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Legislative Wrap: Which Bills Are Awaiting a Signature, and Which Are Waiting for Next Year

Everyone wants to see one of these attached to their legislation.

Last week was a busy one in Sacramento as lawmakers scrambled to compromise and pass important pieces of legislation while others will have to “wait ’til next year.” Streetsblog offers the following scorecard for some of the most important pieces of legislation that will impact the drive to create Livable Streets and Livable Communities.

We’re putting the bill’s in numerical order, ignoring the “SB” and “AB” that comes first in their filing numbers so AB 27 would come after SB 4.

SB 1: Sustainable Communities Investment Authority

Synopsis: There was a lot of excitement for Senator Darrell Steinberg’s efforts to allow communities to create investment authorities to raise funds for smart growth transportation projects. Advocates hailed it as the first attempt to create a mechanism to implement the state’s previous smart growth legislation.

Status: Passed in the Senate, shelved in the Assembly at Steinberg’s request so he could “focus on CEQA reform.”

SB 4: Oil and Gas: well stimulation Read more…

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In Battle Over Pensions, Federal Government Lets Unions Hold Transit Hostage

Labor unions weren’t happy when Governor Jerry Brown signed the Public Employees Pension Reform Act of 2012. The law, which applies to government workers across the state, allows government agencies more flexibility in extending the retirement age, increase employee contribution, and halt the practice of “pension spiking” for new employees. A full summary of the legislation is at the bottom of Brown’s press release from last September.

Brown rides on a BYD electric bus in April. Photo:Wall Street Journal

In the battle over pension reform, the federal government has given transit unions a powerful hostage: federal appropriations to transit agencies. U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez decided that the new pension law runs afoul of the 1964 Urban Mass Transportation Act. Perez, and two of California’s more powerful unions, argue the state’s pension laws diminish the collective bargaining rights of unions.

Perez is threatening to withhold federal funds for state transit agencies that follow the state guidelines if and when transit unions object.

The Wall Street Journal argues that Perez is mis-interpreting the act and that Brown and state agencies are operating within the law. California Labor Secretary Marty Morgenstern agrees.

So either the state changes labor law for transit employees, the federal government backs down and sends the $2 billion in grants that were promised, or transit agencies throughout the state lose out on roughly $2 billion in expected, and budgeted, federal funds.

Potentially withheld funds include both capital and operating funds. Los Angeles Metro is first in-line to lose out on funding. The federal government will decide on a $268 million request on Friday. Next in line is the Orange County Transit Agency. Smaller agencies will be hit hard as well. Sacramento’s regional agency could lost $70 million, including funds needed for a new light rail line. Santa Barbara’s Metropolitan Transit District would have to reduce services by 30% and lay off 50 bus drivers without its federal grant.

Thus far, transit unions in the Bay Area have not formally protested to the Department of Labor over the pension plans despite their ongoing strike. While Streetsblog is certainly not privy to the internal negotiations, it’s hard to imagine that the unions aren’t threatening to do so at the bargaining table.

To make the issue more pressing, Moody’s Investor Services is considering downgrading the credit ratings of Metro and other state transit agencies because of the confusion over whether or not they will receive federal funding. A change in credit rating could cost agencies even more, as Moody’s ratings help determine the interest rate agencies will receive on loans that finance most major expansion projects. Read more…

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Gov. Brown Could Sign Bill to Help Finance Sustainable Development in CA

Governor Jerry Brown is poised to sign a bill that would enable cities and counties in California to finance regional smart growth plans and sustainable transportation improvements through the creation of Sustainable Communities Investment Authorities.

SB 1, authored by State Senator Darrell Steinberg, is aimed at restoring some of the financing mechanisms lost after Brown eliminated Community Redevelopment Agencies last year. Steinberg introduced a similar bill in 2012, but it was vetoed by the governor, who said it was too early to create new agencies with powers similar to the ones he’d just ordered dismantled.

