Talk about California’s 48-year- old California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is being heard again in Sacramento.

This time, however, it is not the legislature making promises to smooth the way of people who wish to build anything in the state, but, instead, Governor Jerry Brown’s last effort on the environmental regulation front.

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) last November released the most comprehensive package of proposed changes in decades with Proposed Updates to the CEQA Guidelines, a 160+ page book of new rules.

OPR has classified the 24 major changes into three broad categories:

  • efficiency improvements;
  • substantive improvements;
  • technical improvements.

The proposed package likely will not streamline the CEQA review process or impact the timeline for most development pro-ject legal challenges which now can delay a major project by a decade or more.

The only positive piece of the revisions may be to provide some clarification to lead agencies, project applicants, and courts by better aligning the CEQA Guidelines with recent changes in the statute and with recent California Supreme Court and appellate court decisions.

Efficiency improvements are about how to make the process more efficient including clarifications related to the formation of significance thresholds, “tiering” and certain CEQA exemptions (for transit-oriented development projects and alterations to existing facilities). These improvements also include the deletion of duplicative questions and revisions to questions related to aesthetic impacts, air quality (odor), state wetlands, cultural resources, geology and soils and land use plans.

The proposed substantive improvements include new guidance on analyzing projects’ impacts to energy, water supply, and greenhouse gases (GHGs). Additionally, there are new requirements for lead agencies to evaluate a project’s potential impacts to energy and wildfire risks.

Proposed technical improvements include:

  • A mandate to reduce vehicle miles traveled by 15 percent
  • Clarifications on how an agency may look to past and future conditions when describing a project’s environmental setting.
  • Allowing lead agencies to “defer specific details of mitigation measures” when they can’t fully “formulate those details at the time of project approval.”

These improvements don’t go back to the legislature for approval. The Natural Resources Agency will start a formal administrative rulemaking process. Once completed, the agency secretary will adopt the revisions as new final CEQA Guidelines.

We will track this process and when the dust settles we’ll report any changes that may benefit or harm our industry.

By Wes May
ECA Executive Director
Email: [email protected]