How the Environmental Review Process Works

Many people are confused by terms such as "Environmental Review", "Environmental Assessment", "Environmental Impact Report" and other terms used to describe the process of reviewing development projects for their impact on the environment. This page explains the environmental review process and how it may affect you and your project.

Purpose

In 1970 the State of California adopted the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In simple terms, this act set up a process to assess how development projects may affect the environment. CEQA has four (4) main purposes:

  • To inform public agency decision-makers, and the general public about the potential environmental effects of proposed projects;
  • To identify ways that the negative environmental effects of projects can be avoided or significantly reduced;
  • To prevent significant, avoidable environmental damage by requiring changes in projects;
  • To disclose to the public why a project was approved if that project will have significant environmental effects.

What Types of Projects Require Review?

Environmental review is not required for all types of development projects. Some types of projects are exempt from environmental review. In the City of Lindsay, the following projects are always required to undergo environmental review:

  • Subdivision of land creating five (5) or more parcels.
  • Construction of non-residential buildings of 3,000 square feet or more.
  • Construction of multi-family residential projects with two or more buildings or more than six (6) units within one building.
  • Grading on land with slopes of 10 percent or more.
  • Zone changes.
  • General Plan Amendments
  • A Site Plan Review, Conditional Use Permit, or Variance Permit involving one of the situations listed in 1 through 4 above.
  • Other types of projects may require environmental review depending on the particular circumstances of the project. The Community Development Director will make a determination as to which projects require environmental review and which are exempt.

In the City of Lindsay, the environmental review process takes place concurrently with the processing of all development applications and permits.

An environmental description form is required along with most applications. This is a written statement outlining the potential environmental impacts of a project.

Initial Environmental Study

The first step in environmental review is for the staff to conduct and Initial Environmental Study (also called Initial Study) to determine if the project may have a significant environmental impact. Some of the major issues and questions evaluated in an Initial Study include the following:

  • Earth and Geologic Conditions. How will the project affect soils?
  • Air and Water Quality. Will the project cause air or water pollution?
  • Plant & Animal Life. Will the project impact endangered plants or animals? Will the project necessitate the removal of agricultural crops?
  • Noise & Human Health. Will the project cause increased noise? Do any components of the project have the capacity to impact human health?
  • Land Use & Housing. Will the project alter present or planned land use of an area? Will it impact housing?
  • Transportation and Circulation Systems. How will the project affect local streets or State highways? How much traffic will be generated as a result?
  • Public Services & Facilities. Can the project be accommodated by the sewer, water and storm drainage systems? Can the schools accommodate additional children that may result from the project?
  • Aesthetics & Design. Does the design of the project "clash" with the surrounding area?
  • Archaeologic & Historic Resources. Will the project destroy any historic artifacts or buildings?
  • Population & Growth. Could the project cause a sudden increase in growth and population? What are the effects of such growth?
  • Consistency with Adopted Plans, City Codes, and City Standards. Does the project comply with applicable City plans?

Based on the findings of the Initial Study, staff will make one of three determinations:

  • The project will not have a significant impact on the environment.
  • The project could have a significant impact on the environment but certain changes will be incorporated into the design of the project to preclude any impacts.
  • The project could have a significant impact on the environment that requires further study, and an Environmental Impact Report must be prepared.

Negative Declaration

If the Initial Study determines that the project will have no significant impacts (#1 or #2 above) staff will prepare a form called a Negative Declaration (ND). A public notice of the ND will be published in the newspaper to allow any interested person time to review the project and make any comments.

The ND must be certified as being complete and accurate in accordance with CEQA by the City Council before they act on the proposed project. This usually occurs at the same time that the project is reviewed by the City Council.

Environmental Impact Reports

If the Initial Study determines that an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is necessary, the Community Development Department will contract with an environmental consultant for preparation of the EIR. The cost of preparation of an EIR is the responsibility of the project applicant. The City will confer with the project prior to selecting a consultant. The City will require the applicant to deposit the full amount required for preparation of the EIR prior to preparation.

The consultant will have several weeks to prepare a Draft EIR. When the Draft EIR is completed it will be available for public review and will be circulated to various public agencies, the public library and any other interested parties. The City may also conduct a public hearing to obtain comments on the Draft EIR.

After conclusion of the public review period, the consultant will prepare the Final EIR which incorporates any changes to the Draft EIR resulting from comments and questions raised during the public review period.

If the Final EIR identifies any unavoidable significant environmental impacts resulting from the project, CEQA requires the City Council to make certain "findings" prior to approval of the project. The Council may also incorporate "mitigation measures" identified in the EIR that are designed to reduce the environmental effects of the project. After these steps have been taken, the Council may certify the EIR and act upon the project permit itself.