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SB 1000 Adds Environmental Justice to Mandatory General Plan Elements
Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) introduced SB 1000 after taking a “toxic tour” of her district and witnessing the exposure of low-income communities to hazardous environmental conditions. The bill received support from environmental justice organizations, including co-sponsorship by the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice and the California Environmental Justice Alliance. On September 24, 2016, Governor Brown signed SB 1000 into law. It requires that future general plan updates include a mandatory Environmental Justice (EJ) element. It can be either a stand-alone element or integrated within other general plan elements. The requirement applies to cities or counties that contain disadvantaged communities, as defined in the bill, and that are updating two or more general plan elements, if they are adopted after January 1, 2018.

Erik de Kok, AICP
Sustainability Planning
Practice Leader

Government Code Amendment

The statute amends the general plan provisions in Section 65302 of the Government Code (Planning and Zoning Law). The EJ element must do all of the following:
  1. Identify objectives and policies to reduce the unique or compounded health risks in disadvantaged communities by means that include, but are not limited to, the reduction of pollution exposure, including the improvement of air quality, and the promotion of public facilities, food access, safe and sanitary homes, and physical activity.
  2. Identify objectives and policies to promote civil engagement in the public decision-making process.
  3. Identify objectives and policies that prioritize improvements and programs that address the needs of disadvantaged communities.
The term, “disadvantaged communities,” is defined in SB 1000 as “an area identified by the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) pursuant to Section 39711 of the Health and Safety Code or an area that is a low-income area that is disproportionately affected by environmental pollution and other hazards that can lead to negative health effects, exposure, or environmental degradation.” This definition allows a city or county to add areas not identified for purposes of compliance with the Health and Safety Code.

Use of the CalEnviroScreen Tool

CalEPA uses the CalEnviroScreen tool to help determine disadvantaged communities. Developed by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, CalEnviroScreen is a geographic information systems-based model that combines census tract-level indicator data on pollution burden (i.e., exposure and environmental effects) and population characteristics (i.e., sensitive populations and socioeconomic factors) to help define disadvantaged communities. Cities and counties can refer to the CalEnviroScreen tool to help confirm the presence of census tracts in their communities that could be considered disadvantaged under the Health and Safety Code.

What Does This Mean for Your Planning Practice?

What does SB 1000 mean for the practice of local government planning? This is the first significant change to mandatory general plan elements since 1984, when the seismic safety and safety elements were merged, so general plan contents will need to respond in future, qualifying updates.  Recognizing the threshold date of January 1, 2018 and the length of time needed for general plan processes, an update getting underway now should consider how to comply. Because the requirement is actuated with an update of two or more elements, it does not need to be invoked when housing element updates are adopted singularly. Certainly, cities and counties will need to gain a thorough understanding of disadvantaged communities in their jurisdictions, if they have not done so already. 

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research is in the process of integrating the requirements of SB 1000 into the forthcoming revisions to the General Plan Guidelines,  which are expected to be released in draft form in late 2016 or early 2017.

If you have questions about SB 1000 requirements, please contact Erik de Kok, AICP, Ascent’s Sustainability Planning Practice Leader, at (916) 842-3164.
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