Saturday, January 15, 2011
#15 / CEQA Reform #2
CEQA, like so many laws relating to land use and the environment, attempts to address substantively difficult issues by creating a "process." The CEQA process is called an "environmental review process," and it requires the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report, or EIR, whenever a proposed governmental action "might" have a significant adverse impact on the natural environment.
The EIR process requires three steps: (1) The government proposing the project first produces a "Draft" EIR, which examines all the environmental issues from the government's point of view. (2) The public is allowed time to comment on the "Draft." (3) Finally. the government proposing the project must respond, substantively, to any and all comments received. The "Final" EIR is a document that includes the "Draft," all public comments, and the agency's response to those comments. The decision makers must then consider the Final EIR before taking action. In addition, as I noted in my earlier comment on CEQA Reform, the agency must modify the project to eliminate any and all identified adverse impacts, to the degree that this is "feasible."
"Process" is particularly needed when decisions are made on an individual, or "project by project," basis. If the government can pretty much take any action it wants to, with respect to any proposed project, then each of those project level decisions must be studied, with respect to the impact that they might have on the environment.
There is a different approach, which substitutes "policy" decisions for "project" decisions. If governmental agencies were required to follow environmentally protective "policies," and require any proposed project to conform to those policies, there would be a lot less need for a project by project environmental analysis.
In this direction lies true CEQA reform. That policy based approach, however, does require that the government tell landowners and developers in advance that certain things will just not be approved. For example, if there is a policy that says that no commercially viable farmland can be converted to other uses, there would be no need for an EIR to study the impacts of the next Walmart or subdivision proposal, urging a project that would do just that.
It's something to think about for those who would like to "streamline" the planning process.