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Jennifer Johnson, JD
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Nearly 30 CEQA Guideline Sections Proposed to be Amended
The Office of Planning and Research  
OPR Seeks Comments by October 12, 2015
 
The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) released a Preliminary Discussion Draft of Proposed Updates to the CEQA Guidelines, dated August 11, 2015. CEQA professionals should take advantage of the next month to review and provide suggestions on these important potential changes; once approved, they will affect compliance approaches on a daily basis. The formal administrative law process for adopting the guidelines as regulations will occur later, after OPR considers comments on this draft.

Why is the discussion draft important? It contains proposed changes to almost 30 sections, many of which have been years in the making. The goal of the draft is stated this way:

“It is a balanced package that is intended to make the [CEQA] process easier and quicker to implement, and better protect natural and fiscal resources consistent with other state environmental policies.”

Contents
OPR’s discussion draft contains many beneficial proposals and a handful of possibly difficult suggestions.

Proposed “efficiency improvements” include:
  1. proper use of regulatory standards as significance criteria;
  2. clarification of the rules for program EIRs and “within the scope” findings;
  3. expansion and clarification of exemptions for projects consistent with specific plans and their EIRs; and
  4. several updates to the Appendix G Environmental Checklist affecting aesthetics, agriculture and forest resources, cultural resources, geology and soils, hazards and hazardous materials, mineral resources, noise, population and housing, transportation, and utilities and services; as well as questions proposed for addition in regards to energy, water supply, and wildfire.
“Substantive improvements” are offered that update the requirements of energy impact analysis and water supply analysis to comply with recent court decisions.

“Technical improvements” are proposed to conform the guidelines to court decisions and recent statutory changes. They are very helpful with many being drawn from prior public feedback.

Potentially difficult proposed changes include amendments to the Class 1 “existing facilities” categorical exemption to make it more effective, introduction of “jobs/housing fit” into CEQA analysis, and consolidation of several checklist questions into a new “Open Space, Managed Resource, and Working Lands” category.

Providing Comments
Comments may be submitted electronically to CEQA.Guidelines@resources.ca.gov. Electronic submission is preferred; however, comments may also be mailed or hand delivered to:

Christopher Calfee, Senior Counsel
Governor’s Office of Planning and Research
1400 Tenth Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

OPR requests comments by October 12, 2015 at 5:00 p.m. If substantive changes are made in response to the comments, OPR may seek additional informal public input before submitting the draft to the California Natural Resources Agency for formal rulemaking and adoption.

If you have any questions, you may contact OPR, or please feel free to contact Ascent Bay Area Director, Jennifer Johnson, JD, at 415.939.1055, or Ascent Principal, Curtis E. Alling, AICP, at 916.930.3181.
 
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Ascent Environmental, Inc. is a forward-looking environmental consultancy. We offer our extensive CEQA and NEPA, regulatory compliance, climate action planning, and natural resources experience with the goal of providing personal service and high quality results to our clients on their most important projects. We are certified as a small business and women-owned business enterprise.
 
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