*****Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and is for educational purposes only. This does not create an attorney-client privilege.
CEQA, or the California Environmental Quality Act, is California`s broadest protection for the environment. It essentially grants the state the duty and right to regulate and establish guidelines for the activities or projects of both public and private entities. This act aims to not only minimize negative environmental impacts, but also to increase transparency. The public deserves to know about projects that will affect our shared environment; we shouldn't have to assume the consequences for the sake of someone else`s profit.
As part of the process required, there is a “CEQA checklist”. The CEQA checklist, also known as the initial study checklist, the environmental checklist or Appendix G, in reference to the section of CEQA it comes from. Although the CEQA does not explicitly require that cities use the Appendix G checklist, it does state they must address the questions posed by it. Thus, it is the most straightforward for cities to primarily use it; the majority of cities do so, though they might make slight adjustments to their exact specifications.
The CEQA checklist is comprised of different categories of environmental factors that must be assessed prior to a project commences. These categories include; aesthetics, agriculture and forestry, air quality, biological resources, cultural resources, geology/soils, greenhouse gas emissions, hazards and hazardous materials, hydrology/water quality, land use/planning, mineral resources, noise, population/housing, public services, recreation, transportation/traffic, tribal cultural resources, and utilities/service system. Clearly, CEQA is very broad, nearly comprehensive, in what it addresses and protects.
For each category it must be determined, and documented according to the official guidelines, whether there will be 1) No Impact, 2) Less Than Significant Impact, 3) Less Than Significant with Mitigation Incorporated, or 4) Potentially Significant Impact. One of the glaring issues with CEQA is that “significant” is a very subjective term.
If a project falls in level 1, No Impact, or level 2, Less Than Significant, the next step in the process would be to issue a Negative Declaration (ND). For projects determined to be in level 3, with a less than significant impact in the case of mitigation, the next step would be to draft a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND). Finally, and is logical, a more intensive process must be undertaken for projects that are determined to have a Potentially Significant Impact in the initial stages. For these most impactful projects, an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) must be prepared.