Major Proposed Revisions to CEQA Guidelines Released By State
The State’s Office of Planning and Research (“OPR”) released the much-anticipated proposed revisions to the CEQA Guidelines. The revisions are the most extensive changes to the CEQA Guidelines in a decade and will greatly influence CEQA law and practice.
The key aspect of the revisions is the development of new guidance for the analysis of traffic impacts to shift from the traditional analysis of Level of Service (“LOS”) to an analysis of Vehicle Miles Traveled (“VMT”). The revised Guidelines mandate a change from using a threshold of significance based on LOS to using VMT as the threshold. While the Guidelines leave the exact nature of the VMT threshold to the discretion of the lead agency, OPR has also released technical guidance with recommended thresholds and methodology for calculating impacts. The new VMT Guideline is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2020.
In addition to new Guidelines related to VMT analysis, OPR has proposed a comprehensive package of amendments including, but not limited to:
- Emphasizing, explaining, and expanding the necessity for an analysis of Energy Impacts in CEQA documents;
- Providing guidance on using regulatory standards in CEQA to support a finding of less than significant impacts without mitigation;
- Revising rules for streamlining environmental review such as through the use of programmatic EIRs and through tiering from other types of environmental documents;
- Expanding the Transit Oriented Development and Existing Facilities Exemptions;
- Clarifying the scope of judicial remedies and the scope of review on remand of litigated projects;
- Updating the Guidelines to reflect case law on:
- Water supply analysis under Vineyard Area Citizens for Responsible Growth v. City of Rancho Cordova;
- Pre-approval agreements pursuant to Save Tara v. City of West Hollywood;
- The analysis of so-called “reverse CEQA” impacts under CBIA v. BAAQMD;
- GHG analyses pursuant to several cases including Cleveland National Forest Foundation v. San Diego Assn. of Governments and Center for Biological Diversity v. Dept. of Fish & Wildlife;
- Appropriate baselines for environmental analysis pursuant to Neighbors for Smart Rail v. Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority and Communities for a Better Environment v. South Coast Air Quality Management Dist.;
- Deferral of mitigation details under several cases;
- Appropriate public comment and response to comments pursuant to Citizens for Responsible Equitable Environmental Development v. City of San Diego and Consolidated Irrigation Dist. v. Superior Court; and
- Using conservation easements as mitigation under Masonite Corporation v. County of Mendocino.
The next step in the process for final adoption of these revisions is for the Natural Resources Agency to begin a formal administrative rulemaking process under the Administrative Procedure Act. The public will have the opportunity to comment on the proposed revisions to the CEQA Guidelines and further changes are possible before final adoption. The Natural Resource Agency has not yet released the proposed Guidelines for review and comment. All of the new and revised Guidelines will take effect immediately upon adoption except for the VMT rules which will take effect January 1, 2020.
CEQA compliance impacts nearly every major project in California and has evolved considerably over its nearly 50-year history. These revisions to the CEQA Guidelines represent the latest step in that evolution. Meyers Nave will continue to monitor these developments and provide updates as they become available.