Legal Resources | | T14 15064
Chapter 3. Guidelines for Implementation of the California Environmental Quality Act Article 5. Preliminary Review of Projects and Conduct of Initial Study Determining the Significance of the Environmental Effects Caused by a Project.
(a) Determining whether a project may have a significant effect plays a critical role in the CEQA process.
(1) If there is substantial evidence, in light of the whole record before a lead agency, that a project may have a significant effect on the environment, the agency shall prepare a draft EIR.
(2) When a final EIR identifies one or more significant effects, the lead agency and each responsible agency shall make a finding under Section 15091 for each significant effect and may need to make a statement of overriding considerations under Section 15093 for the project.
(b) The determination of whether a project may have a significant effect on the environment calls for careful judgment on the part of the public agency involved, based to the extent possible on scientific and factual data. An ironclad definition of significant effect is not always possible because the significance of an activity may vary with the setting. For example, an activity which may not be significant in an urban area may be significant in a rural area.
(c) In determining whether an effect will be adverse or beneficial, the lead agency shall consider the views held by members of the public in all areas affected as expressed in the whole record before the lead agency. Before requiring the preparation of an EIR, the lead agency must still determine whether environmental change itself might be substantial.
(d) In evaluating the significance of the environmental effect of a project, the lead agency shall consider direct physical changes in the environment which may be caused by the project and reasonably foreseeable indirect physical changes in the environment which may be caused by the project.
(1) A direct physical change in the environment is a physical change in the environment which is caused by and immediately related to the project. Examples of direct physical changes in the environment are the dust, noise, and traffic of heavy equipment that would result from construction of a sewage treatment plant and possible odors from operation of the plant.
(2) An indirect physical change in the environment is a physical change in the environment which is not immediately related to the project, but which is caused indirectly by the project. If a direct physical change in the environment in turn causes another change in the environment, then the other change is an indirect physical change in the environment. For example, the construction of a new sewage treatment plant may facilitate population growth in the service area due to the increase in sewage treatment capacity and may lead to an increase in air pollution.
(3) An indirect physical change is to be considered only if that change is a reasonably foreseeable impact which may be caused by the project. A change which is speculative or unlikely to occur is not reasonably foreseeable.
(e) Economic and social changes resulting from a project shall not be treated as significant effects on the environment. Economic or social changes may be used, however, to determine that a physical change shall be regarded as a significant effect on the environment. Where a physical change is caused by economic or social effects of a project, the physical change may be regarded as a significant effect in the same manner as any other physical change resulting from the project. Alternatively, economic and social effects of a physical change may be used to determine that the physical change is a significant effect on the environment. If the physical change causes adverse economic or social effects on people, those adverse effects may be used as a factor in determining whether the physical change is significant. For example, if a project would cause overcrowding of a public facility and the overcrowding causes an adverse effect on people, the overcrowding would be regarded as a significant effect.
(f) The decision as to whether a project may have one or more significant effects shall be based on substantial evidence in the record of the lead agency.
(1) If the lead agency determines there is substantial evidence in the record that the project may have a significant effect on the environment, the lead agency shall prepare an EIR (Friends of B Street v. City of Hayward (1980) 106 Cal. App. 3d 988). Said another way, if a lead agency is presented with a fair argument that a project may have a significant effect on the environment, the lead agency shall prepare an EIR even though it may also be presented with other substantial evidence that the project will not have a significant effect (No Oil, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles (1974) 13 Cal. 3d 68).
(2) If the lead agency determines there is substantial evidence in the record that the project may have a significant effect on the environment but the lead agency determines that revisions in the project plans or proposals made by, or agreed to by, the applicant would avoid the effects or mitigate the effects to a point where clearly no significant effect on the environment would occur and there is no substantial evidence in light of the whole record before the public agency that the project, as revised, may have a significant effect on the environment then a mitigated negative declaration shall be prepared.
(3) If the lead agency determines there is no substantial evidence that the project may have a significant effect on the environment, the lead agency shall prepare a negative declaration (Friends of B Street v. City of Hayward (1980) 106 Cal. App. 3d 988).
(4) The existence of public controversy over the environment effects of a project will not require preparation of an EIR if there is no substantial evidence before the agency that the project may have a significant effect on the environment.
(5) Argument, speculation, unsubstantiated opinion or narrative, or evidence that is clearly inaccurate or erroneous, or evidence that is not credible, shall not constitute substantial evidence. Substantial evidence shall include facts, reasonable assumptions predicated upon facts, and expert opinion support by facts.
(6) Evidence of economic and social impacts that do not contribute to or are not caused by physical changes in the environment is not substantial evidence that the project may have a significant effect on the environment.
(7) The provisions of sections 15162, 15163, and 15164 apply when the project being analyzed is a change to, or further approval for, a project for which an EIR or negative declaration was previously certified or adopted (e.g. a tentative subdivision, conditional use permit). Under case law, the fair argument standard does not apply to determinations of significance pursuant to sections 15162, 15163, and 15164.
(g) After application of the principles set forth above in Section 15064(f), and in marginal cases where it is not clear whether there is substantial evidence that a project may have a significant effect on the environment, the lead agency shall be guided by the following principle: If there is disagreement among expert opinion supported by facts over the significance of an effect on the environment, the Lead Agency shall treat the effect as significant and shall prepare an EIR.
(h)(1) When assessing whether a cumulative effect requires an EIR, the lead agency shall consider whether the cumulative impact is significant and whether the effects of the project are cumulatively considerable. An EIR must be prepared if the cumulative impact may be significant and the project's incremental effect, though individually limited, is cumulatively considerable. "Cumulatively considerable" means that the incremental effects of an individual project are significant when viewed in connection with the effects of past projects, the effects of other current projects, and the effects of probable future projects.
(2) A lead agency may determine in an initial study that a project's contribution to a significant cumulative impact will be rendered less than cumulatively considerable and thus is not significant. When a project might contribute to a significant cumulative impact, but the contribution will be rendered less than cumulatively considerable through mitigation measures set forth in a mitigated negative declaration, the initial study shall briefly indicate and explain how the contribution has been rendered less than cumulatively considerable.
(3) A lead agency may determine that a project's incremental contribution to a cumulative effect is not cumulatively considerable if the project will comply with the requirements in a previously approved plan or mitigation program which provides specific requirements that will avoid or substantially lessen the cumulative problem (e.g. water quality control plan, air quality plan, integrated waste management plan) within the geographic area in which the project is located. Such plans or programs must be specified in law or adopted by the public agency with jurisdiction over the affected resources through a public review process to implement, interpret, or make specific the law enforced or administered by the public agency. If there is substantial evidence that the possible effects of a particular project are still cumulatively considerable notwithstanding that the project complies with the specified plan or mitigation program addressing the cumulative problem, an EIR must be prepared for the project.
(4) The mere existence of significant cumulative impacts caused by other projects alone shall not constitute substantial evidence that the proposed project's incremental effects are cumulatively considerable.
Public Resources Code 21083
Public Resources Code 21003
Public Resources Code 21065
Public Resources Code 21068
Public Resources Code 21080
Public Resources Code 21082
Public Resources Code 21082.1
Public Resources Code 21082.2
Public Resources Code 21083
Public Resources Code 21100
No Oil, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles (1974) 13 Cal.3d 68
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Center v. County of Stanislaus (1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 608
Gentry v. City of Murrieta (1995) 36 Cal.App.4th 1359
Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents of the University of California (1993) 6 Cal.4th 1112
Communities for a Better Environment v. California Resources Agency (2002) 103 Cal.App.4th 98.
(Amended by Register 2005, No. 40.)