With the passage of the Clean Air and Water Acts in the early ‘70’s, the Federal government set legal standards to protect human health and improve the natural environment. Concurrently, the State of California followed suit by enacting the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in 1970 to protect the physical, biological, and human environment.
In simple terms, CEQA Guidelines require that every project undertaken by a state or local agency, Brea is a local agency, must include analysis of the potential impacts on the environment and mitigate (lessen) any negative effects that are considered significant. CEQA Guidelines apply to public and private projects and nearly all projects in California undergo CEQA analysis.
What’s in it for you?
A vital part of the CEQA process is public involvement. Thanks to CEQA, the general public must have an opportunity to comment on any project that could potentially affect them. CEQA also requires that the lead agency, the City of Brea’s Planning Department, respond to public comments in writing, providing evidence for their responses and addressing all comments related to the environmental document and any issues within it.
The first step in an environmental review is the initial study, which helps the lead agency determine a broad estimate of impacts that may occur. There is no evidence that the Planning Department conducted an initial study for the Brea Place project. Without this crucial first step, the Planning Department essentially eliminated all meaningful public involvement opportunities from the project.
The Brea Place project, at more than 500 dwelling units, requires the Planning Department to conduct at least one scoping meeting where it formally invites the public, representatives from neighboring cities and counties, responsible agencies, and public agencies with jurisdiction to learn about the project, express their concerns, and comment on environmental impacts or suggest alternatives.
Normally, a lead agency (the Brea Planning Department) would send out a request for proposals for environmental analysis documents beginning with an initial study and continuing on to the appropriate level of documentation.
In the case of the Hines Brea Place development, the Planning Department decided that it would prepare an Addendum to the 2003 General Plan environmental impact report (EIR), dodging the requirements for an initial study and leaving the public out of the process. In other words, the public has no opportunity for involvement in a project that could significantly affect them.
Adding insult to injury.
As if this behavior weren’t bad enough, it is abundantly clear that the Planning Department has usurped the oversight, guidance and authority of the Planning Commission.
It is inconceivable that the Commission, assuming they were provided full and timely information, would have allowed such an unwarranted deviation from accepted best practices… from a proven process of environmental stewardship that is inclusive of the public.
By short-cutting this process for the Hines project, the Planning Department is evading this important step and increasing the potential for the project to have significant impacts that will affect Breans for generations.
This is not game over.
We need to demand that the Planning Commission put on the brakes, voting to continue further review of the Hines project, instructing the Planning Department to go back to the beginning of the environmental analysis process and properly follow the CEQA Guidelines.
We need to demand an adequate environmental review and public opportunities to comment on its conclusions. Through the public review and comment period, we’ll have a legitimate chance to collaborate with the Planning Commission, the City Planner and Hines to design a project that will address residents’ concerns, produce a project consistent with the surrounding community and provide the developer with a fair and reasonable return on their investment.
If we can fix the process, we can fix the project.