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Open Access Publications from the University of California

From LOS to VMT: Repurposing Impact Fee Programs Since Adoption of SB 743

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This white paper assesses how cities are modifying transportation impact fees in response to Senate Bill (SB) 743, adopted in 2013 to orient environmental review of transportation impacts of development projects and plans in California to support sustainable development. SB 743 and its implementing guidelines eliminated “level of service” (LOS) standards for automobile traffic delay as an environmental impact to be addressed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), recommending instead that localities and other lead agencies responsible for CEQA review analyze, and if possible, mitigate impacts on vehicle miles traveled (VMT) instead. As cities proceed to implement SB 743, some are going further than the minimum required to analyze and mitigate for VMT at the development project level. Instead, they are also pursuing “programmatic” approaches, including altering citywide impact fees imposed on developers, to support more systematic analysis and mitigation than is possible at the project level alone. Based on public documents research and interviews with consultants and planners, this paper identifies three basic approaches that cities are taking to design impact fees in conjunction with their policy approaches for addressing SB 743: first, to design impact fee programs that fund VMT-reducing projects, but without employing a VMT “nexus” (the nexus is the basis for identifying impacts to be addressed by the program); second, to employ a VMT nexus for identifying facilities need and cost allocation; and third, to design a fee program that links to systematic CEQA-reviewed VMT analysis in the General Plan and/or other related CEQA-reviewed city wide policy documents. In this latter approach, cities may or may not design their fee program to fund VMT-reducing projects; indeed, this approach may help facilitate a more traditional, LOS-based fee program. This outcome can happen if a city analyzes VMT systematically for the General Plan, and then adopts a “statement of overriding considerations” under CEQA, which allows for development projects to “tier” off the programmatic environmental review so as to avoid the need for conducting cumulative VMT impacts analysis. This approach may facilitate more systematic integration of VMT and LOS analysis at the citywide level, but it does not support SB 743 goals for supporting VMT-reducing projects and programs.

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