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California Environmental Quality Act

Residential and commercial developers in California regularly face the demands of the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA. CEQA applies to public agencies and to private developers whose projects require discretionary approval from a public agency. For both public and private developers, CEQA covers projects that will result in some direct physical change or foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment. Because nearly any development project will cause some physical change, CEQA applies to nearly every new development project.

Extensive Legal Experience

As many developers have already discovered, CEQA review can become quite complex. Enlisting the assistance of a skilled and qualified CEQA attorney from Peterson Law Group can help the process run more smoothly. With years of land use experience, the lawyers at Peterson Law Group can assist individuals with projects subject to CEQA. The review process includes some or all of the following steps:

1. 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:

Negative Declaration

A negative declaration states that no significant environmental impacts will result from the project.

Mitigated Negative Declaration

A mitigated negative declaration states that the project will have some significant environmental impacts, but these impacts can be mitigated to the point they are no longer significant. Careful attention to possible environmental impacts and how the project will handle them can help make the difference between a mitigated negative declaration and the need for an Environmental Impact Report.

Environmental Impact Report.

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). Preparing an EIR requires a significant investment of both time and money.

2. Preparing the EIR

Preparing an Environmental Impact Report involves several steps:

Notice of Preparation

A Notice of Preparation includes a short description of the proposed project and its projected environmental impacts.

Scoping Sessions

One or more “scoping sessions” will be held by the public agency involved. During these sessions, the public may comment on the possible impacts of the project. These public comments help determine which impacts the EIR should discuss.

Draft EIR

The draft EIR discusses the possible impacts of the development, including the analysis and evidence on which these impacts were identified. It also discusses ways to mitigate or eliminate these impacts. CEQA requires an EIR to consider cumulative impacts as well. The effect of the project when added to all other existing, pending, or foreseeable future projects must be considered. Finally, the draft EIR discusses how the project’s environmental impacts compare to the impacts of alternatives, including the alternative of not building the project at all.

Public Comment Period

The completed draft EIR is made available to the public, which can comment on the draft for thirty to ninety days. The public agency may hold meetings to collect comments, as well as accepting comments in writing. Each comment must be addressed before the Final EIR can issue.

3. Final EIR

The Final EIR incorporates comments and issues raised concerning the draft EIR. Once the public agency certifies the Final EIR, the environmental review process is complete. Opponents may file objections for 30 days after the Final EIR is certified, but are generally limited to issues raised during the comment period.

Traditional Values of Litigation

Since CEQA seeks to prevent significant environmental impacts as much as possible, even after the Final EIR is finished, a public agency may choose not to allow the project to proceed. Instead, the agency may base its decision on the EIR’s discussion of the impacts of not building the project – which are nearly always smaller than the impact of actually building it. Careful attention to the details of the EIR can increase the chances of success, as well as protect the developer from potential lawsuits brought by opponents of the development.

Peterson Law Group upholds traditional values of litigation, offering years of experience with CEQA requirements. We have represented both residential and commercial developers, individuals, and businesses in front of a wide range of government agencies. We welcome the chance to discuss your CEQA concerns and help you assess the merits of your case.

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