California Environmental Quality Act

The California Environmental Quality Act, commonly known as CEQA, requires governmental agencies at all levels to document and consider the environmental consequences of their actions. (PRC § 21000 et. seq.) CEQA applies to all “discretionary” project…meaning that if a project requires some kind of decision from a hearing officer, planning commission, city council, board of supervisors, or other governmental agency, CEQA applies. However, certain projects have been declared statutorily exempt from CEQA.

The primary means CEQA protects the environment is through the preparation of two different documents. One document is called the environmental impact report or EIR. The EIR is considered the heart of CEQA and is required whenever a project may have a significant impact on the environment. An EIR must consider and analyze a range of alternatives, and mitigate the impacts to a level of insignificance. If an impact cannot be avoided or mitigated to a level of insignificance, the decisionmaker must adopt a “statement of overriding considerations” explaining why the benefits of the project outweigh the significant impacts.

The other primary document prepared under CEQA is called the negative declaration or mitigated negative declaration (MND). A negative declaration is appropriate when the initial studies fail to identify any significant impacts that would occur as a result of the project. A MND is appropriate when the initial study identifies a potential impact, but changes to the project or mitigation measures are accepted by the applicant, so that clearly no significant impact would occur. If there is a fair argument, based upon substantial evidence that the project may have a significant impact on the environment, a full EIR must be prepared.

CEQA is a challenging statute with a number of procedural pitfalls that must be avoided to successfully bring an action. The statute of limitations is
extremely short and missing the limitation period by one day prevents an action based on CEQA. Mr. Cardiff is an expert in CEQA, having successfully filed and litigated a number of CEQA actions at both the trial level and appellate level. We encourage you to contact Mr. Cardiff before the final decision has been made to obtain the maximum benefit from his counsel.