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 on Approval of Design, Long Range Development Plans, and the Administration of the California Environmental Quality Act states that the President “has the responsibility for the administration of the University's compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act.” This authority has been delegated to the Executive Vice President – Business Operations. The Budget and Capital Resources Department within Office of the President (OP) Business Operations is over: Capital Planning; Design and Construction; Facilities Management Services; Physical and Environmental Planning; Operating Budget; and Real Estate Services Group. Physical and Environmental Planning publishes CEQA Compliance & Planning including the University CEQA Handbook on its website.

The Physical and Environmental Planning unit provides guidance and reporting to The Regents on University land use and site planning, long range development plans, CEQA compliance, and environmental documents for all ten UC campuses, medical centers, and other university facilities. 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

The University CEQA Handbook states that CEQA applies to:

University Long Range Development Plans and other University planning activities. A “Long Range Development Plan” 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.

All “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 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, 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 and acquisitions of property may be considered projects that could have a significant effect on the environment.

CEQA does not apply to:

Projects which have Statutory or Categorical Exemptions 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 in classification II. Categorically Exempt, under Class 6 of that classification. 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 have a significant effect on the environment. These may be for strictly information-gathering purposes or as part of a study leading to an action which has not yet been 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.