Project Title: Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) Tool and CEQA Transportation Impacts
Case Number:  (None)                                
Project Location: Unincorporated Areas of Santa Barbara County
Assigned Staff and Division:

Allen Bell, Long Range Planning Division

Status

Senate Bill (SB) 743 (Steinberg 2013) changed transportation impact analysis under the Guidelines for the Implementation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA Guidelines). As a result, the County must now use "vehicle miles traveled" (VMT) rather than "level of service" (LOS) or similar measures of vehicular capacity or traffic congestion to evaluate a project's transportation impacts under CEQA. (See Background below for additional information.)

On September 15, 2020, the Board of Supervisors updated the County's Environmental Thresholds and Guidelines Manual to shift from LOS to VMT-based metrics. Specifically, Chapter 18, Thresholds of Significance for Transportation Impacts, of the Environmental Thresholds and Guidelines Manual now contains standardized VMT metrics, VMT screening criteria, VMT thresholds of significance, and VMT mitigation measures tailored to the unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County. The screening criteria and thresholds of significance are now in effect for projects that are subject to CEQA and located within the unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County.


Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) Tool 


Staff and its transportation consultant, Fehr & Peers, developed a VMT Tool to help planners, applicants, and other CEQA practitioners apply the new VMT metrics to certain projects. The section below titled "Important Links" provides a hyperlink to the VMT Tool. Users will need Excel to run the VMT Tool. 


Staff and Fehr & Peers also prepared the County of Santa Barbara VMT Tool User Guide (March 2021). The User Guide provides a step-by-step guide to using the VMT Tool. Anyone may use the VMT Tool without any formal authorization or agreement with the County. However, applicants or their agents that submit the results of the VMT Tool with their permit application to the County also need to submit a VMT Tool User Agreement. The section below titled "Important Links" provides hyperlinks to the VMT Tool User Guide and VMT Tool User Agreement.


The VMT Tool incorporates the screening criteria, thresholds of significance, and data from the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments Regional Transportation Demand Model (SBCAG RTDM). Users of the VMT Tool can enter various mixes and intensities of land uses and review the resulting estimates of daily vehicle trips and VMT. The VMT Tool also applies the screening criteria and determines whether certain projects meet any of the applicable screening criteria. 


The County presumes that projects meeting one or more of the screening criteria, absent substantial evidence to the contrary, would have an insignificant VMT impact and, therefore, would not require further VMT analysis. Projects that do not meet any of the screening criteria require an analysis of VMT and a VMT transportation study.


The VMT estimates for projects are based on data from the SBCAG RTDM. However, the VMT Tool is not a transportation model and does not replace the SBCAG RTDM. If the VMT Tool identifies a need for further VMT analysis, the person or entity preparing the environmental document may need to use the SGCAG RTDM to assess the project's potential VMT impacts.


Background

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On September 27, 2013, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 743 into law and started a process that fundamentally changed the criteria for determining the significance of a project's transportation impacts under CEQA. Specifically, SB 743 required new criteria that "… promote the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the development of multimodal transportation networks, and a diversity of land uses" [PRC Section 21099(b)(1)]. The legislative intent of SB 743 is to align with statewide goals to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, encourage infill development, and improve public health through active transportation.

SB 743 directed the Governor's Office of Planning and Research (OPR) and the California Natural Resources Agency to prepare and adopt revisions to the CEQA Guidelines that reflect this change [PRC Section 21099(b)(1)]. In December 2018, OPR published the Technical Advisory on Evaluating Transportation Impacts in CEQA  (OPR, 2018) as a service to planners, land use officials, and CEQA practitioners.

On December 28, 2018, the California Natural Resources Agency certified and adopted proposed revisions to CEQA Guidelines Section 15064.3, Determining the Significance of Transportation Impacts. The revisions include new criteria for determining the significance of a project's transportation impacts. Specifically, CEQA Guidelines Section 15064.3(a) states, "vehicle miles traveled [VMT] is the most appropriate measure of transportation impacts." With this change, the County may no longer use automobile delay, as measured by LOS or similar measures of vehicular capacity or traffic congestion, as the basis for determining the significance of transportation impacts under CEQA [PRC Section 21099(b)(2) and CEQA Guidelines Section 15064.3(a)].

CEQA Guidelines Section 15064.3(c) (2019) specifies when these changes take effect. It states, "A lead agency may elect to be governed by the provisions of this section immediately. Beginning on July 1, 2020, the provisions of this section shall apply statewide." 


Important Links

County of Santa Barbara Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) Tool  User Guide, Version 1 (County of Santa Barbara Planning and Development Department, and Fehr & Peers, March 2021) (March 2021)


County of Santa Barbara Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) Tool User Agreement (March 2021)


County of Santa Barbara Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) Tool  (March 2021)
Note: To open and run the VMT Tool, users will need to download the VMT Tool and then open the VMT Tool in Excel.  
 

Documents

Environmental Thresholds and Guidelines Manual (County of Santa Barbara Planning and Development Department, January 2021)

Board of Supervisors Agenda Letter, CEQA Transportation Impact Thresholds Update to Comply with Senate Bill (SB) 743 (County of Santa Barbara Planning and Development Department, September 15, 2020)

Transportation Analysis Updates in Santa Barbara County Report (County of Santa Barbara Planning and Development Department, and Fehr & Peers, July 2020)

Technical Advisory on Evaluating Transportation Impacts in CEQA (Governor's Office of Planning and Research, December 2018)

Senate Bill 743 (Steinberg, 2013)