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The Environmental Planning Program is responsible for preparing reports required by State law on all development proposals that have a possible effect on the environment. Concerns addressed in these reviews include air pollution, noise, traffic impacts, and more. This report is circulated for public review and comment before it is certified by the Planning Commission.
Under the California Environmental Quality Act of 1970 (CEQA), the City of Long Beach is required to consider the potential environmental impacts of proposed developments.
The purpose of this State law is to:
- Inform decision makers and the public of the potentially important environmental impacts
- Prevent damage to the environment by identifying and avoiding environmental problems
- Require government decision makers to explain their actions in approving projects with known environmental impacts.
Environmental review documents are not "action" documents in that certifying the environmental document does not result in the approval or denial of projects. They are instead information documents that are certified, based on whether they provide adequate information to the subject who must make a decision about the project.
Environmental review is only required for projects that cause the Zoning Administrator, Planning Commission, or City Council to take a "discretionary" action. This means, if a public office or body is required to make a decision to approve or deny a project, the law requires all important impacts to be investigated and considered.
It is important to note that the vast majority of permits processed by the City of Long Beach are non-discretionary. They require no special approvals and therefore do not require environmental review.
For projects that do require environmental review, City staff will analyze the proposed project and determine which of the following documents should be issued: A Categorical Exemption (CE), a Negative Declaration (ND), or an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
A Categorical Exemption is a document which records the decision that, although the project involves a discretionary permit, it is exempt from environmental review requirements. More than 300 Categorical Exemptions are issued over-the-counter each year. Categorical Exemptions are normally issued for Standards Variances and Conditional Use Permits. Categorical Exemptions are recorded with the Los Angeles County Clerk.
A Negative Declaration is a brief report which states that the proposed project, although not exempt from environmental review, will not have any significant environmental impacts.
A Negative Declaration may be issued even when there are minor impacts, if those impacts can be controlled through conditions on the construction or operations of the project. For example, most construction projects will generate noise and dust. The impact of this activity is reduced by limiting work hours and requiring dust control techniques.
Negative Declarations are prepared by the City and are available for review 21 days prior to public hearings. Property owners near the proposed project are notified of the public hearing and are invited to submit written comments or testify in person.
Negative Declarations are certified by the Planning Commission at the same time as any other required discretionary approvals. Because the City of Long Beach is a highly developed urban area, most medium-sized projects will not generate new environmental impacts and will qualify to be processed through a Negative Declaration.
Environmental Impact Reports
An Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is a detailed analysis of the potential environmental impacts of a project. An EIR will be required for any project which may be a significant environmental impact.
The first step in preparing an Environmental Impact Report is to let interested parties know about the proposed project and the preparation of the EIR. This is done by sending a Notice of Preparation to other governmental agencies and meeting with community groups known to have an interest in the project.
Next, a Draft Environmental Impact Report is prepared and circulated. Availability of the Draft EIR is published in newspapers, and individual notices are sent to adjacent landowners and other impacted persons. A 30-day waiting period is required after the Draft EIR is issued to allow time for review by interested parties and agencies.
After the review and comment period, a Final Environmental Impact Report is prepared. The Final EIR will respond to all legitimate issues raised by the circulation of the Draft Environmental Impact Report.
The Final EIR must be "certified" as providing an adequate evaluation of all potential impacts by the City Planning Commission before the Commission can approve or deny the project. If the EIR determines that significant environmental impacts will be caused by the project, the Planning Commission cannot approve the project unless:
- Changes to the project are required which will determine the impacts
- It is determined that it is not feasible to make the changes necessary to eliminate the impacts, or that the impacts are acceptable
If either of these conclusions are reached, a Statement of Overriding Considerations must be filed explaining the factors which justify the decision.
Fee environmental review schedule vary greatly. Categorical Exemptions are currently $125, but a complex EIR can cost several thousand dollars. The reason for the difference in cost is that the fees are based on the actual cost of processing permits. Therefore, fees are higher when staff reports, field work, and hearings are required.
As mentioned earlier, environmental review documents (CEs, NDs, and EIRs) are prepared to provide information about the potential adverse impacts of a proposed project to the public and the person(s) who must act to approve or deny the project.
It is possible to oppose the City's certification of an environmental document by filing a lawsuit. The time period during which a lawsuit may be filed is limited to 30 days after the City files its certification with the Los Angeles County Clerk.
Because it can take years to resolve environmental disputes in court after a project has been certified, anyone interested in the environmental review for a given project is encouraged to make the City aware of their concerns prior to the certification of an environmental document.
Written comments and testimony at public hearings provide the public with opportunity to affect the preparation of the environmental document and the conditions that are placed on the construction and operation of the project.
The applicant should maintain a copy of any environmental review which is conducted for their project. These documents are frequently required by lenders, and certain environmental documents, such as CEs, are not retained by the City beyond the legally required time frame.
For more information, contact the City’s Development Services Department at (562) 570-6194.
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