Proposed CEQA Guidelines Seek to Expedite Infill Development Reviews

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Originally published in the Daily Journal, August 9, 2012.

Last year, the state Legislature enacted Senate Bill 226 to streamline review of infill development projects under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA. CEQA is a cornerstone of environmental protection in California, requiring public agencies to evaluate the impacts of projects they undertake or approve, consider alternatives and adopt mitigation measures if feasible. However, developers and local governments have long complained that the CEQA process is expensive, time-consuming and allows NIMBY opponents to wield allegations of environmental effects as a weapon, even against urban, transit-oriented projects that benefit the environment by reducing suburban sprawl, traffic congestion and vehicle pollution. In response to those complaints, SB 226 provides an expedited CEQA process for eligible infill projects and directs the state’s Natural Resources Agency to adopt eligibility standards by Jan. 1, 2013. On July 27, the agency issued proposed guidelines for public comment. Those comments are due on Sept. 10.

The proposed guidelines on “Streamlining for Infill Projects” apply to infill projects within the scope of a prior planning-level decision, such as a General Plan, for which a city or county previously prepared an Environmental Impact Report, or EIR. For these projects, CEQA review is limited to projectspecific impacts not addressed in the prior EIR or adverse impacts which are “more significant” than previously described. If no such impacts exist, no further review is necessary. Even if the prior EIR found an impact to be severe, so long as it has not become more severe, the prior review suffices under the proposed guidelines. Moreover, if a city, county or lead agency has adopted uniformly applicable development policies or standards (which are referred to in this article as “local policies”) and finds that those policies will substantially mitigate any project-specific or more significant impacts, no further review of the infill project is required.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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