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Say “See Ya” to the CEQA for Qualified Student Housing Projects
California just passed a bill to expedite the process for public universities developing student housing projects in order to meet the demands of the growing housing crisis. SB 886 was signed by the Governor on September 28, 2022, and streamlines the process by exempting community college districts and other public universities from the requirement of preparing and certifying an Environmental Impact Report under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). The CEQA approval process is typically lengthy and expensive. The legislature has acted to remove the delays associated with CEQA approval by implementing an abbreviated process for student housing projects. The bill exempts community college districts from CEQA for student housing projects if the project meets certain criteria. Criteria include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The project cannot be located on certain specified sensitive lands, such as wetlands and habitats for protected species.
- The project must be consistent with the most recent master plan environmental impact report, certified within the last 10 years, and any applicable tiered environmental analysis.
- The United States Green Building Council must certify each building of the project as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (“LEED”) platinum or better.
- The project designates no more than one-third of the square footage to dining, academic, or student support service spaces, or other necessary related facilities.
- The project is either within one-half mile of a major transit stop, one-half mile of the campus boundary, or has 15 percent lower per capita vehicle miles traveled as compared to the jurisdiction where the development is located.
- The project has a transportation demand management program.
- The project’s construction impacts are fully mitigated consistent with applicable law.
- The project does not result in any net additional emission of greenhouse gases, as determined by a third-party evaluation approved by the lead agency.
- All of the project’s contractors and subcontractors pay prevailing wages.
- The project only prequalifies, shortlists, or awards work to a contractor or subcontractor that uses a skilled and trained workforce.
- The community college district must hold at least one noticed public hearing in the project area to hear and respond to public comment.
- The community college district also must file a Notice of Exemption with the Office of Planning and Research.
- The project cannot require demolition of any of the following:
- Housing that is subject to a recorded covenant, ordinance, or law that restricts rents to levels affordable to persons and families of moderate, low or very low income.
- Housing that is subject to any form of rent or price control.
- Housing that has been occupied by tenants within the past 10 years.
- A historic structure that is listed on a national, state or local historic register.
- The project cannot consist of more than 2,000 units or 4,000 beds.
In drafting the bill, the Legislature emphasized the important role that CEQA plays in protecting the environment, but acknowledged that the delays associated with it tend to be costly, especially when considering the dire state of student housing in California. This bill may provide an opportunity for the community college districts to develop housing projects without the risks of CEQA litigation and the related expenses and delays. The bill is set to sunset on January 1, 2030.
LCW attorney, and newly named partner, Christopher M. Fallon holds a LEED credential and is familiar with the sustainable design, construction, and operation standards for LEED projects. If your district would like to explore its options under this bill, please contact LCW for assistance.
See LCW’s August edition of Ed Matters for our article on Community College Student Housing Projects – Public Construction for more information.