Property owners in California who seek to develop, redevelop, or object to the development of land need to take into consideration the implications of the California Environmental Quality Act, also known as CEQA, before taking on, or objecting to, a project. CEQA is a California state law designed to provide information on the development of real property. Its scope is significant as the Act compels local agencies to determine the impact, and mitigate detrimental impacts of development projects before approval to develop is granted. The CEQA review process includes some or all of the following steps:
• Initial Study. The purpose of the initial study is for the government agency responsible for approving the project to determine whether the project will have any significant environmental impacts. Based on its initial study, a project receives may receive one of the following determinations: A negative declaration that states that no significant environmental impacts will result from the project; or a mitigated negative declaration that states that the project will have some significant environmental impacts, but these impacts can be mitigated to the point they are no longer significant.
• The EIR. If the project will have significant environmental impacts that cannot be mitigated into insignificance, the public agency will require the developers, whether public or private, to prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). When there is a discretionary action to be taken by a governmental agency and that action may have a significantly adverse effect on the environment, the agency has to comply with CEQA. Generally, a government agency will have to prepare, circulate for public comment, and approve an EIR though there are certain statutory and regulatory exceptions to the requirement for preparation of such documents. Further, certain other agencies are still subject to CEQA’s substantive requirements (local codes, planning laws, California Coastal Act, air and water laws, etc.) It is during this time frame that we can assist in reviewing, commenting on and preparing a successful document.
• Legal action. If the project is approved by the local agency, an action under CEQA must be filed very quickly, generally within thirty days of the filing of a document known as a “Notice of Determination.” When an exemption from CEQA is claimed, the time period is 35 days. If a local agency is the approving agency, the Notice is filed with the County Clerk, and for a State agency, with the State Clearinghouse. Attorneys’ fees can be recovered under California law if a party prevails and the matter results in enforcement of an important right affecting the public interest, the action confers a significant public benefit, and the financial burden of private enforcement, compared to private gain, makes an award appropriate
This is just a brief overview of CEQA: a complex statute with many parts and varying judicial decisions explaining its scope and application. If you are developing property in California, please consider contacting one of the professionals at Dalton & Tomich PLC to assist you with any CEQA related issues that you may have.