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Should Local Agencies Consider Proposed High Speed Rail in CEQA Analyses of Local Projects?

With the California High Speed Rail Authority (the Authority) moving forward with efforts to bring high speed rail (HSR) service to California, local agencies should be aware that they may be required to consider the HSR project in analyses of the environmental impacts of their local projects.

The HSR will extend from Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area in the north, through the Central Valley, to Los Angeles and San Diego in the south. The Authority recently published Notices of Intent and Preparation for several segments of the project, and has been holding scoping meetings to discuss the forthcoming environmental review. For some of the segments, draft project-level environmental impact reports could be issued for public comment as early as 2010.

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires a lead agency to identify and mitigate significant environmental impacts of a project, including cumulative impacts that result from local projects and projects outside the local agency’s jurisdiction. A lead agency has a duty to use reasonable efforts to discover, disclose and discuss related projects which are under the administrative jurisdiction of other city, state, and federal agencies. (See id. § 15130(b)(1)(A); San Franciscans for Reasonable Growth v. City & County of San Francisco (1984) 151 Cal.App.3d 61, 74, n.13.) With respect to cumulative impacts, a lead agency must evaluate related impacts from other “past, present, and reasonably foreseeable probable future projects,” and must identify feasible, enforceable mitigation measures that could avoid or minimize the potentially significant impacts of a project, including cumulative impacts. (CEQA Guidelines, §§ 15126.4, 15355.)

The HSR project may be considered a “reasonably foreseeable probable future project” for CEQA purposes, as the Authority certified a programmatic EIR/EIS for the HSR project in November 2005. Now that additional funding is in place, the Authority is preparing to evaluate project-level environmental impacts. However, the degree to which a lead agency must analyze the impacts of the HSR project in conjunction with its own local projects depends on several factors, such as the status of the design and project-level environmental review of the individual route segment that may impact the local project and whether the project impacts are related.

Meyers Nave’s local government and CEQA attorneys are closely tracking the status of the HSR project and individual route segments throughout the state. We have been advising agencies how to address the HSR project in their own CEQA documents. Further, Meyers Nave is available to assist agencies with reviewing and preparing comments on the environmental documents for the HSR segments. For more information on the HSR project and how it may impact local CEQA analyses, please contact Adam Lindgren in our Sacramento office, or Julia Bond in our Oakland office.