How To Prepare A CEQA Streamlining Checklist

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CEQA exists to promote informed decisions regarding development projects with a potential to result in environmental impacts. Streamlining provisions allow for a shortened review process, but determining your project’s eligibility for streamlining requires foresight and planning. Devising a checklist is a helpful tool for checking all the necessary boxes.

It is a complicated time to be a developer operating in California. The housing crisis is front of mind for many consumers and public agencies, and new and upcoming environmental regulations create an ever-evolving compliance landscape.

Striking a balance between responsible (and much-needed) development and environmental concerns is the foundation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), but the approval process can be delayed by bureaucracy, constrained bandwidth at the staff level, and public input.

While streamlining options are beneficial they can be complicated to navigate. Since the CEQA process has its own share of checklists and flow charts, it may be helpful to understand how they operate, as well as to develop a streamlining checklist for your own project.

Determining CEQA Regulatory Obligations 

When a proposal becomes a project, it falls under CEQA regulations. From there, the first step is to determine whether the project is exempt from CEQA based on its status as a ministerial project.

The project may be covered by a statutory or categorial exemption or may be covered by an Addendum to an underlying EIR, all of which can streamline the review process.  Depending on which statutory or categorical exemption the project is eligible for, the next step is to confirm the type and format of documentation needed to achieve CEQA compliance.

Infill Exemptions

Various methods of CEQA streamlining facilitate a smoother, more efficient regulatory process. Consider, for example, infill development projects.

Infill is the rededication of land in an urban environment (such as open space or formerly developed land) for new construction. These projects may use the infill exemption (CEQA Section 15332) or another streamlining exemption associated with a prior underlying EIR that was prepared for a General Plan, Specific Plan or Housing Element to assist lead agencies in determining whether additional CEQA analysis is necessary.

Through the analysis prepared for the exemption, it is easier to discover any significant environmental effects not already analyzed in a previous EIR, or if the effects are significantly more than previously analyzed. If any new or more severe effects are identified, CEQA streamlining may not be appropriate, and a mitigated negative declaration or EIR may be required.

What Should be Included in a CEQA Streamlining Checklist?

To evaluate whether your project qualifies for CEQA streamlining, it may be helpful to develop a customized checklist. The first step is to determine if any existing streamlining programs, such as those for transportation projects or sustainable communities, may apply to your project. Next, confirm whether there is an underlying EIR and if your project is consistent with the density and land use identified for your project site. Then, consider other factors that may be included in your checklist:

Project type and scope: Is the project relatively small in scale or limited in scope?

Statutory exemptions: Does the project fall within any statutory exemptions as specified by state law, or meet specific criteria outlined in the applicable exemption?

Categorical exemptions: Does the project meet the criteria and conditions outlined in the list of categorial exemptions of CEQA guidelines?

Environmental setting and sensitivity: Is the project located in an area with sensitive environmental resources (wetlands, historical landmarks, etc.) and will it avoid impacting these areas by adhering to specific requirements for exemption?

Environmental impacts: Will the project result in significant adverse impacts on the environment, and are you prepared to document any measures taken to avoid or mitigate these impacts and confirm adequacy?

Compliance: Does the project comply with local regulations that do not require variance or exceptions, and are you prepared to consult with regulatory agencies to confirm your project’s exemption status?

Documentation: Do you have a methodology in place to document any public comments or concerns, as well as the exemption determination process and analysis? You must maintain accurate and comprehensive records and be prepared to report exemption details to relevant agencies.

Public services and facilities: Have you determined if the project requires the construction or expansion of public facilities or services and subsequently meets the criteria for streamlining under relevant statutes?

Consistency with local plans: Have you verified that the project is consistent with applicable general and specific plans? Take steps to ensure that the project aligns with local zoning regulations and land-use plans.

Add ‘CEQA Streamlining Expertise’ to Your Checklist

While CEQA streamlining can unlock expedited timelines, stakeholder confidence, and reduced litigation risk, the process can be complicated. Working with an experienced third-party consultant is crucial to ensure the legal defensibility of your approach.

Firms like FirstCarbon Solutions (FCS) can ensure any attempt at streamlining or exemption is legally sound and in compliance with all local and state-wide regulations. FCS experts have extensive knowledge surrounding CEQA requirements and streamlining – and they’re ready to help you uncover available opportunities with your upcoming 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. 

About the author

Mary Bean

Mary Bean thumbnail

Mary is FCS's Environmental Services Senior Vice President and has more than 24 years of experience managing the preparation of CEQA and NEPA documents in both the public and private sectors.
She is knowledgeable about a broad range of environmental topics, backed by her experience in the field, research, technical writing, and planning. She specializes in leading interdisciplinary teams in the preparation of technical studies that support environmental clearance at the local, State, and national levels. Her depth of experience allows her to be particularly effective in strategizing with clients about the most efficient approach to environmental review. In her 7 years with FCS, Mary has successfully led FCS’s services on more than 450 projects.

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