In 1970, the California State Legislature adopted the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to establish a procedure for evaluating the environmental effects of proposed projects (both public and private). CEQA is used to eliminate or reduce any significant adverse impacts which could occur from an approved project. Environmental review is required for most discretionary actions including street vacations, use permits/ minor use permits, variances/ minor variances, sign exceptions, tract and parcel maps and design review and for legislative actions including zone changes, general plan amendments, and code amendments. The environmental review occurs while the application is processed. A decision is made on the environmental determination before a decision is made on the legislative or discretionary application. In addition to the requirements of CEQA, the City of Pasadena has adopted additional environmental standards that are contained in the Environmental Policy Guidelines. These guidelines provide specific standards for the City’s environmental review process.
When you receive your application forms for your legislative or discretionary review, you will be given an Environmental Assessment Form (EAF). You submit this completed form with the required exhibits when you submit your application for a legislative or discretionary action. Some projects are exempt from CEQA. This determination may be made at the time you submit your application. Staff has 30 days to review your application and determine its completeness. If all information has not been provided, staff will send you a letter outlining those items that must be completed. Occasionally a more thorough review of your project could result in a change to the environmental determination. The environmental determination covers all the legislative discretionary actions of your project. If your project is not exempt, staff will prepare an Initial Study (IS). The City has annually adjusted fees for covering environmental processing. Staff has another 30 days from the time the application is considered complete to prepare the Initial Study.
Under CEQA, the Initial Study (IS) analyzes the proposed project and is used to determine whether or not there are adverse impacts on the environment. This 30 day review process and preparation of the Initial Study involve a full assessment of the potential effects of a project on the environment. These include:
Upon completion of the IS, it will be circulated to interested parties and related agencies for their comment. Staff will then make an initial environmental determination of your project’s impacts. There are three possible determinations:
In order for staff to fully evaluate the potential environmental impacts of a project, certain studies may be required in order to complete the Initial Study (IS). Such studies may include a traffic/parking study, an air quality study, geology and soils study, biological resources survey, etc. Prior to commencing work on the initial study, planning staff will evaluate the project and work with the applicant to determine what studies (if any) are needed.
A "Negative Declaration" is a statement that your project will have no significant impact on the environment. However, sometimes a proposed project could have a negative effect on the environment. Many effects or impacts can be mitigated, if conditions are required that reduce the impact to a level of insignificance. These conditions or requirements are adopted as mitigation measures and conditions of approval, if the project is approved. A project with mitigation measures is referred to as having a "Negative Declaration with mitigation measures." By State law, Negative Declarations are available for public review and comment for 20 days prior to a public hearing when a legislative or discretionary action is taken.
If during the Initial Study process, staff determines that some of the impacts cannot be mitigated to a level of insignificance, they will recommend to the Environmental Administrator that an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) be prepared. The cost of preparing an EIR and the cost of staff’s time is the responsibility of the applicant. EIRs are prepared by the consultants chosen by and on contract with the City. The draft EIR is circulated to interested parties and related agencies for review and comment for not less than 30 days. A public hearing is held on the adequacy of the EIR, usually at the time the legislative or discretionary application is acted upon. Before the City approves a project with an EIR, it will certify that the EIR is adequate. The review body will also review alternatives to the project which reduce the environmental effects.
When your project goes before a review body, it adopts the environmental determination and adopts mitigation measures either from an EIR or from a negative declaration with mitigation measures. These mitigation measures are adopted with a "Mitigation Monitoring Reporting Program (MMRP)" and become conditions of approval. The MMRP outlines how the City will monitor the mitigation measures over the life of the use or building. The City develops the program, you are required to sign the program and to meet with the Mitigation Monitoring staff prior to obtaining any building permits to ensure the implementation of the program.
If your project application is approved and was not exempt from CEQA, staff prepares a Notice of Determination which is a CEQA requirement. This determination, along with the Negative Declaration or Statement of Overriding Considerations, Certificate of Exemption from State Fish and Game Fees or State Fish and Game fees and processing fees for the County is filed by the City staff with the County, where it is made available for review. Approval of your project’s Notice of Determination is not final until the appropriate California Fish and Game Fees have been paid. Filing of the Notice of Determination or Notice of Exemption with the County starts a 30-35 day limit for legal action against a project’s approval based on the environmental determination. If your project application is not approved, you may appeal the project decision and/or the environmental determination to the appropriate appeal body. The appeal period for a project varies depending on the type of decision. You should check with the department that reviewed your application to determine the appeal period and to request an appeal application. A decision by the Environmental Administrator may be appealed by any interested party to the Board of Zoning Appeals or called up for review by the Planning Commission.