What is it?
The Policy Plan component of the Countywide Plan will be evaluated under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), through preparation and review of a comprehensive, programmatic environmental impact report (EIR). An EIR provides the most complete analysis and maximum level of public participation available through CEQA. The purpose of an EIR is to:
- Disclose project impacts to the public and decision-makers
- Identify ways to avoid or reduce environmental impacts
- Analyze alternatives with the potential to avoid/minimize impacts
- Foster inter-agency coordination and review
The EIR will be structured to provide defensible CEQA documentation, strictly comply with processing requirements, and optimize “tiering” and streamlining options for future development projects that are consistent with the Countywide Plan.
Statutes and Guidelines. CEQA is codified in the California Public Resources Code (Sections 21000 et al), with guidelines interpreting the CEQA statute, known as the CEQA Guidelines, contained in Sections 15000 and following of Title 14 of the California Code of Regulations.
Purpose of an EIR. An EIR is—first and foremost—an objective disclosure document; it does not in itself advocate for or against a project. An EIR describes the project in detail and the potential environmental impacts on the existing environmental setting. Supported by numerous technical studies (traffic, air quality/greenhouses gases, cultural and biological resources, noise, geotechnical resources, etc.), the EIR will document probable environmental impacts, feasible ways of reducing or eliminating those impacts, cumulative effects, and alternatives to the project.
Public and agency input is key to a meaningful EIR, and by law will occur throughout the process. Beginning with the EIR scoping meeting on October 2017, the public and various agencies were given the opportunity to provide their knowledge and expertise to assist the County and consultant team in further focusing the approach and analysis needed in the EIR. The County distributed a Draft EIR for a 60-day public review on June 17, 2019. Formal responses to any comments received will be presented in a Final EIR, with additional opportunities to comment on the analysis, mitigation, and alternatives at public adoption hearings.
Program EIR. This EIR will be a programmatic EIR. A Program EIR is ideal to analyze large-scale projects that cover future actions that may be related geographically, as a phased series of actions, by statute or regulatory requirements, or by types of impacts and mitigation. For the proposed County Policy Plan, it allows review of broad policy issues and potential cumulative effects, and the appropriate consideration of program-wide alternatives.
The EIR will be prepared in accordance with CEQA Statutes and Guidelines, and it will focus on the primary effects than can be expected to occur after the adoption of the Countywide Plan. Because of this, the Program EIR will not be as detailed as a Project EIR prepared for a specific development or construction project may be.
CEQA Streamlining and Tiering. A Program EIR also optimizes streamlining opportunities for future actions which may or may not require a subsequent or project EIR. “Tiering” refers to covering general matters in broader EIRs (such as General Plan EIRs) and narrowing the analysis for subsequent review when more “project-level” or site specific information is available. It cost-effectively avoids redundant analysis, and with the use of specific requirements for subsequent technical studies and performance standards, can limit the need for CEQA documents for future projects consistent with the General Plan.
However, it is important to note the tiering process does not eliminate CEQA for future projects. Any subsequent project must still be processed in accordance with CEQA and there is no expectation that all (or even most) future projects will be streamlined by a tiering process.
Recent Legislation. The EIR also evaluates issues and conduct processes introduced by recent legislation. Examples include alternative transportation metrics (Senate Bill 743, Steinberg, 2013) and tribal cultural resources (Assembly Bill 52, Gatto, 2014).
When will it start?
The EIR started in late 2017 with the release of the Notice of Preparation and public scoping meeting. The County then conducted technical studies, conducted two rounds of regional meetings, and released a Draft EIR suitable for public review on June 17, 2019. A Final EIR will accompany the Policy Plan for the public adoption hearings, which are expected to occur in late 2020. EIR-related documents will be posted on this website as they become available for the public’s review and input. Please check back here for progress.