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Environmental & Natural Resources Legal Alert
December 21, 2018              
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Update to the CEQA Guidelines

Following a preparation process that has taken more than five years, amendments to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Guidelines are poised to take effect shortly.

In November 2018, the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) posted final adopted text for amendments to the CEQA Guidelines. The CNRA has passed these final amendments to the Office of Administrative Law (OAL), and the OAL has until December 28, 2018, to complete its review of the new Guidelines. Review by the OAL is the final step before the proposed Guidelines will be submitted to the Secretary of State and added to the California Code of Regulations (CCR). The amendments will go into effect immediately upon their submission by the OAL to the Secretary of State if the CNRA had good cause to request immediate effectiveness of the new Guidelines. In no event will the amendments go into effect later than 120 days after their date of submission to the Secretary of State.

There are a number of significant changes to the CEQA Guidelines that will go into effect following OAL review.

New Transportation Impacts Analysis

The amendment that has drawn the most attention is the shift from Level of Service (LOS) analysis of project transportation impacts to Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) analysis. LOS review is focused on a project's contribution to the amount of vehicle delay, or traffic, in its surrounding area. The new CCR § 15064.3 states that vehicle delay will no longer be considered a significant environmental impact for projects that are not roadway expansion projects. Instead, transportation analysis must study the amount and distance of automobile travel attributable to a project. The motivation behind this change is to encourage greenhouse gas reduction and promote dense infill development.

The CNRA made an important change to the VMT amendment originally proposed by the Office of Planning and Research (OPR). The CNRA clarified that projects which decrease VMT compared to existing conditions or are located within half a mile of public transit receive a rebuttable presumption of producing a less than significant transportation impact. Ideally, this presumption will make review of infill projects in urban environments easier. Lead agencies will not be required to adopt the VMT methodology for reviewing traffic impacts until July 1, 2020, but agencies may choose to adopt the new paradigm immediately.

Renewed Focus on Energy Impacts

The new CCR § 15126.2(b) regards wasteful or inefficient energy usage as a significant environmental impact requiring mitigation. Analysis of a project's energy use now includes energy used during the project's construction as well as transportation-related energy consumption. While new construction is required to abide by energy efficiency standards included in the building codes, building code compliance will not necessarily be sufficient to prevent a project from being found to have significant energy impacts.

The renewed focus on a project's energy impacts is demonstrated by the inclusion of energy impacts as a new section in the CEQA Guidelines Appendix G.  Appendix G is a sample checklist form used by many lead agencies to conduct initial studies of a project's potential significant environmental impacts. Lead agencies which use Appendix G will now consider energy impacts more explicitly during the initial study of a project.

Wildfire Impacts

Wildfire impacts have also been added as a new topic in Appendix G. It is important to note that CCR § 15126.2(a) is being amended to clarify that CEQA analysis concerns a project's impact on the environment, not the impact of the environment on a project. While wildfire analysis will not directly focus on the risk of wildfire to the project, it will address whether a project exacerbates the risk of a natural disaster by bringing new development to vulnerable areas.

Please click here to read our prior Legal Alert analyzing the significant changes included in the OPR proposed Guideline amendments.


Murray Emily Emily L. Murray
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Edward "Bo" Peterson E. Bo Peterson
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Burroughs James T James T. Burroughs
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