Steinberg looks on as Brown signs a budget cutting bill in 2011. Photo:Zimio

The bill is aimed at helping municipalities implement their newly-adopted Sustainable Communities Strategies, which were mandated in 2008 with the adoption of SB 375. That bill, also authored by Steinberg and signed by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, was the first piece of state legislation in the nation to order the creation of plans to curb suburban sprawl and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

As regional agencies adopt these regional plans — the most recent of which was Plan Bay Area – it’s becoming more apparent that their implementation will depend on the funding needed to provide grant incentives for development near transit hubs and the walking, biking, and transit improvements to support them.

“The state is finally promoting regional planning for sustainable communities, but with few resources to get the job done,” said Stuart Cohen, Executive Director of TransForm, a statewide nonprofit that advocates for sustainable transportation and housing policies. “SB 1 will help cities deliver walkable, affordable communities with great transportation options. What’s more, the bill includes critical language protecting residents and supporting production of new homes affordable to all Californians. SB 1 recognizes that a successful community must provide for all its residents.”

Jackie Cornejo, director of the Construction Careers Project at LAANE (Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy), called SB 1 “an ambitious bill that seeks to create a whole new vision of equitable development for every community in our state.”

“We are very excited to be working on a bill that will leverage Los Angeles’ massive build out of transit and promote sustainable development nearby so we can all live and play near our work, have access to good jobs and affordable housing,” she said. Read more…

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Draft CA Budget Ups Bike/Ped Funds, Leaves Safe Routes to School in Doubt

The budget proposed yesterday by Governor Jerry Brown and state lawmakers includes a new “Active Transportation Program” that would increase overall funding for walking and biking improvements but may put California’s Safe Routes to Schools program at risk.

A family makes a car-free commute to school in Berkeley. Photo: EBBC/Flickr

Under the proposed ATP, currently separate funding streams would be consolidated into one larger program, increasing the overall pot of bike/ped funds from $100 million to $134 million. Details on how that money will be doled out have yet to be defined, however, and unless SRTS is guaranteed at least the same amount of funding it currently receives — $46 million — the SRTS Partnership won’t support the ATP, said Jeanie Ward-Waller, the organization’s California advocacy organizer.

“We’re very much in support of the concept” of the ATP, said Ward-Waller. “We just want to see more clear details spelled out, and more security before we can get on board with this program.”

SRTS funds could be protected with State Assembly bill AB 1194, which was passed by the Assembly in late May, and must still be approved by the Senate and Governor Jerry Brown. The Assembly already removed a provision that would have retained the current $46 million minimum in combined state and federal funds set aside for SRTS, but the bill could “protect it from consolidation in the ATP if the ATP does not guarantee funding to SRTS,” said Ward-Waller. She explained in a blog post:

In order for AB-1194 to come off suspense, the Appropriations Committee struck a line from the bill that would ensure $46 million (level funding from state and federal sources) be guaranteed for future years for Safe Routes to School. Instead, level funding for the program will have to be approved through the state budget process each year.  Though the amendment removing the $46M guarantee makes more work for advocates in future years, the bill still effectively simplifies and continues the structure of the program.

Governor Brown and the state legislature must approve a state budget by Saturday, June 15, and it would go into effect on July 1. But AB 1194 isn’t expected to pass the Senate and go to the Governor’s desk until September, and during that time, Ward-Waller said lawmakers decided to put ATP funds on hold while an agreement regarding their use is worked out.

Although advocates will have a challenge in ensuring the SRTS program isn’t shorted, California Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Dave Snyder said the ATP will be an overall positive step toward increase walking and biking funding in the state, as well as creating a more efficient and centralized program to move projects forward.

“We do support the ATP, and we want to see the consolidation of those programs as soon as possible,” he said, while adding a note of caution. “We do need to have a better idea of what the California Transportation Commission wants to do with those funds.”

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Advocates Call on Gov. Brown to Prioritize Biking, Walking in State Budget

This article is cross-posted from the blog of former Streetsblog SF editor Bryan Goebel, who’s aiming to launch a new website ”devoted to sustained coverage of biking, walking and transit issues in Sacramento, both at the Capitol and locally.” You can also follow Bryan on Twitter.

