California Governor Signs the Jobs and Economic Improvement Through Environmental Leadership Act of 2021: Grants CEQA Streamlining to Qualified Projects
On May 20, 2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law the “Jobs and Economic Improvement Through Environmental Leadership Act of 2021,” also known as SB 7, which is chaptered as Sections 21178 to 21189.3 of the Public Resources Code. (https://legiscan.com/CA/text/SB7/id/2401530SB.) SB 7 replaces a previous similar law, the “Jobs and Economic Improvement Through Environmental Leadership Act of 2011,” which expired on January 1, 2021. SB 7 authorizes the Governor to certify certain qualified projects as an “environmental leadership development project,” thereby entitling the developer to certain streamlining benefits under CEQA. The apparent goal of SB 7 is to achieve greenhouse gas emissions from new discretionary development projects, while also providing job opportunities and affordable housing.
To obtain certification under SB 7, the project must either be a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified project, a renewable energy project, a manufacturing project used for renewable energy generation, alternative fuels or for energy efficiency, or a housing development that meets certain criteria. (Public Resources Code Sec. 21180.) Housing developments are qualified if they invest between 15 and 100 million dollars, are located in an infill site, achieve certain greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, and contain at least 15% affordable housing. Additional prevailing wage labor requirements also apply to projects seeking CEQA streamlining under this law. (Public Resources Code Sec. 21183.5.) The primary CEQA streamlining benefit offered in SB 7 is the requirement that the Judicial Council adopt a rule of court to require legal challenges to environmental leadership development projects to be concluded “to the extent feasible” within 270 days of the certified record filing, even including all appeals to the court of appeals or California Supreme Court. For qualified projects, this shortened litigation timeline may offer a significant advantage, as legal challenges under CEQA can often take 2 to 5 years to resolve.