What is CEQA?

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) generally requires state and local government agencies to inform decision makers and the public about the potential environmental impacts of proposed projects and to reduce those environmental impacts to the extent feasible.

The laws and rules governing the CEQA process are contained in the CEQA statute (Public Resources Code Section 21000 and following), the CEQA Guidelines (California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Section 15000 and following), published court decisions interpreting CEQA, and locally adopted CEQA procedures.

Why would a restoration project need to comply with CEQA?

A public agency must comply with CEQA when it undertakes an activity defined by CEQA as a “project.” A project is an activity undertaken by a public agency or a private activity which must receive some discretionary approval (meaning that the agency has the authority to deny the requested permit or approval, as distinguished from ministerial projects—which are those where the public agency or body has to determine only whether a project conforms with applicable statutes, ordinances or regulations) from a government agency which may cause either a direct physical change in the environment or a reasonably foreseeable indirect change in the environment.

Restoration projects that receive any public funding (e.g. from the Wildlife Conservation Board) also have to comply with CEQA.

CEQA exemptions

Categorical exemptions are created through the regulatory process and are found in CEQA Guidelines §§ 15300-15333. A categorical exemption generally will not apply if (1) there is a reasonable possibility of a significant effect on the environment due to unusual circumstances; (2) significant cumulative impacts from projects of the same type will result; or (3) the project will have impacts on a uniquely sensitive environment. (Guidelines § 15300.2.) For other exceptions, see Guidelines § 15300.2. See Categorical Exemptions 15333 – Small Habitat Restoration Projects and 15304 – Minor Alterations to Land.

Statutory exemptions are created by the Legislature. A project that falls within a statutory exemption generally is not subject to CEQA even if it has the potential to significantly affect the environment. See the Statutory Exemption for Restoration Projects (SERP) as an example.

CEQA Lead Agency

The administration of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is handled by the lead agency, which varies depending on the project. The lead agency is the public agency that has the principal responsibility for carrying out or approving a project that may have a significant impact on the environment. The lead agency could be a state agency, city, county, or Resource Conservation District. The lead agency must, before approving a project, certify or approve an appropriate CEQA document.

More information:

Accelerated Permitting Pathways