CEQA Initial Study Outcomes: What you need to know

CEQA – or the California Environmental Quality Act – was passed in the State Congress and signed into law by then-Governor Ronald Regan in 1970. CEQA was a direct response to the federal government passing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) some months prior. These policies both exist to ensure environmental protection.

CEQA requires state and local governments to inform the public about environmental impacts of proposed projects, and to try and reduce these impacts when possible. It’s important to understand how CEQA works, as well as the benefits of this act.

What is a negative declaration?

If a project is believed to not cause any detrimental impacts to the environment, a negative declaration (ND) can be declared. It can only be stated after filling out the CEQA checklist (which includes topics such as aesthetics, agricultural research, and air quality) and acknowledging there will not be significant environmental harm. An ND is issued after the initial study (IS) has been prepared and is a “positive” project outcome.

The opposite of a “positive” project outcome is a “significant adverse impact” outcome, meaning considerable environmental damage is possible if the project is approved. Land, water, air, wildlife, mineral resources, and cultural resources could be at great risk, and should be avoided if possible.

Once a project is approved with a ND, a Notice of Determination (NOD) is filed at the county clerk’s office saying the project does not have a significant impact on the environment in which the project is taking place.

Image via Pexels

What is a mitigated negative declaration?

A mitigation measure is required to reduce or eliminate environmental damage caused from building by a project. An example is if a development caused tree removal, then a requirement could be to redesign the project to save more trees and strategize how to replace any trees that could not be saved. A mitigated monitoring and reporting program (MMRP) is required by California law and ensures mitigation measures are properly carried out and environmental damage will be prevented or lessened.

If a significant impact is identified that cannot be mitigated, an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is required. Significant impact is defined as a substantial adverse change in the location’s physical conditions. If you must prepare an EIR, it goes to the lead agency and then to public review (generally within a month). Next, the lead agency will prepare a final EIR including a response to comments provided during the public review. Finally, the lead agency responds to public agencies within a minimum of 10 days before the EIR is certified.

CEQA is important—it helps prevent potentially significant damage to the environment, while also allowing communities affected by projects to have a voice in decisions. It also enables stakeholders to take a big-picture view of the project.

Watearth and CEQA

Here at Watearth, we frequently work with CEQA, have staff that specialize in CEQA, and have successfully completed numerous projects involving CEQA.

Our work with the City of Oakland for their Mosswood Community Center CEQA project involved creating the Initial Study (IS) gathered topographic data, and developing a preliminary design recommendation along with other project documents. Additionally, Watearth conducted CEQA analysis and drafted technical memorandums.

We also have significant experience in creating EIRs. In southern California, we worked with the City of Los Angeles Zoo assisting with their Master Plan and Zoo Vision Plan EIR Hydrology and Water Quality Technical Studies. We prepared water resources and sustainability sections of the Master Plan and the EIR. This included NEPA/CEQA and water quality impacts to the Los Angeles River.

Deck overlook surround by vegetation and shallow pool of water
Image from Watearth’s LA Zoo project.

We also worked with the Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering (LABOE) on their Venice Auxiliary Pumping Plant (VAPP) EIR Hydrology and Water Quality Technical Studies project. On this assignment we prepared the water resources sections of EIR for NEPA/CEQA for a 0.5 acre auxiliary pumping plant. This included a detailed HEC-RAS hydraulic analysis from scratch, Hydrology, and water quality.

If you would like to learn more about Watearth and our services, please visit our website. We are happy to discuss your CEQA/NEPA project needs.

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