The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was signed in 1970 to regulate pollution and preserve the environment. Fifty years later, CEQA remains an important piece of legislation that affects development projects throughout the state. The goal is to prevent new construction from worsening environmental conditions. Naturally, that process means obstructing some development projects.
How does CEQA work?
CEQA requires state and local government agencies to tell affected communities about development projects that could have adverse effects on the environment and reduce those effects to whatever extent possible. If a project will not cause an environmental impact, a Negative Declaration is all that is required. However, in the case of a large project with potential adverse effects, a public agency must prepare an Environment Impact Report (EIR).
What is an EIR?
An EIR is an extremely detailed document with three elements:
- Potential environmental impacts
- Suggested ways to avoid or reduce these impacts
- Analysis of proposed alternatives to the project
The agency must present the EIR to the public, which can lead to obstacles.
What challenges can CEQA present?
Apart from an agency blocking a proposed project, a community has real power under CEQA. If a public presentation is not received well by a community, the ramifications can be serious. In the event of community or individual objections, CEQA allows for dissenters to file a lawsuit to block or delay the project. The legal processes involved can take years to resolve, costing developers dearly—sometimes at the expense of a project.