A proposal in Governor Jerry Brown’s budget that would change how the administration doles out federal and state money for biking and walking improvements could imperil critical street safety programs such as Safe Routes to School at a time when California is facing a growing health crisis and trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“It does not reflect a serious sense of purpose by this Governor’s Office or the transportation bureaucracy to really make bicycling and walking a central part of California’s transportation system,” said Dave Snyder of the California Bicycle Coalition.

The move by the administration is a response to the federal transportation bill passed by Congress last year. MAP-21 ended some dedicated funding for biking and walking programs.

States are also receiving less money under Transportation Alternatives, the federal program previously known as Transportation Enhancements, which historically granted the bulk of bicycle and pedestrian funding to state transportation agencies and metropolitan planning organizations.

The League of American Bicyclists is encouraging state transportation agencies to make up for the cuts by seeking funding for street safety projects from other eligible pots of federal money.

California is receiving $80 million in TA funds, $13 million less than last year. In its current form, Brown’s budget, which has been widely praised for being balanced, would not kick in any other money to make up for the loss.

Under the administration’s proposal, the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, which oversees Caltrans, would combine five funding programs, including Safe Routes and the Bicycle Transportation Account, into what’s being called the “Active Transportation Program.”

The combined total in the account would be $134 million, compared to $147 million last year.

Read more…

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Undocumented Immigrants Can Get Drivers Licenses, New Regulations for “Buy Here Pay Here” and Other News out of Sacramento

In addition to the mixed news on legislation impacting bicyclists, Governor Brown acted on many other pieces of legislation that will have a direct impact on transportation planning and public safety.

Governor Signs Law Allowing Undocumented Immigrants to Obtain Drivers Licenses

The governor's office released mock-ups of what the licenses for undocumented immigrants would look like. Image via “Today we’re looking at science fiction becoming tomorrow’s reality – the self-driving car,” Brown said. “Anyone who gets inside a car and finds out the car is driving will be a little skittish, but they’ll get over it.” Read more here: http://www.thestate.com/2012/09/27/2458227/next-transportation-trend-cars.html#.UGnX1_nHdz0#storylink=cpyCBS Sacramento.

Perhaps the most controversial action the Governor took last week will allow many undocumented immigrants to earn drivers licensesAB 2189, introduced by Asm. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), allows immigrants who qualify for a new federal work permit program and reside in California to apply for drivers licenses. A new federal protocol allows illegal immigrants who came to the United States before they were 16, and who are now 30 or younger, to obtain work permits.

Cedillo, who has introduced legislation that would allow all undocumented workers to earn licenses, points to safety as a major reason why all Californians should support licensing all interested potential drivers.

“This is important first step to making sure our highways are safe for all Californians,” Cedillo writes in an official statement. “I am proud that the governor chose public safety over politics. I look forward to continuing to work with his office to make sure that all motorists in this state are licensed, tested and insured and that California will once again enjoy the safest highways in America that they deserve.”

“Encouraging” High Speed Rail Authority to Shop for Rail Cars in California

As you might have heard, the California High Speed Rail project is somewhat controversial in the state. In an effort to boost job creation and improve the project’s popularity, Brown signed AB 16, authored by Henry Perea (D-Fresno), which “encourages” the Authority to purchase cars for the project that are manufactured in California. One option to meet this “suggestion” would be  Sacramento-based Siemens Rail Systems.

“Siemens has seen first-hand the benefits of high speed rail for communities around the globe and is pleased that California is taking the lead in the United States,” Siemens spokesman wrote to Sacramento Business Journal. “We stand ready to provide the best trains in the world for California once the project enters into the rolling stock procurement phase. Siemens will also work to assist the project with its offerings on infrastructure (signaling, electrification, building technologies, etc.) as the different phases of development deem appropriate.”

Despite the legislation, the authority needs to tread carefully. Federal law prohibits selecting contractors based on the location of their factory if the project receives any federal funding. California High Speed rail is reliant on federal funding for most of the construction cost.

New Rules for “Buy Here Pay Here” Dealerships, Brown Passes on Strongest Law Read more…

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Governor Shocks Cyclists with “Give Me 3″ Rejection, Approves Bills Making Infrastructure Improvements Easier

(Note: It was a busy 72 hours in Sacramento this weekend. Streetsblog will split it’s coverage of Governor Jerry Brown’s signings and vetos into two separate stories, one pertaining to bicycles, and a second post for everything else.)

