies will have a two-year period to transition from the previously used threshold of significance to the VMT-based approach. Importantly, if approved, traffic delays that may be caused by a project will no longer be considered a significant impact under CEQA.  Moreover, there will be a presumption that development projects located within one-half mile of either an existing major transit or a stop along an existing high quality transit corridor will have a less than significant transportation impact.

The new draft no longer contains any specific suggestions for mitigation measures and alternatives, and instead recommends significance thresholds for specific types of land uses in a non-regulatory technical advisory section:

Residential project: exceeding both existing city household VMT per capita minus 15 percent, and existing regional household VMT per capita minus 15 percent;

Office project: exceeding a level of 15 percent below existing regional VMT per employee;

Retail project: net increase in total VMT may indicate a significant transportation impact;

Mixed Use project: each component of a mixed-use project should be evaluated independently, and significance thresholds should be applied for each type of project

Appendix G has also been revised, and now excludes level of service when determining whether there will be a conflict with a circulation policy.

The new draft is available for review here.  Comments to the Preliminary Discussion Draft should be submitted to OPR by February 29, 2016 at 5:00 p.m.