Chapter 3-300: The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

The quality of the environment in California is protected by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (See External Requirements 3-S01). This Act was patterned after the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (See External Requirements 3-F01).

CEQA requires that all State and public agencies, including the University, regulate their activities in a manner that gives major consideration to preventing environmental damage. The Act further requires that all State agencies prepare and certify the completion of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on any proposed project which may have a significant effect on the environment and that they adopt procedures which implement this Act and are consistent with the State CEQA Guidelines.

3-310 University Implementation of CEQA

The Regents’ Policy 8103: Policy on Capital Project Matters states that “All significant Capital Project Matters are reserved to the Committee and Board under Bylaw 22.2 (d). However, in the interest of operational efficiency of the University, the authority to approve or act on certain Capital Project Matters is deemed best exercised by the President of the University and designees rather than the Board or its Committees. As provided by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the certification or adoption of environmental documents is undertaken at the level of the associated project approval.” This authority has been delegated. The Capital Programs, Energy and Sustainability Office within UCOP Finance oversee the Capital Planning, Design and Construction, Facilities and Assets Management, Physical and Environmental Planning, Real Estate, Sustainability, and Energy programs. Assets Management and Physical Planning publishes CEQA Compliance, including a UC CEQA Checklist.

The Physical and Environmental Planning unit provides systemwide guidance on land use planning, physical development, and CEQA compliance. They also provide CEQA guidance on Long Range Development Plans, Capital Projects, Real Estate transactions, and other activities. The campus Facilities Management or Planning Office is responsible for completing the Initial Study or the Environmental Impact Report required by CEQA for a project which is not exempt or categorically exempt from CEQA (See Section 3-330 below).

3-320 Applicability of University Procedures for Implementation of CEQA

As a constitutionally created entity of the State of California, The Regents of the University of California (UC or University) is subject to CEQA. Additionally, UC has adopted the state’s “CEQA Guidelines” (Cal. Code Regs., Title 14, Chapter 3); thus, these Guidelines in their entirety and any subsequent updates are automatically applicable to University projects.

A Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) is defined as a physical development and land use plan to meet the academic and institutional objectives for a particular campus or medical center of public higher education. LRDPs have been prepared for all main campuses and medical centers, but not all UC-owned property is included in an LRDP. LRDP approval is subject to CEQA and requires the preparation of an environmental impact report (EIR).

CEQA applies to “discretionary projects.” The term discretionary refers to situations in which a governmental agency can exercise its judgment in deciding whether and how to approve or carry out a project. The term project refers to the whole of an action and underlying activity that has the potential, directly or ultimately, to result in a physical change to the environment.

For the University of California, typical projects that could have a significant effect on the environment include capital construction projects, LRDPs and LRDP amendments, leases, acquisition of property, substantial changes in the use of facilities, and series of actions such as seismic renovation or asbestos removal. Real estate transactions such as leases, licenses, and acquisitions of property may be considered projects under CEQA and could have a significant effect on the environment.

CEQA does not apply to:

Projects which have Statutory or Categorical Exemptions (as described in Cal. Code Regs., Title 14, § 15260-15333 (Articles 18 and 19)) such as anything specifically exempted by State law including but not limited to emergency projects, rejected projects, feasibility and planning studies, and ministerial projects.

Continuing administrative or maintenance activities, such as purchases for supplies, personnel-related actions, emergency repairs to public service facilities, general policy and procedure making (except as they are applied to specific instances covered above).

Basic research projects handled by Contracts and Grants Offices rarely require any action under CEQA. As they usually have no significant impact on the environment, they are considered "Categorically Exempt" under the CEQA procedures (See Section 3-330 below).

3-330 Compliance with University Procedures for Implementation of CEQA

Any University project, as defined in Section 3-320, which has "the potential for resulting in a physical change in the environment" must be classified as to its environmental impact. Projects requiring Office of the President consideration must be classified by the responsible administrative unit, usually the campus Facilities Management or Planning Office, at the time they are first proposed to the Office of the President for concurrence in funding, planning, development, or construction. The campus administrative unit submits an Environmental Impact Classification Form to the Office of the President for concurrence. For projects not requiring Office of the President consideration, such as minor capital projects funded from sources available to the responsible campus administrative unit, and all basic research projects which may need to be approved by the responsible campus administrative unit, the administrative unit must classify them before it grants final project approval.

The following classifications are used:

  1. Exempt from CEQA - if it can be seen with certainty that there is no possibility that the project may have a significant effect on the environment.
  2. Categorically Exempt - if the project is included within the list of classes which have been determined to have no significant effect on the environment.
  3. Initial Study - if the project is not exempt from CEQA or categorically exempt, and may have a significant effect on the environment.
  4. Environmental Impact Report - if the project may, is likely to, or clearly will have a significant effect on the environment.

Basic research projects are usually considered to be Categorically Exempt, under Class 6 of that classification (Cal. Code Regs., Title 14, § 15306). Class 6, Information Collection, is defined as follows:

Class 6 consists of basic data collection, research, experimental management, and resource evaluation activities which do not result in a serious or major disturbance to an environment. These may be strictly for information-gathering purposes or as part of a study leading to an action which a public agency has not yet approved, adopted, or funded.

However, a research project is not Categorically Exempt if there is a reasonable possibility that it may have a significant effect on the environment. Contracts and Grants Officers may contact their campus Facilities Management or Planning Office if there is a question about a research project being Categorically Exempt.