For the second year in a row, California Governor Jerry Brown issued a last-minute veto of legislation mandating a minimum three-foot distance for motor vehicles to pass cyclists. However, two other bills making it easier for cities to implement bike lanes got the governor’s signature, albeit in watered-down form: AB 2245, which exempts bike lanes from excessive review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and AB 819, which establishes a Caltrans experimentation process for adopting currently non-standard innovative bike lane designs, like physically protected bike lanes.

When Brown vetoed the 3-foot passing bill last year, he argued in a widely panned veto-message that a three foot passing law would damage the “free flow of traffic” and proposed a change that would not address his stated problem. This year, Senator Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) made the changes that the Governor requested to SB 1464, but Brown and his advisors created a new reason to veto the legislation.

If only this car had crossed the double yellow line a little sooner. The image is taken from a story on Confessions of a... where a woman recounts the pain of being hit by a car and the miracle that she could walk away from such a crash.

This year, the Governor’s veto message expressed concern that the state would be liable for any crashes caused by reckless drivers who crossed a “solid yellow” line to give cyclists the three-foot buffer. The veto message also stated that Caltrans proposed a solution to “this issue,” but that Lowenthal’s office refused to make the change. Caltrans did not return calls for comments, and advocates familiar with the legislation professed to have “no idea” what the Governor was referencing.

In the nineteen states that have three foot passing laws and the one that has a four foot passing law, Streetsblog can find no evidence that the kind of lawsuit the Governor fears has ever been successfully prosecuted. The California Bicycle Coalition (CBC) reports that the California Department of Finance, the department responsible for tracking whether legislation opens the state to lawsuits, opined that current law would protect the state from these sorts of lawsuits. The CBC also notes that the language the Governor is concerned with was included in 2011′s three foot passing law, and that neither the Governor nor Caltrans expressed any concerns last year.

Cycling advocates were incensed at the veto.

“It’s pretty clear that the Governor is out of touch with what is happening on our roads,” writes Eric Bruins, the Policy and Program Director for the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC). “With the distracted driving bill and the 3-foot passing bill, the Legislature is responding to the public’s concerns about traffic safety.  It’s time for the Governor to engage on these issues and protect victims of dangerous and distracted driving.”

The California Bicycle Coalition was even harsher.

“Brown has offered no indication of how he views bicycling or expressed any ideas for ensuring the safety of Californians who rely on bicycling as everyday transportation,” writes the Coalition on their website. “By vetoing SB 1464, he makes clear that he prioritizes legalistic speculation over the safety of Californians.”

“We’re deeply concerned about what his lack of vision and leadership means for the safety of our streets and roads.”

Ted Rogers is the author of the website Biking In L.A. and a member of the LACBC Board of Directors. After last year’s veto, Rogers and a handful of other bloggers began referring to a cyclist being buzzed or struck by a passing motorists “being Jerry Browned.” When asked if he thinks “being Jerry Browned” will catch on, he argues “He deserves to be remembered for this for the rest of his hopefully short political career.” Rogers was speaking for himself, and not the LACBC.

But the news wasn’t all bad for cyclists out of the Governor’s Office. While Brown refused to “Give Me 3,” he did sign two pieces of heavily amended legislation that will make construction of bicycle projects easier. Read more…

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Battle Lines Drawn in High Speed Rail Vote

Later this week, the plan to build a High Speed Rail line connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco faces a crucial vote in the California legislature.  Governor Jerry Brown asked lawmakers to release $2.7 billion of the $6 billion in bonds passed by California voters in 2008 for High Speed Rail.  Combined with $3.3 billion in federal funds, the allocation would build 130 miles of High Speed Rail in the Central Valley.

Currently there are three competing visions for High Speed Rail in the Golden State.  For simplicity’s sake, we’ll refer to the three as: The Governor’s Plan, Plan B, and No Rail.  The Governor’s Plan refers only to his request to spend $6 billion in the Central Valley, not the entire route.  To help you keep track of who is saying what over the next several days, Streetsblog presents your High Speed Rail scorecard.

