Environmental Review Procedures

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was established to ensure that development in California would not proceed without careful consideration of environmental impacts. This State law requires that the City perform an environmental assessment, in conjunction with a project application, for any discretionary action executed by the City (i.e., rezoning, tentative map, design review, etc.). This guide offers a brief summary of procedures for environmental review. Please refer to Walnut Creek's adopted Environmental Guidelines from the Community and Economic Development Department (CED) for a complete explanation of the California Environmental Quality Act and the City's implementing procedures. 
 

When should I consider environmental impacts?

Environmental impacts as a result of a proposed project should be thoughtfully considered as early as possible in the project design phase. Alternatives that would minimize impacts on the environment, and still satisfy the project objectives, should be examined. The final project should reflect careful consideration of protecting the environment. In order to accomplish this, you should be familiar with CEQA and with the City's Environmental Guidelines.

 

When does environmental review occur?

Environmental review of a proposed project takes place after the project application is deemed complete by the Planning Division of CED. Your project application is not considered complete until all studies that may be required are submitted (i.e., traffic, noise, arborist or biological resources studies). Planning staff will inform you as to which studies may be required as part of your project application.

How does the process work?

  1. Pre-Application Conference

    You should meet with Planning staff to review City policies and regulations. Points to be covered would be the general conformance of the project to the General Plan and zoning, potential environmental impacts requiring special attention, and discussion of the Application for Environmental Assessment. The Application for Environmental Assessment must be turned in with your project application. The Planning staff can point out sources of information and potential conflicts.
  2. Submission of the Application for Environmental Assessment

    The Application for Environmental Assessment must accompany project applications. The information on this assessment form is used by Planning staff to complete a CEQA document known as the Initial Study. It is imperative that the information provided in this application be complete and thorough. Failure to provide information will delay the project, and may unnecessarily result in findings of significant environmental impacts. You will also be required to make an initial deposit and billed according to the current fee and rate schedule, depending on the studies required, for processing the environmental documentation with the final charge based upon the actual cost of staff time required for the environmental review. Please refer to the City's billing structure.
  3. Preparation of Initial Study


    If your project is not considered exempt from CEQA, an Initial Study is prepared. This study outlines all of the anticipated environmental impacts of the proposed project. All phases of project planning, implementation, and operation must be considered. Staff will consult with other City departments, outside public entities, and any individuals or organizations otherwise concerned.

    During, or immediately after, preparation of an Initial Study, Planning staff may consult with you to determine if you are willing to modify your project to reduce or avoid the significant effects identified in the Initial Study. Based on the Initial Study, and any project modifications or mitigation measures agreed to in order to avoid environmental impacts, the CED Director will make one of the following findings: (1) the project will have "No Significant Impacts" on the environment, and a Negative Declaration will be prepared; (2) modifications in the proposed project description, or mitigation measures you agree to, have reduced environmental impacts to a point of insignificance, and a Mitigated Negative Declaration will be prepared; or, (3) the proposed project will have, or may have, significant impact(s), and an Environmental Impact Report will be required.
  4. Negative Declaration or Mitigated Negative Declaration

    If it is determined that your proposed project will not have a significant effect on the environment, a Negative Declaration is prepared. If you agree to incorporate mitigation measures in order to reduce environmental impacts to a point of insignificance, a Mitigated Negative Declaration is prepared.

    These declarations are posted for a period of 21 days on the site, at City Hall, and with the County Clerk in order to provide public review. Any citizen who challenges the decision to prepare one of these Declarations may appeal to the CED Director within the 21-day public review period. If there is no appeal, the project approval process may proceed. If an appeal is filed, the Community Development Director will make a final determination as to whether the Declaration is sufficient.
      
