California Environmental Law & Policy Update – March 2016

Environmental and Policy Focus

Marin assemblymember proposes Australian water trading market approach to address drought

Marin Independent Journal – Feb 29 State Assemblymember Marc Levine, D-Marin County, has introduced a bill that could put California on the road to developing a water trading market similar to the one pioneered by Australia during its “millennium drought.” Under state law, the Department of Water Resources is required to facilitate the voluntary exchange or transfer of water by maintaining a list of entities seeking to enter into water supply transfers, leases, exchanges, or similar arrangements, and to keep a list of the facilities available to carry out water supply transfers. Under Levine’s bill, AB 2304, this information would be available in real-time via a website created by a new California Water Market Exchange, which would operate within the state’s existing Natural Resources Agency and be charged with streamlining and expediting review and action on water transfer applications. “Simply improving the ability to transfer water between users in California through more accessible water markets could unlock over 4 million acre feet of water,” Levine says.

Valero appeals Benicia Planning Commission’s denial of oil train plan

Sacramento Bee – Feb 29 A controversial request by Valero Refining Company to ship oil on trains through Northern California will go to the Benicia City Council for consideration. Valero on Monday appealed the City of Benicia Planning Commission’s denial of its request for a permit to run up to two 50-car trains per day from east of Sacramento to its bayside refinery in Benicia. The debate revolves around whether federal law precludes the city from requiring mitigation for potentially significant environmental impacts, including impacts on uprail communities, arising from crude oil deliveries by rail. Valero officials contend the Planning Commission overstepped its authority by finding—contrary to the position taken by Benicia city staff—that mitigation measures to offset “significant and unavoidable” impacts should be evaluated in the environmental impact report for the project. The hearing date on Valero’s appeal has not yet been set.

New “Aquifer Protection Act” proposed

California Water News Daily – Mar 1 State Senator Lois Wolk, D-Davis, introduced Senate Bill 1317, commonly known as the Aquifer Protection Act, last week which requires cities and counties overlying basins designated as high- and medium-priority under the Sustainable Groundwater Act (SGMA) to apply conditions to permits for new wells by July 1, 2017, in order to prevent undesirable impacts on aquifers. The bill also prohibits new well permits in basins of critical overdraft and basins that are in probationary status. Wolk proposed the bill following a legislative hearing on the implementation of the SGMA to address the near term impacts of water withdrawal from the aquifers and supplement the long term management of the state’s groundwater supplies under the SGMA.

Voters in Carlsbad defeat proposed shopping and entertainment development

Los Angeles Times – Mar 3 Caruso Affiliated founder and Chief Executive Rick Caruso, developer of The Grove in Los Angeles, congratulated his opponents this week after the apparent defeat at the polls of a ballot measure (known as “Measure A”) to fast-track a shopping, entertainment and open-space destination near the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad. The project would have encompassed about 203 acres east of Interstate 5 and north of Cannon Road, an area best known for its strawberry fields. Under the proposal, nearly 27 acres, or roughly 15%, would have been a shopping and entertainment center, and the remaining 177 acres would have been agriculture, public trails, an outdoor classroom and habitat preservation. Carlsbad officials have said Caruso could apply for permits at any time to try to get the project approved through the city’s conventional planning process, which requires review under the California Environmental Quality Act, a process that would have been avoided had Measure A passed.