Communities struggling with decaying and contaminated properties now have a new tool to revitalize these sites, thanks to Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s (D-Los Angeles) AB 440. The bill passed the Legislature in September, and has now been signed into law by Governor Brown.
Changes to state law in 2011 terminated local governments’ ability to clean up contaminated properties (known as “brownfields”) and recover the costs of contamination from the responsible party. Gatto’s bill restores this authority by explicitly granting local governments these powers. The bill also adds protections for public health by ensuring a robust investigation for pollutants, and vigilant oversight. Lastly, the bill protects taxpayers and innocent purchasers from liability for unanticipated contamination, providing the certainty needed to obtain financing to clean up a brownfield.
“With this new law, the state provides the tools to get rid of those empty lots and shuttered factories that blight our neighborhoods,” said Gatto. “This legislation will foster infill projects, instead of pushing new developments onto pristine open spaces. Without these powers, sites would remain abandoned and continue to contaminate the surrounding community. Now we have a chance to clean them up.”
AB 440 has inspired a rare showing of bipartisan and cross-sector unity, with organized labor, business organizations, local governments, and environmental advocates all expressing support. The Burbank City Council, in its letter urging legislative approval of the bill, applauded AB 440 for ensuring that “local agencies have continued access to a brownfields remediation tool that has proven so valuable in the past.” Several properties have been successfully remediated using similar powers in the past, including the MTA orange-line busway in the San Fernando Valley, which replaced a contaminated railroad right-of-way with a hybrid-powered busway system, bike path, and pedestrian walkway.
“I am glad the Governor has recognized, as I have, the need to give local governments weapons in the battle to reinvigorate the economy and local neighborhoods while updating our cities for the 21st century,” Gatto commented, after the Governor signed AB 440. “This law will be crucial for cities looking to replace abandoned businesses and lots with new housing, green transportation, and urban parks. This law will do a lot of good.”