  5. Preparation of a Draft EIR

    If it is determined that an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is required, a Notice of Intent to Prepare an EIR is prepared, distributed and posted. The purpose of this notice is to inform interested parties that an EIR is being prepared, and to seek guidance about significant environmental issues and mitigation measures that should be explored. Any citizen who believes that a Negative Declaration, rather than an EIR, should be prepared for the proposed project may appeal to the City Council within 10 days after the notice has been posted. The City Council's decision shall be final.

    If an EIR is required for your proposed project, a draft EIR is first prepared. The time for this process averages four months and is primarily dependent on the scope and complexity of the proposed project and its impacts. The City will prepare the draft EIR with its own staff or by contract with a consulting firm. A fee will be charged in either case to cover the actual costs incurred in preparing the report.
       
  6. Review of draft EIR

    Once the draft EIR is finished, a "Notice of Completion" will be prepared and posted, initiating a minimum 30-day public review period (45 days if a State Agency is involved). The Community Development Department will mail a notice of the availability of a draft EIR to those requesting such notice in writing, to local and regional agencies, and interested federal agencies. CED will distribute copies of the draft EIR to those individuals and agencies that offered comments on the Notice of Preparation.
  7. Final EIR

    After the public review period has expired, the Planning staff will then prepare a final EIR. The final EIR will consist of the draft EIR, all of the comments received, a list of persons, organizations and public agencies commenting on the draft EIR, and a response from the City on significant environmental issues raised in the draft EIR and comments.
  8. Certification of final EIR

    The highest decision-making body (i.e., City Council, Planning Commission, or Design Review Commission) for the development proposal must certify the final EIR prior to or at the time the project is considered for approval. If not certified, it is returned to the Planning staff for further review or information. A Negative Declaration, Mitigated Negative Declaration or EIR is used to assist the decision-making body in their efforts to make a determination on the development proposal. If the project is accepted, the decision-making body may impose conditions to mitigate any adverse environmental impacts.

How long will the process take?

The estimated time for environmental review will vary depending upon the complexity and magnitude of the proposal and staff workload, but is generally estimated as follows.

  • From receipt of complete application to completion of Initial Study: 30 days
  • Preparation, posting, and appeal period for Negative Declaration or Mitigated Negative Declaration: 10-15 weeks
  • Preparation of Draft and Final EIR (Initial Study, selecting a consultant, Draft EIR, circulation/public review, respond to comments): 24-32 weeks
  • Total estimated time of process: Neg Dec or Mitigated Neg Dec: 14-19 weeks EIR: 24-32 weeks

Tips for Success

A. Review Site History

Research the site history. Information regarding past applications on yours or surrounding property which may provide valuable information is available either through the Planning Division or Building Division.

B. Review the City's Environmental Guidelines

Familiarize yourself with the City's Environmental Guidelines and the California Environmental Quality Act. You may be able to provide additional information that could speed up the review process. The City's Guidelines and the California Environmental Quality Act are available in the Community Development Department.

C. Comply with all Zoning Requirements
 

Review the Zoning Ordinance provisions that pertain to the site. Do not rely solely on oral information given at the counter. Ask for copies of the code provisions and clarification for those items you do not understand.

D. Review the General Plan

Obtain copies of General Plan provisions that pertain to the site. Examine the Floor Area Ratio Map, the Height Map, the Setback Map and the Land Use Descriptions.

E. Use Quality Design Professionals

Use the highest quality design professionals, as this will be the single most important aspect of your project. Architects, engineers and consultants are trained in the development field. The quality of the plans and project presentation reflect on the quality of the application.

F. Respect the Character of the Area

Give thoughtful consideration to the life of the project, the proposed use and its contributions to the community. Remember, a proposed development does not stop at the property lines.

G. Maintain Public Contact

Obtain a copy of the mailing list for your project and prepare your own correspondence. You may wish to meet with neighboring property owners to discuss your proposal prior to filing the application.

H. Follow up with Outside Agencies

Initiate direct contact with key people from outside agencies where your project is referred. Many times you can answer questions or provide additional information that will reduce the time it takes to review your project .