The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

Overview of CEQA Process

CEQA Objectives

Applies to discretionary actions by governmental agencies, such as adoption of general and specific plans, purchases of land, other government projects, consideration of private subdivision applications or zone changes fn(There are a number of exemptions that make a proposed project not subject to CEQA. If the proposal is not subject to CEQA, the lead agency may file a notice of exemption.);

  • The purpose is to inform decision-makers and the public of potential environmental effects of a project;
  • The process should identify ways to avoid or reduce environmental impacts through implementation of feasible mitigation measures or alternatives; and
  • Disclose to the public reasons for the agency/decision-maker approval.

Summary of CEQA Environmental Review Process for a Private Project Application for Development

A. Applicant prepares a Project Application that includes

  • Project description outlining the details necessary for a general understanding and the parameters of the Project;
  • Project objectives identifying the need for the Project and benefit to the community; and
  • Environmental evaluations preliminarily identifying the impact of the project on the environment (optional).

B. Applicant files the Project Application and any supporting documents to the lead agency.

Applicant files the Project Application and any supporting documents to the lead agency.

C. The lead agency:

  • Reviews the submitted application to determine if the filing is complete within 30 days of application submittal;
  • If incomplete, provides the applicant a description of additional data needed and an opportunity to submit updated information; and
  • Once an application is accepted as complete, the Lead Agency initiates the environmental review process.

D. The lead agency prepares an initial study that determines whether the Project may have a significant adverse impact on the environment.

The lead agency prepares an initial study that determines whether the Project may have a significant adverse impact on the environment.

E. The lead agency initiates consultation with the public and responsible and trustee agencies as to the content of the environmental analysis; and

The lead agency initiates consultation with the public and responsible and trustee agencies as to the content of the environmental analysis; and

F. Negative Declaration

If the initial study shows no substantial evidence that the project may have a significant effect on the environment, or when potential significant environmental effects are shown in the initial study, but the project is modified such that the environmental effects are rendered less than significant, the lead agency can prepare a negative declaration.

G. Mitigated Negative Declaration

When potential significant environmental effects are shown in the initial study, but conditions of approval include mitigation measures that reduce all significant impacts to a level that is less than significant, the lead agency can prepare a mitigated negative declaration.

H. Environmental Impact Report (EIR)

When the Initial Study shows that the Project may have one or more significant effects, the lead agency must prepare an EIR.

I. When the lead agency prepares, or hires a third party to prepare, a Draft EIR, the EIR will:

I. When the lead agency prepares, or hires a third party to prepare, a Draft EIR, the EIR will:

J. The lead agency circulates the Draft EIR for 30 to 45 days.

All concerned agencies and the public may review the Draft EIR and provide written comments to the lead agency regarding environmental issues identified in the document. All comments on the Draft EIR should be made within the review period.

K. The lead agency prepares a Final EIR.

At the close of the review and comment period, the lead agency must respond to the comments received that address environmental issues. The lead agency prepares a Final EIR that contains its responses to comments as well as additional information that the lead agency may consider in making its environmental determination.

L. Lead Agency Determination

The lead agency must hold public hearings on the EIR when it is presented to the decision-makers for approval or denial.  The Project can be approved if impacts:

  • Are mitigated below the level of significance; and/or
  • There are overriding social or economic concerns merit the approval of the project in the face of unavoidable effects.

At the public hearing, responsible and trustee agencies and the public are given an opportunity to provide their impressions of the Project to the decision-making body.

Implementation of mitigation measures provided in the EIR must be required as conditions of approval for the project.

The Applicant must implement these during the life of the Project in accordance with the details of the approved use permit.

M. Monitoring and Enforcement

The lead agency, during the life of the approved use permit, must monitor compliance with the conditions of approval of the use permit. If the Applicant has failed to fully comply with the conditions of approval, the lead agency may implement a variety of enforcement measures to ensure compliance (e.g., permit modification or use permit revocation).

For an overview, click here.

For a CEQA flow chart, click here.

For a list of helpful links, click here.