The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires both public and private projects to undergo an environmental analysis.
In areas where an underlying environmental analysis has already been completed, a streamlined CEQA process can provide consistency and transparency for applicants and agency staff during the development process as well as additional legal time and money. A streamlined process that focuses on already vetted and approved plans also ensures that future projects adhere to the policies, requirements, and mitigation identified and prioritized in the underlying plan.
CEQA was passed in 1970 to create public transparency regarding any significant environmental effects of a proposed project. Typically, the process involves preparing an initial study, negative declaration, mitigated negative declaration, or an environmental impact report (EIR).
This legislation was designed to analyze, identify, and disclose environmental impacts of all public and private development projects requiring discretionary approval in California. While complying with CEQA can be a lengthy and complicated process, requirements must be met for a project to be approved.
Fortunately, there are existing strategies to take advantage of the many CEQA streamlining provisions.
What is CEQA Streamlining?
Environmental review streamlining refers to various mechanisms that reduce time and/or effort required to conduct CEQA compliant environmental analysis. For example, cities and counties regularly update their General Plan and typically prepare an environmental impact report (EIR) to support that process. Once the updated General Plan is adopted and the EIR is certified, subsequent projects that are consistent with the General Plan land use designation, general plan policies, and zoning can utilize this preexisting analysis to streamline required CEQA review.
In instances of a complex or phased project for which an agency does not know specific project details at the time of the first discretionary approval, the agency may require the completion of supporting technical analyses to demonstrate that the project is eligible for streamlining.
Variations in CEQA Streamlining
Here are some common examples of project types that may be eligible for a CEQA streamlining exemption:
- Small Infill (Section No. 15332, Class 32): Project sites less than 5 acres located in urbanized areas and served by existing utilities.
- Infill (Section No. 15183.3): Site in an area analyzed in a certified EIR; can be residential or commercial.
- Affordable Housing (Section No 15194): Project site less than 5 acres with 100 or fewer housing units
- Specific Plan (Section No. 15182): Can be mixed-use, residential, or employment center/office; must be consistent with Specific Plan and EIR.
- Community Plan (Section No. 15183): Consistent with the development density of a community plan, zoning, or general plan with a certified EIR.
- Transit Priority (Section No. 21155): Among other requirements, the project must contain at least 50 percent residential use and a net density of at least 20 units/acre.
CEQA Streamlining: A Case Study – The City of Pleasanton 2023-2031 Housing Element Update
For each city and county in California, every seven years, the state identifies a specific number of housing units that must be accommodated over the upcoming seven-year period. This is known as the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA).
For the City of Pleasanton, the assigned RHNA for the 2023-2031 period is 5,965 housing units. The City’s Housing Element identified 25 sites that could support development to meet the City’s assigned RHNA. FCS prepared a programmatic level EIR to evaluate the potential environmental effects associated with development of the 25 sites throughout the city.
Following certification of the Housing Element EIR in January 2023, FCS prepared a streamlining template document for use by the city, applicants, and other third-party consultants to evaluate specific Housing Element implementing projects as they are submitted. The template document reflects streamlining guidance contained in CEQA section 15183, which provides an exemption for consistent projects, and streamlines additional review by limiting it to project specific significant impacts that are peculiar to the project or the site. The purpose of the template is to assist in the city, applicants, and third-party consultants in determining whether a proposed action falls within the buildout parameters previously evaluated within the Housing Element Update EIR and would also determine whether there would be any new or substantially greater impacts than what was previously disclosed.
The streamlining template summarizes the conclusions of each environmental topic studied in the EIR and incorporates specific mitigation measures that could be applicable to a subsequent project. The templates ensure that future projects being considered for streamlining can be evaluated efficiently, and in a consistent and accurate manner.
Identifying Your CEQA Streamlining Options
Would your agency benefit from the use of streamlining templates based on your underlying General Plan, Specific Plan, or Housing Element EIR?
FCS is available to discuss opportunities for the use of streamlining templates in your jurisdiction. Please contact us to request a free consultation.
First Carbon Solutions (FCS), an ADEC Innovation, comprises more than 100 individuals offering due diligence, technical analysis, planning, environmental compliance, permitting, and mitigation/monitoring services for public and private projects. FCS has more than 35 years of experience navigating the complexities of CEQA and securing project approvals. Contact us for a free consultation to learn more about how we can help with your specific requirements.