In Parker Shattuck Neighbors v. Berkeley City Council, the Court of Appeal determined that impacts from existing soil contamination on a project’s construction workers or future occupants was not an environmental impact under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). This is the latest in a line of recent cases — such as Ballona Wetlands — that is wrestling with the question of whether an agency must analyze the impacts of the environment on a project, and not just the project’s impacts on the environment.
At issue was a mixed-use development that the City of Berkeley had approved with a mitigated negative declaration. Residents challenged the project claiming that the existing soil contamination posed health risks to construction workers and the project’s future residents and as such, the city should complete additional analysis under CEQA. But because the soil contamination was existing, and would not be physically disturbed by the proposed project, the court rejected this argument. The court instead determined that unless project activities would disturb the soil in a manner that would result in potential health risks, CEQA did not require further analysis.