Todd Nelson


The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires public review of all public and private projects that are subject to a public agency’s approval. Unlike many other states’ environmental laws, CEQA requires that projects that create significant environmental impacts not be approved if feasible mitigation measures or project alternatives exist that would reduce or eliminate those impacts. However, although CEQA was adopted more than forty years ago and has been the subject of approximately six hundred published decisions, there remains much uncertainty as to what agencies and project proponents must do to comply with CEQA and avoid judicial reversal. One of the most critical contested issues is the question of what constitutes a project for purposes of requiring CEQA analysis. This uncertainty was at the heart of Save Tara v. City of West Hollywood, a recent California Supreme Court case that set forth a new, flexible test for determining what actions by public agencies will constitute a CEQA project. This Note describes the current state of CEQA following Save Tara, identifies the decision’s costly impacts on previously exempt public-agency activities, offers suggested legislative reforms to the existing law, and suggests best practices for project proponents and public agencies that seek to comply with CEQA while avoiding frivolous lawsuits.

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