Publications & Articles

Back to Basics:  Setting the Environmental Baseline Under the California Environmental Quality Act

Related Attorneys: Arthur F. Coon
Related Practices: Environmental

California Land Use Law & Policy Reporter - Three recent decisions under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA; Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.) focus on determining the “environmental baseline” against which a proposed project’s potentially significant impacts must be measured. (See, Communities for a Better Environment v. South Coast Air Quality Mgmt. Dist., 48 Cal.4th 310 (2010); Cherry Valley Pass Acres and Neighbors v. City of Beaumont, __Cal.App.4th__, Case No. E049561 (4th Dist. 2010); Sunnyvale West Neighborhood Assoc. v. City of Sunnyvale City Council, __Cal.App.4th__, Case No. H035135 (6th Dist. 2010).)

These decisions hold the baseline must realistically reflect actual physical conditions occurring before project approval, with a lead agency maintaining discretion to determine what temporal “snapshot” best captures such conditions. By contrast, in setting the baseline, a lead agency generally cannot rely on hypothetical levels of activity or impacts derived from permitted-but never realized ─ operations or post-approval projections.