Transit and SB 375

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Metropolitan Planning Organizations that are subject to SB375. Diagram by Paul Hastings.

Overview of SB 375

Senate Bill 375 was passed in 2008 and directs the California Air Resources Board to set regional targets for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Each of California's MPOs are to prepare a Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) that demonstrates how the region will reach greenhouse gas reduction targets through integrated land use, housing, and transportation planning. Aligning regional plans will help the state achieve GHG reduction goals for cars and light trucks set by AB 32, California's landmark climate change legislation. [1]

Impacts on Transit

SB 375 ties land use and transportation planning together, and emphasizes building transit-oriented development. The Bill has special provisions and incentives for Transit Priority Projects (TPPs), which must meet several criteria:

  1. Contains at least 50% residential use. If the project contains 26-50% commercial use, the FAR must be at least 0.75.
  2. Have a minimum net density of 20 units per acre
  3. Be located within 1/2 mile of a major transit stop or high-quality transit corridor [2]

One incentive for regions to encourage TPPs is significant streamlining of California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements. Additionally, TPPs have special traffic mitigation measures, which include traffic control improvements, street or road improvements, in-lieu fees, transit passes for future residents, or other measures that will avoid or mitigate the traffic impacts. A TPP that meets these requirements does not need to comply with any additional mitigation measures under CEQA. [2]

A second benefit for TPPs is complete exemption from CEQA, but the requirements for total exemption are extremely stringent: the TPP must satisfy three different areas of requirements, including eight environmental criteria, seven land use criteria and affordable housing or open space criteria. [3]

Although the CEQA streamlining and exemption are meant to incentivize TPPs or Sustainable Communities Projects, it remains to be seen whether the incentives are sufficient. Some observers expect that public transit funding will necessarily increase in order to meet the GHG reduction targets, but it is uncertain how funding decisions will change due to SB 375, particularly in light of the budgetary constraints under which most transit agencies are currently operating under. [3]

How Regional Governments Have Responded

There has been uncertainty about what form SCSs would take, but several California MPOs have developed SCSs which all emphasize transit.

  • The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) completed their RTP in 2011, the first in California to do so after the passage of SB 375. Although the plan has received criticism for focusing on highway expansion in early years, it includes $53 billion for transit operations and maintenance, which is more money and a higher percentage of funds than before. [4] Additionally, 84% of new residential growth will be in multifamily housing, more than 80% of which will be in Transit Priority Areas [5]
  • The Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) is currently preparing their 2035 Metropolitan Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy (MTP/SCS). The MTP/SCS specifically identifies Transit Priority Areas throughout the region, which are areas located within 1/2 mile of a high-quality transit. The MTP/SCS calls for an additional 272,000 housing units and 380,000 employees to be located within those areas by 2035. [6]
  • The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) approved their RTP/SCS in 2012, with nearly half of the plan's funding devoted to transit. The RTP/SCS also funds 12 major transit expansion projects in LA under Mayor Villaraigosa’s 30-10 plan, and aims to place 87% of all jobs within a half mile of transit service. [5]


Additional Reading

Center for a Sustainable California. "Make it Work: Implementing Senate Bill 375". (2009).

The Center for a Sustainable California at UC Berkeley prepared this report to analyze implementation challenges of SB 375. Specifically, the report identifies the need for state-supported policies and programs in order to support transit-oriented development.

Southern California Association for Governments. "SB 375 and CEQA streamlining" (2010).

SCAG provides a chart that explains the CEQA streamlining requirements projects that qualify as TPPs.