Image via High Speed Rail Authority

The Governor’s Plan:

The Plan: The Governor’s Plan would create a high speed rail network connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco.  The plan would also pay for the electrification of existing Caltrain and Metrolink rail so these tracks could be used for high speed rail, but would also speed up local service for thousands of commuters.  The new long-term plan would spend $68 billion, create over 500 miles of High Speed Rail and 100,000 “job years.”  The first leg of the plan, or the Governor’s Plan as we’re calling it, begins with 130 miles in the Central Valley.

Read more…

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Take 2: As Pennsylvania Gives Cyclists 4, “Give Me 3″ Heads Back to Committee

State Senator Alan Lowenthal’s “Give Me 3″ legislation, S.B. 1464, is going back to the Senate Housing and Transportation Committee on April 17. The bill would require drivers to give cyclists a three foot passing berth when overtaking them. I say “going back” because nearly identical legislation, S.B. 910, was passed by both houses of the legislature last year, before Governor Brown exercised his veto. Brown expressed concerns about hypothetical traffic congestion caused by cars slowing down to pass bicycles.

While California is still trying to "Give Me 3," Pennsylvania is already requiring drivers to give cyclists a four foot passing berth. Photo: Fran Maye/South West Chester Weeklies

Assuming it passes both houses of the legislature again, how will 2012′s “Give Me 3″ legislation clear the governor’s desk this time around?

Jim Brown of the California Bike Coalition explains. “The language in 1464 is identical to 910 except we didn’t include the provision that the governor said he didn’t support,” said Brown.  ”We took out a provision that says if you can’t give three feet of space you have to slow down to 15 mph to pass.”

That doesn’t mean cyclists on single lane roads are being abandoned. Brown confirmed that specific new language, which is not objectionable to AAA or the California Highway Patrol, will be unveiled this week and added to the legislation either at the April 17 committee hearing or before it.

While California cyclists and lawmakers continue to tinker with language to appease the state’s car lobby (and governor), a four-foot passing law went into effect in Pennsylvania yesterday. On February 2, Republican Governor Tom Corbett signed a law giving cyclists an even wider berth than required by California’s proposed legislation.

For more information about S.B. 1464, visit the FAQ page on the Give Me 3 campaign website, or check out the bill’s language in its entirety.

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It’s Take Two for “Give Me 3″ in Sacramento

On October 7th, Governor Jerry Brown shocked the California cycling community and snubbed Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and bill sponsor Senator Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) when he vetoed Senate Bill 910, a proposed law that would have required motorists to give cyclists a three foot buffer when passing. However, proponents of the “Give Me 3″ bill are back with a new proposal – SB 1464.

A Sacramento bicyclist expresses her support for the "Give Me 3" campaign on Bike to Work Day. Photo: California Bicycle Coalition

The proposed bill, also introduced by Lowenthal, is nearly identical to SB 910, but legislators removed a provision that would have required drivers to slow down to 15 mph to pass bicyclists if there was insufficient room to pass with three feet.  This provision so rankled the California Highway Patrol, Caltrans and the AAA that they convinced the governor to veto the proposal fearing cars backing up if they are unable to pass a cyclist at 15 miles per hour.

While similar laws in other states have included the provision, Lowenthal and the California Bike Coalition (CBC) feel that removing it increases the chance that the legislation will pass. Back when the Governor vetoed the legislation, Senator Lowenthal noted that removing that provision would actually make the road safer for cyclists, although it would do nothing to address the Governor’s stated concerns.

“This is the bill Gov. Brown seemed to say he was open to supporting when he vetoed SB 910 last October,” writes Jim Brown, the communications director for the California Bicycle Coalition. “We’re confident this bill meets his concerns and we look forward to his support.”

Both Lowenthal and the CBC say they are open to amendments that would add an exception to the law that would allow for safe passing in situations where there is not the road space or speed limits that would allow cars to pass cyclists under a strict three-foot passing requirement.

The proposal, sponsored by the CBC and the City of Los Angeles, is expected to be heard by the State Senate this spring.