January 26th, 2016

By: Thomas Law Group

On January 20, 2016, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (“OPR”) released a Revised Proposal on Updates to the CEQA Guidelines on Evaluating Transportation Impacts. This follows a preliminary discussion draft that was released in August 2014. See more on the earlier draft at: https://thomaslaw455.wpengine.com/opr-releases-preliminary-draft-changes-ceqa-guidelines-related-sb-743/#sthash.cm0vbAOa.dpuf

SB 743 (Steinberg, 2013), which shifted the focus of the transportation analysis from the reduction of traffic delay to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, creation of multimodal networks, and promotion of a mix of land uses, required OPR to undertake this effort to update the CEQA Guidelines.

OPR proposes to add a new section to the CEQA Guidelines – 15064.3 – that will address how to determine the significance of transportation impacts. The proposed Guideline contains three subdivisions:

  • Subdivision (a): Purpose – states that “generally, vehicle miles traveled [VMT] is the most appropriate measure of a project’s potential transportation impacts.” The Guideline notes that lead agencies can also consider effects on transit, non-motorized travel, and safety of all travelers. A project’s effect on automobile delay, however, cannot constitute a significant environmental impact.
  • Subdivision (b): Criteria for Analyzing Transportation Impacts – outlines specific criteria for determining the significance of transportation impacts. This section is further subdivided into: (1) VMT and land use projects, (2) induced travel and transportation projects, (3) qualitative analysis, and (4) methodology. A subsection in the previous draft that focused on traffic safety has been replaced with the subsection on qualitative analysis. The new proposed subsection states: “If existing models or methods are not available to estimate VMT for the particular project being considered, a lead agency may analyze the project’s VMT qualitatively.” Where a lead agency undertakes a qualitative analysis, the subdivision recommends the agency look at factors such as availability of transit, proximity to other destinations, area demographics, etc.
  • Subdivision (c) Applicability – notes that the changes will apply prospectively – two years from adoption date – though agencies can elect to be governed by the new guideline immediately if the agency has updated its procedures to conform to the new Guideline.

A controversial subdivision from the earlier draft of the Guidelines that would have amended Appendix F (Energy Conservation) to provide suggestions of potential mitigation measures and alternatives has been removed.  Instead, OPR has created a non-regulatory technical advisory that can be altered and updated at any time and addresses methodological considerations in more detail. The technical advisory includes recommended significance thresholds (though it notes that for rural areas, it might be best to determine thresholds on case by case basis):

  • For residential projects, exceeding both existing city household VMT per capital minus 15 percent and existing regional household VMT per capita minus 15 percent may indicate a significant transportation impact. For residential development in unincorporated county areas, a project that exceeds 15 percent below VMT per capita in the aggregate of all unincorporated jurisdictions in that county and exceeds 15 percent below regional VMT per capita may indicate a significant transportation impact.
  • For office projects, exceeding a level of 15 percent below existing regional VMT per employee may indicate a significant transportation impact.
  • For retail projects, OPR recommends analyzing whether there is a net increase in total VMT because retail typically redistributes trips rather than creating new ones.


  • For transportation projects, OPR recommends creating a project-level threshold that is derived from CARB’s estimate that statewide VMT can increase no more than 4 percent over 2014 levels in order for California to meet the emissions goals set in Execute Order B-30-15.

The proposed changes to Appendix G have been revised as well. The language now specifically excludes level of service when determining whether there will be a conflict with a circulation policy. The new language states: “Conflict with a plan, ordinance or policy addressing the safety or performance of the circulation system, including transit, roadways, bicycle lanes and pedestrian paths (except for automobile level of service).” Additionally, the Appendix G questions concerning unsafe conditions for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, motorists or other users of public rights of way has been deleted.

OPR is requesting public review and comment of the Preliminary Discussion Draft. A copy of the Preliminary Discussion Draft is available at:


All comments should be submitted by February 29, 2016 at 5:00 pm to CEQA.Guidelines@ceres.ca.gov.