Practice Pointer – CEQA Scoping Meetings

featherPublic participation is an essential part of the CEQA process. Several agencies I work with include a community meeting at the beginning of the CEQA process, regardless of the size of the project. These meetings can be either formal or informal scoping meetings. The benefits of such meetings are that they introduce the public to the project, serve as an initial first vetting on what some of the community concerns may be, and lets the community members establish a relationship with city staff.

It is important to remember that some projects are required to have at least one scoping meeting. According to Section 15082(c)(1) of the State CEQA Guidelines, for projects that meet the criteria of statewide, regional or area wide significance, the lead agency shall conduct at least one scoping meeting. Projects that meet these criteria, per Section 15206, include:

  • A project has the potential for causing significant effects on the environment extending beyond the city or county in which the project would be located. Examples of the effects include generating significant amounts of traffic or interfering with the attainment or maintenance of state or national air quality standards. Projects subject to this subdivision include:
  • A proposed residential development of more than 500 dwelling units.
  • A proposed shopping center or business establishment employing more than 1,000 persons or encompassing more than 500,000 square feet of floor space.
  • A proposed commercial office building employing more than 1,000 persons or encompassing more than 250,000 square feet of floor space.
  • A proposed hotel/motel development of more than 500 rooms.
  • A proposed industrial, manufacturing, or processing plant, or industrial park planned to house more than 1,000 persons, occupying more than 40 acres of land, or encompassing more than 650,000 square feet of floor area.
  • A project which would result in the cancellation of an open space contract made pursuant to the Williamson Act for any parcel of 100 or more acres.
  • A project for which an EIR and not a negative declaration was prepared which would be located in and would substantially impact the following areas of critical environmental sensitivity: 1) The Lake Tahoe Basin; 2) Santa Monica Mountains Zone; 3)  California Coastal Zone; 4) An area within 1/4 mile of a wild and scenic river; 5) The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta; 6) The jurisdiction of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission
  • A project which would substantially affect sensitive wildlife habitats including but not limited to riparian lands, wetlands, bays, estuaries, marshes, and habitats for endangered, rare and threatened species.
  • A project which would interfere with attainment of regional water quality standards as stated in the approved areawide waste treatment management plan.
  • A project which would provide housing, jobs, or occupancy for 500 or more people within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant.
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Case Law Update – Discussion of CEQA Document on the Agenda

cropped-banner-crop.jpgCase Law Update
At the end of May, the California Court of Appeal recently held that the Brown Act – which requires local legislative bodies to post agendas prior to regular meetings, and stick to the topics listed – mandates that discussion of a CEQA document must be expressly included on the agenda.

In this particular case, a planning commission agenda item to consider a subdivision application failed to mention consideration of adopting that subdivision’s environmental document as well.  In ruling in San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center v. County of Merced, this action was determined to be in violation of the Brown Act.  In its ruling, the court stressed the importance of public involvement in environmental review.

More information on the ruling can be found here:
http://www.rmmenvirolaw.com/2013/06/fifth-district-court-of-appeal-finds-violation-of-brown-act/

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Update on CEQA Reform

SFLove it or hate it, the 1970s-era California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a critical piece of legislation that sets the stage for development projects.  Environmental supporters see CEQA requirements as important check points to ensure responsible development.  Businesses, however, routinely point to the inefficiencies of preparing the required documentation and securing necessary approvals.  With California’s strained economy, CEQA reform is ripe for discussion.

Numerous bills focusing on reform topics have been introduced this legislative season, yet only five have moved out of the house or senate.  An excellent detailed description of these bills can be found on the California Land Use & Development Law Report website  A brief summary follows.

SB 731 – Senator Darrell Steinberg introduced this comprehensive bill, also referred to as the “CEQA Modernization Act of 2013”, as an attempt to balance environmental regulations and business interests. Among other items, this bill proposes adjusting thresholds for some issue areas such as traffic and noise, streamlining the review process for clean energy projects and removing discussion of aesthetic impacts for residential and transit-oriented development projects.

AB 37 – Introduced by Assemblymember Henry Perea, AB 37 proposes amending the Public Resources Code to require lead agencies to prepare a record of proceedings at the same time as their environmental documentation.

AB 543 – Assemblymember Nora Campos proposed a requirement that environmental document notices and summaries are translated if non-English speakers comprise 25 percent of the area where a project is proposed.

SB 436 – Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson’s proposal requires lead agencies to hold at least one public scoping meeting and increase the public notification period for CalTrans-related projects.

AB 380 – Assemblymember Roger Dickinson also proposes increasing public noticing and posting requirements for agencies to ensure cross posting of required notices.

As is common, the devil is in the details.  Even when aligned on the intent of the bill, Assemblymembers and Senators experience hold ups in determining specifics. What’s next is anybody’s guess. Analysts have varied opinions on the merits and detriments of each bill, so an outcome is not clear. To be sure, CEQA reform will be an interesting issue to continue to follow this legislative season.

What do you think about these proposed reforms?  Connect with me over on Facebook and let me know your thoughts

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Four Tips for Staying Engaged in Your Career

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Are you feeling the doldrums in your career? Even if you are great at what you do, there may be times when it is worth shaking things up a bit. Here are four tips to help you stay engaged in your career.

Learn Something New

No matter how long we have been practicing our career, there is always something more to learn. It could be learning a tool to help you do your job easier, deepening your knowledge in a technical area, or improving your public speaking or communication. Make 2013 the year you learn something new.

If polishing your public speaking skills, Toastmasters is a great place to start and welcomes people of all skill levels. Do you want to head back to the college classroom? You might consider enrolling in a free online offering from Coursera or Udemy.

Sharing Your Knowledge

If you have been in your industry for a while, you certainly have something to share with the rest of your professional community. There are a few ways you can do this. Did you just wrap up an exciting project? Consider giving a presentation at a professional organization or conference. Not only does this let you share your experience and knowledge, it also gives some publicity to your firm or agency.

Another great way to share your knowledge is to mentor someone with less experience. This could be facilitated through your current employer, through a professional organization or even your alumni association. Another way you can share your knowledge is by preparing an article for an industry magazine or journal. Sharing what you know can be a great way to get re-energized about the work that you do.

Expand Your Professional Network

Whether you are new to the industry or a seasoned practitioner, there is always value in expanding your network. This can be done virtually, through professional social media networks like LinkedIn , or face-to-face at professional organization meetings.

Volunteer

Many professional organizations need volunteers for various committees. Keep an eye out for these types of requests and consider getting involved. Working on committees or serving on Boards are a great way to establish working relationships with colleagues in the industry. If you have technical knowledge that can help your community, you might consider volunteering for a non-profit that can benefit. For example, a biologist might enjoy leading naturalist hikes in a local park.

 

 

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