The City of Chula Vista's environmental review process is established by the Environmental Review Procedures of the City of Chula Vista, the California Environmental Quality Act of 1970 (CEQA), and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). Issues addressed through the City's environmental review process include, but are not limited to, geophysical, water, air quality, transportation/circulation, biological resources, hazards, noise, public services, utilities and service systems, aesthetics, and cultural resources. The Environmental Review Procedures of the City of Chula Vista established procedures for the implementation of CEQA by the City and the City's Environmental Review Coordinator (ERC). Unless determined to be exempt from CEQA, environmental review pursuant to the provisions of CEQA is required for all proposed public and private activities requiring discretionary approval by the City, including projects carried out by the City. In addition, proposed activities requiring federal approval and/or involving federal funding are subject to environmental review pursuant to the provisions of NEPA; both processes can be conducted jointly. Although many aspects of the CEQA and NEPA review process are similar, due to the fact that City actions are rarely subject to NEPA, the following overview specifically describes the City's environmental review process under CEQA:
In order to facilitate the timely review and processing of development projects requiring discretionary approval by the City, applicants submit information regarding their projects at an early stage in the permitting process through the City's pre-application review process. At the conclusion of the pre-application review process, the ERC, with the input of other applicable City staff, determines if a project is clearly exempt from environmental review under CEQA or if a project may potentially result in a significant impact on the environment, thus requiring the submittal of an Preliminary Environmental Review application.
Preliminary Environmental Review
A Preliminary Environmental Review Application provides the information necessary for the ERC to determine if a project not found to be clearly exempt from CEQA during the pre-application review process is in fact exempt or, if not exempt, to formally conduct an initial study pursuant to the provisions of CEQA. The purpose of an initial study is to determine whether or not a project could potentially result in a significant impact on the environment. The primary component of conducting an initial study is the completion of an environmental checklist form, in which standard questions regarding the full spectrum of the potential environmental impacts of a project are addressed and a determination of the level of significance of each potential project impact is made. Upon completion of an initial study, the ERC makes one of the following determinations:
a. The project could not result in a significant impact on the environment and the preparation of a Negative Declaration will be required.
b. The project could have a significant impact on the environment but the project has been modified or mitigation has been agreed to by the applicant which will avoid or mitigate any significant impacts and the preparation of a Mitigated Negative Declaration will be required.
c. The project has the potential to result in a significant impact on the environment and the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report will be required to evaluate the environmental consequences of the project.
A Preliminary Environmental Review application must be filed simultaneously with the submittal of a discretionary permit application(s). The Preliminary Environmental Review application shall include the technical reports, documents and other information needed by the ERC to make a determination of the significance of a project's environmental impacts and requires the establishment of a deposit account to cover city staff time spent reviewing the proposal. The average processing time to conduct an initial study and to complete the preparation of either a Negative Declaration or Mitigated Negative Declaration is approximately four to six months once an Preliminary Environmental Review application is submitted.
Negative Declaration/Mitigated Negative Declaration
Based on the results of an initial study, the ERC may determine that the preparation of either a Negative Declaration (ND) or Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) is required. NDs and MNDs contain the environmental checklist form completed during the initial study; a description of the proposed project, the project site, and the surrounding environs; a discussion of the anticipated environmental impacts of the project and the level of significance of such impacts; and, in MNDs, the revisions to the project and/or mitigation measures necessary to avoid or reduce the significant environmental impacts of the project to below a level of significance. Upon completion of the preparation of a draft ND or MND, notification of the availability of the draft document for review and comment is provided to the public (see below for further information). Following the public review and comment period, minor revisions to the draft ND or MND may be made and the final ND or MND is completed. The final ND or MND is provided to the decision-making body prior to their consideration of the proposed project.
Environmental Impact Report Process
If, after completion of an Initial Study, it has been determined that a project may have a significant environmental impact, the City shall initiate the preparation of the EIR. Pursuant to provisions in CEQA, if the City determines that an EIR will clearly be required for the project, an Initial Study is not required but may still be completed. The Initial Study can be used to fully document the determination as to why some effects would not be significant and also to focus the scope of issues for the EIR.
Upon initiation of the project, the project applicant shall complete an EIR application, and create a deposit account with the city to be used to reimburse all city consultants providing environmental analysis of the project.
The preparation of technical reports can provide a useful tool to plan with consideration of environmentally sensitive areas. The City may require preparation of such technical reports prior to the initiation of the EIR process.
Notice of Preparation
Immediately after deciding that an EIR is required, the City must send an Notice of Preparation (NOP) soliciting participation in determining the scope of the EIR to Responsible and Trustee Agencies and involved federal agencies; to the State Clearinghouse, if a state agency is a Responsible Agency for the proposed action or if a Trustee Agency is involved; and to parties previously requesting notice in writing.
Preparation of the EIR
The preparation of an EIR is a difficult and challenging task that is sometimes beyond the expertise or time constraints of an agency's own staff. Consequently, an environmental consultant selected by the ERC may be selected to prepare the EIR.
Public Review of the Draft EIR
In general, the minimum public review period for a Draft EIR is 30 days and the maximum is generally 60 days. When a Draft EIR is sent to the State Clearinghouse for review, the public review period must be at least 45 days. The State Clearinghouse may approve a shorter review period (of not less than 30 days).
During the public review period, the City if Chula Vista Resource Conservation Commission (RCC) may consider the draft EIR at one of their regularly scheduled meetings. After review and consideration of the EIR, the RCC will make a recommendation on the adequacy of the document to the decision-making body.
The City must prepare a Final EIR responding in writing to all comments received on the Draft EIR and certify the Final EIR before approving the project. The responses to comments on a Draft EIR must include good faith, well-reasoned responses to all comments on the Draft EIR.
Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Programs
Pursuant to CEQA, in order to ensure that the mitigation measures identified in an adopted MND or EIR will be implemented, a program for monitoring or reporting on the implementation of such measures must be prepared. The ERC, typically with the assistance of consultants with specialized technical expertise in the applicable fields, oversees mitigation monitoring and reporting programs during the pre-construction, construction, and post-construction stages of project implementation, as applicable for each individual program.
Public Notices/Public Review and Comment
During the preparation of an initial study, a Notice of Initial Study is sent to all owners of properties within a 500-foot radius of the project site, to seek input from the public on the potential environmental impacts of the proposed project in order to assist the ERC in conducting the initial study.
Draft NDs, MNDs, and EIRs are made available to the public for review and comment. The ERC notifies the public of the availability of draft documents for public review and comment by posting a notice at the office of the County Clerk/Recorder and by either sending a notice to all owners of properties within a 500-foot radius of the project site or publishing a notice in a newspaper of general circulation in the area affected by the proposed project.
At the same time the City provides public notice of the availability of Draft EIR, ND and MNDs, the City must file a Notice of Completion with the State Clearinghouse if a Responsible Agency or Trustee Agency is involved. The notice must include a brief project description and information on the project location, the address where the Draft EIR is available, and the public review period.
Project Approval/Consideration of the Final Environmental Document
Prior to acting upon a proposal that is subject to environmental review under CEQA, the decision-making body must consider the final environmental document together with any written comments received during the established review and comment period.