Environmental Issues and CEQA Compliance

Volume 2, Chapter 5


All University projects are required to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

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The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) defines “projects” as activities that have the potential to result in either a direct physical change in the environment, or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment. A “project” constitutes the whole of an action, and applies to typical capital projects as well as certain real estate transactions.

The Regents adopted the State CEQA Guidelines and all state guideline updates as the guidelines for UC to follow. Key points about the University's application of CEQA are as follows:

  • The University is the lead agency for all University projects; it prepares the appropriate CEQA document and evaluates the environmental significance of each proposed project. 
  • Per Regents Policy 8103: Policy on Capital Project Matters, the certification and adoption of environmental documents is undertaken at the level of associated project approval.
  • An Initial Study, Negative Declaration, Findings, and/or an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) must be completed prior to an irrevocable commitment to a project, which is defined as design approval. Preliminary plans and feasibility studies may be done to define a project, but prior to major capital investment, an environmental assessment must be completed.
  • Approval, and execution of ground leases and related documents for which ground lease business terms and design approval following action pursuant to CEQA has occurred would not result in a modification to the physical characteristics of an approved project; therefore such actions are considered implementing actions that do not require additional review under CEQA.

Recommendations for preparing environmental documents follow.

Start early. Starting the environmental evaluation process in the initial project planning phases enables the Facility to identify environmental impacts and modify the project design or site with far less cost and difficulty than doing the environmental evaluation when the project design is further along and when changes become more expensive. Integrating sound environmental practices into site selection and into the project can reduce the number and severity of the mitigations that could otherwise be required to remedy environmental impacts.

Disclosure. The purpose of CEQA is to disclose the environmental impacts of each project and to make that information available to both the public and University decision-makers. Decision- makers (The Regents or Chancellor) may decide a project is worth doing despite the environmental impacts, but they do so after the public has had an opportunity to comment on the project, and with knowledge of the environmental consequences, and with a statement of overriding considerations.

Coordination. The preparation of an EIR or other environmental document requires coordination among several Facility functions: facilities management, facility planners, legal staff, community affairs, environmental health and safety, operations and maintenance, and academic representatives. Each has information relevant to the project, and responsibility for implementing some portion of the project and mitigating the impacts of the project. The extent to which various Facility offices communicate throughout the process can ease or hinder the environmental review process and affect a project's schedule. A project’s scope may change substantially through planning and design, and close coordination should occur between various project stakeholders to assure the proposed environmental documentation remains appropriate. Environmental health and safety issues are a key part of the environmental review process. These issues are discussed below.

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The environmental documents required for a project will vary depending on the project and the LRDP. This section describes the documentation that may be required for a project.

5.2.1 Environmental Impact Classification Form (see RD2.1).

The Environmental Impact Classification Form (EIC) is an internal University of California form that is used to determine whether a University project or action is exempt from CEQA, or if not, what environmental documentation is anticipated. The EIC is required to be included in the Program Planning Guide (PPG) for each project, or separately prepared if no PPG is required. If a project involves a Regental approval, or an Office of the President (OP) approval, concurrence, or review of the project’s environmental analysis, an EIC must be prepared and approved by the campus and then sent to OP Physical & Environmental Planning for concurrence. If a project does not involve Regental approval or Office of the President approval, concurrence, or review of the project’s environmental document, an EIC must be prepared by the campus environmental planner and signed locally.

The EIC provides a brief description of the project, the type of environmental documentation anticipated for the project, and whether the project is consistent with the long-range development plan. If a proposed project is determined to be exempt from CEQA, the EIC and any necessary attachments must provide justification for the exemption pursuant to the criteria set forth in the CEQA Statute and Guidelines. Should the scope of a project change substantially following local or OP signature on an EIC, it should be amended and re-signed to confirm that the anticipated CEQA document or determination of exemption remains valid.This one-page form is an internal University of California form that is required to be included in the Program Planning Guide (PPG) for each project, or separately prepared if no PPG is required. This form provides a very brief description of the project and alerts the Office of the President which type of environmental documentation is anticipated for the project and whether the project is consistent with the long-range development plan 

5.2.2 "Common Sense" Exemption

The California Environmental Quality Act does not apply to projects when it can be seen with certainty that there is no possibility the action will result in physical change to the environment or the action is specifically exempted by statue. This may apply, for example, to an extension of a lease where there is no change in use, and no physical change to the building.

