The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exists to ensure that government decision-makers consider potential environmental impacts before approving public or private projects. CEQA aspires to facilitate public review from an environmental perspective and allow input from public decisionmakers, but it oftentimes results in protracted schedules for review and approval. Several CEQA streamlining provisions are being used more frequently and offer a variety of benefits for developers, stakeholders, and the public.
When you’re behind a line of cars on the highway, you probably breathe a sigh of relief when you see a sign for a passing lane. Similarly, anyone with TSA PreCheck knows the freedom of bypassing long lines of travelers.
We all love a shortcut, as long as it preserves our safety, whether in our vehicles, at airports, or the air we breathe.
What is CEQA Streamlining?
The CEQA process can be lengthy, anywhere from 1 to 3 years or longer, and is sometimes also subject to litigation that can lead to additional rounds of delays. A variety of CEQA streamlining provisions can expedite the evaluation and review process by relying on prior analysis and approvals and focusing new research on aspects of the project that are unique or different from what was previously reviewed.
A streamlined CEQA process includes mechanisms to reduce the time and effort required to conduct a CEQA-compliant environmental analysis. This process is often employed by projects that are consistent with an existing environmental impact report (EIR), or that can be found eligible for a CEQA streamlining exemption.
Accelerated Approval for Critical Infrastructure
Facilitating expedited reviews and approvals for critical infrastructure projects is vital to address societal needs at every level, including transportation systems, water supply facilities, and energy resources. Reducing the timeline of project completion means communities will have quicker access to clean water, enhanced telecommunication networks, or reduced traffic congestion.
Removing superfluous roadblocks in the process helps prepare for the future by prioritizing public safety and community needs, in addition to creating jobs and economic growth. For instance, CEQA provides a statutory exemption for a number of projects, including for the grade separation of railroad crossings, recognizing the substantial public health and safety benefits associated with this type of infrastructure project.
Modern infrastructure is designed to be consistent with the latest environmental standards and to reduce potential impacts, often making an intensive CEQA review process unnecessary. Since these developments incorporate innovative technologies and approaches, streamlining can speed up the approval process without sacrificing public safety or confidence.
Shortened Processing for Affordable Housing
SB 35 was created to solidify this streamlined approval process for developments in localities that have not yet met their housing targets if the development includes the construction, conversion, or use of residential housing consisting of 100 or fewer units designated as affordable low-income housing, or at least 10% of units. The developer must provide sufficient legal commitment to ensure the continued availability of these units.
SB 330 is another example of state mandated legislation that prohibits local jurisdictions from enacting new laws that would have the effect of reducing the legal limit on new housing within their borders or delaying new housing via administrative or other regulatory barriers.
These expedited CEQA processes also allow for cost-saving opportunities by alleviating excessive studies and reports, making it more financially feasible for developers to advance to construction. Streamlining can also result in increased housing supply, which has many community benefits like providing homes for vulnerable populations.
While a faster approval process can mean promoting access to affordable housing and/or infrastructure, it can also lead to faster implementation of projects that incorporate environmental benefits, such as solar PV projects, terrestrial wind powerplants, energy storage systems, and electric transmission projects. Facilitating the adoption of these green technologies contributes to a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and overuse of existing resources. This is also present in environmentally friendly technologies and practices, such as solar PV projects, terrestrial wind powerplants, energy storage systems, and electric transmission projects.
Harnessing the Power of CEQA Streamlining
These examples only scratch the surface of CEQA streamlining and the benefits it can provide, including opportunities for expedited entitlements, reduced litigation risk, stakeholder confidence, and more. While these streamlined processes can be invaluable, they can also be complicated to navigate, and a keen understanding of which exemptions your project may be eligible for is critical.
Working with a third-party consultant team can provide you confidence that no streamlining opportunity is left on the table. FirstCarbon Solutions (FCS) has extensive experience working with CEQA and various exemptions and can work with you to discuss opportunities for CEQA streamlining for your project.
FirstCarbon Solutions (FCS), an ADEC Innovation, has more than 40 years of experience navigating the complexities of CEQA and is an industry-leader in CEQA Streamlining. Contact us for a free consultation to learn more about how we can help with your specific requirements.