AB 756, A “Spot Bill” Proposes New Reform For Public Works Projects

Aviation Alert (March 2013)

As explained below, AB 756 is a reform bill worth tracking for public agencies that own or operate airports as it may provide certain streamlining benefits in the event of CEQA litigation. More specifically, AB 756 now provides for a series of proposed amendments to the Public Resources Code that would apply to any “public works project,” which is defined to include “an infrastructure project carried out by the city, county, or state government, or contracted out to a private entity by a city, county, or state government.  Infrastructure projects include projects relating to transportation, such as the construction and maintenance of roads, bridges, airports, and ports.”  The definition also includes projects relating to traffic signals, street lights, public health- and public safety-related buildings (e.g., hospitals; police stations), water quality and wastewater treatment facilities, energy distribution, and other infrastructure improvements. As amended, AB 756 provides that any action challenging the CEQA approvals of a public works project shall be conducted in accordance with specified “streamlining benefits.”  These benefits include, but are not limited to, having the action filed in the court of appeal with geographic jurisdiction over the project, as well as the requirement that the court of appeal issue its decision within 175 days of the filing of the petition.  (While extensions of time may be granted, such extensions shall only be for good cause shown and in order to promote the interests of justice.)  AB 756 also provides that non-CEQA claims related to the public works project at issue shall be concurrently filed with the CEQA claims and adjudicated by the court of appeal, as well.    While these “streamlining benefits” appear to be favorable in the sense that they expedite the resolution of litigation, AB 756 also would impose a set of new procedural mandates relating to preparation and certification of administrative records.  For example, AB 756 requires administrative records to be prepared concurrently with the administrative processes; made available in an electronic, downloadable format on the Internet; and, certified within five days of project approvals.  The latter mandate (i.e., record certification within five days) certainly would seem to facilitate resolution of the action within 175 days, as the experience of many involved in CEQA litigation is that preparation of administrative records and the resolution of disputes concerning record content can drag on for months. As a final note, AB 756’s applicability presently is limited to public works projects carried out by cities, counties, or the state government.  Careful consideration should be given by public agencies that own or operate airports that are not cities or counties to lobbying for further amendments to AB 756 that extend its application to other types of public agencies responsible for airports.  We will be monitoring legislative action on AB 756 and will provide further updates, as appropriate. By Lori D. Ballance, Danielle K. Morone, Mark J. Dillon, Michael Haberkorn, and David P. Hubbard for Gatzke Dillon & Ballance LLP