5.2.3 Categorical Exemption

There are many classes of projects which are normally considered exempt because they are not expected to create significant environmental impacts. If a project, otherwise considered exempt, may cause a significant impact to the environment due to (1) its location, (2) the cumulative effect of the project and successive similar projects in the same area or over time, or (3) unusual circumstances, it may not be classified as Categorically Exempt.

5.2.4 Initial Study

An Initial Study combines a thorough project description with a preliminary checklist of the potential areas of environmental impact to determine if an Environmental Impact Report is required to fully analyze the impacts of the project, or, if no potentially significant environmental impacts are found, to support the conclusion of a Negative Declaration.

5.2.5 Tiered Initial Study

When a long-range development plan EIR is approved, it evaluates a wide range of campus-wide impacts and determines the appropriate impact mitigations. LRDP EIRs may also project future specific building projects. When those specific building projects are proposed, a tiered Initial Study may be prepared. This form of the Initial Study acknowledges the previous campus-wide environmental evaluation and focuses on whether the specific project creates any new or more severe environmental impacts, or whether any new alternatives or mitigations are made possible through the implementation of the project. If there are no new significant impacts, Findings may be prepared documenting the reliance on the long-range development plan EIR.

5.2.6 Negative Declaration

A Negative Declaration is one of the possible outcomes of an Initial Study. It states that the project will not create any significant environmental impacts.

5.2.7 Mitigated Negative Declaration

A mitigated negative declaration applies when a project would have created a significant impact, but mitigations have been incorporated into the project to avoid the impact.

5.2.8 Environmental Impact Report

If a project will or may create a significant impact on the environment, an EIR must be prepared. The EIR evaluates in more detail the potential impact areas, and recommends mitigation measures to avoid or reduce the impact. A Mitigation Monitoring Report is required to document who is responsible for implementing the mitigations, when they are to be completed, and the mechanism to verify their completion. Per the Amended University Procedures for Implementation of CEQA (pdf), a public meeting is required for all projects for which an EIR will be prepared.

5.2.9 Findings

Findings are a summary of the rationale behind a project approval.

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-Guidelines-EH&S, Fire Marshal and Site Analysis During Project Planning

As environmental health and safety issues become more important in transactions dealing with land and building construction, Facility environmental health and safety (EH&S) offices have a broader role in project development. EH&S offices assist their Facilities in all aspects of project planning. With new construction projects, EH&S advises on industrial hygiene, laboratory safety, sanitation, radiation safety, hazardous waste, and environmental site assessment.

EH&S is frequently involved in planning issues that require coordination with Facility planning staff and the Office of the President (OP). In addition, EH&S informs Facilities about environmental and occupational regulatory requirements and University policies and requirements that may affect a project.

The involvement of EH&S in the pre-design through construction of a project offers the following benefits:

  • Provides EH&S insight into programmatic development and conceptual planning stages of a proposed project.
  • Avoidance of unnecessary project planning and construction delays due to overlooked EH&S issues and resulting cost overruns.
  • Reduction in building occupants' health and safety complaints and Workers' Compensation cases as well as avoidance of significant public health and safety problems.

Environmental health and safety concerns are regulated by a number of federal, state, and local agencies including the California Environmental Protection Agency, which now includes the Department of Toxic Substances Control, Regional Water Quality Control Boards, Air Quality Management Districts, and Cal-OSHA; the Office of the State Fire Marshal; and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Each Facility's administrative structure differs; as such, there may be other Facility organizations that are involved in EH&S matters. For example, some Facilities have separate fire departments or laboratory animal care offices. EH&S offices refer Facilities personnel to the appropriate department that has jurisdiction over a specific programmatic area of EH&S.

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-Guidelines-EH&S, Fire Marshal and Site Analysis During Project Planning

Fire marshals are located within EH&S, except at the Davis and Santa Cruz campuses, where there are separate fire departments. Fire marshals interact with the State Fire Marshal's Office (SFM) to ensure compliance with all applicable codes and standards. Fire marshals assist planners, architects, and engineers by identifying alternative fire safety solutions to be discussed with the SFM.

On hospital projects, the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) is the primary authority during the design and construction period. However, if the hospital facility is a state-owned building, the SFM still has jurisdiction over occupancy certification. Projects will benefit by coordinating with the fire marshals during the OSHPD review process, which includes plan reviews and inspections.

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Revised May 29, 2012 (Change No. 12-006-P)

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