The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is a California state law that compels state and local agencies to determine and mitigate detrimental environmental impacts of public as well as private development projects.

The Scope of the Law: What Do CEQA Regulations Cover?

For CEQA to apply, a project must require public agency’s discretionary approval and must also result in direct or future indirect physical environmental change.

Public and private developers with privately funded projects are regulated by CEQA. The California Environmental Quality Act covers physical developments as well as to public agencies’ decisions giving rise to such developments in the future.

Who Is Responsible for Enforcing CEQA?

There is no public agency that directly enforces CEQA regulations. In another words, CEQA is self-executing. Essentially, CEQA is enforced through public litigation. While not an enforcer, California Natural Resources Agency adopts CEQA guidelines and assists governmental agencies in CEQA interpretation. When a project depends on discretionary authority of several public agencies, the following setup results:’

  • "Lead Agency" has primary responsibility for CEQA review
  • "Responsible Agencies" provide input in consultation with lead agency

Compliance Issues: What Are Some Exemptions to CEQA Regulation?

Note that CEQA exemptions may themselves be subject to various exceptions. Several examples below illustrate when CEQA may not apply:

  • Projects requiring ministerial decisions (i.e., not involving agency’s judgment)
  • Projects exempted by California state legislature (e.g., because of lobbying)
  • Maintenance, replacement, and reconstruction of existing facilities
  • Minor land alterations and small structures conversion with minor modifications
  • Accessory structures to existing facilities (small parking lots, portable restrooms)
  • Minor additions to schools and minor divisions of land

Benefits of CEQA

Here are some examples of how the California Environmental Quality Act has protected our communities from environmental damage. The CEQA has:

  • Prevented damage to coastal economy resulting from oil drilling
  • Decreased workers’ toxic chemicals exposure at construction sites
  • Increased community-friendliness of many development projects
  • Prevented more air pollution and associated health conditions

Why Seek an Attorney’s Help?

Development projects may have significant environmental impacts on you, your family, and your community. Since there is no state agency that directly enforces CEQA, private litigation (i.e., citizens filing lawsuits) plays major role in CEQA enforcement. If you believe that the development proposal is unfair, environmentally unsafe, and detrimental to your community, a qualified attorney may ensure protection of your health and safety.

On the other hand, commercial and residential developers may need a consultation from an attorney specializing in land use. Since almost all new development projects in California are subject to CEQA regulation, a timely attorney advice may clarify CEQA compliance, protecting developers from project shutdowns and costly lawsuits. A government attorney may advice you on ways to mitigate environmental impacts, address project opponents’ concerns, and prepare Environmental Impact Report (EIR).