The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was enacted in 1970 and has been amended from time to time since then. In November 2017, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) proposed the most significant and sweeping set of changes to CEQA in the past 20 years. These changes must now be considered by the Agency of Natural Resources through the formal California Administrative Procedures Act process. This legal alert is part of a series Kronick is publishing to describe the categories of proposed changes.
OPR categorizes these changes into three types: efficiency improvements, substance improvements, and technical improvements.
Efficiency Improvements. These improvements include changing existing exemptions, modifying the relationship between thresholds of significance and regulatory standards, clarifying the rules of tiering CEQA documents, and updating Appendix G—the sample form for initial studies—by eliminating and clarifying existing questions as well as adding questions on oft-neglected topics.
Substance Improvements. These improvements include changing how resource impact analysis and transportation impact analysis are conducted. Specifically, OPR proposes adding to the list of requirements for environmental impact reports to clarify what analysis must be undertaken when analyzing a project’s energy demands. OPR further proposes incorporating requirements imposed by the courts on water supply adequacy analysis into the CEQA Guidelines. OPR also proposes to change how lead agencies may analyze transportation impacts. While transportation analysis has historically been based on traffic flows (e.g. “levels of service”), these proposed changes would add vehicle miles traveled (VMT) as an alternate analysis framework. Under the proposed changes, VMT analysis is considered the most appropriate measure of transportation impacts by a project, though lead agencies retain discretion to determine the most appropriate performance standard.
Technical Improvements. These improvements include clarifying how baseline conditions are established. Given the confusion surrounding the California Supreme Court’s decision in CBIA v. BAAQMD (2015) 62 Cal.4th 369 which held that, in some circumstances, impacts on future residents must be considered in addition to the impacts on current residents, technical changes are proposed to clarify how significant effects are determined based. OPR is also proposing modifying the time limits for preparing negative declarations to mirror the requirements for EIRs. The technical improvements also include minor changes to the common sense and emergency exemptions, minor corrections, and small modifications to provisions related to comments, consultation with transit agencies, notices, and joint CEQA/NEPA documents.