It seems that the term EIR is tossed around very liberally during City Council meetings and even in my own writings. Which begs the question; what is an EIR?
Obviously it’s an acronym. It stands for Environmental Impact Report. Whenever a project is determined to have significant environmental impacts the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires that an EIR be prepared. An EIR evaluates a proposed project’s impacts on the environment, and recommends mitigation measures to reduce or eliminate those impacts. Its purpose is to inform the public and the decision makers of the ramifications of their proposed decision. Generally, the proponent of a project prepares the EIR. The process can take up to a year or more.
An EIR inventories the existing environment in different categories called the environmental setting, including: aesthetics, agricultural resources, air quality, biological resources, cultural resources, geology/soils, hazards and hazardous materials, hydrology/water quality, land use planning, mineral resources, noise, population/housing, public services, recreation, transportation/traffic, utilities/service systems .
The public has a couple of opportunities to get involved. The first step is when a Draft EIR released. The public and other agencies have a limited amount of time, generally 45 days to make comments. These comments may be submitted from the public and public agencies during this period. After receiving comments on the Draft EIR, the entity preparing the EIR will prepare written responses to each comment and make any necessary changes to the Draft EIR. These responses and revisions will be provided in the Responses to Comments on the Draft EIR.
Finally after preparation of the Final EIR and preliminary hearings by the Planning Commission, the EIR is wrapped up and presented before the City Council for approval. It is at this presentation that the public has one last chance to comment on the EIR’s contents and adequacy. The Final EIR is comprised of the Draft EIR and the Responses to Comments document.
Not all projects require an EIR. CEQA law allows an agency to prepare a “Negative Declaration” or a “Mitigated Negative Declaration” when the initial study shows that there is no substantial evidence that the project may have a significant effect on the environment, or the initial study identifies potentially significant effects, but revisions in the project plans or proposals would avoid the effects or mitigate the effects to a point where clearly no significant effects would occur.
A Negative Declaration (ND) is a written statement briefly describing the reasons why a proposed project will not have a significant environmental impact and that the project will not require the preparation of an EIR. (Public Resources Code §21064)
A Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) is a Negative Declaration prepared for a project when the initial study has identified potentially significant effects on the environment but the effects now pose no significant effect on the environment because the project was revised. The revisions to the project plans must mitigate the harmful effects to the environment and there must be no substantial evidence supporting that the revised project will have a negative effect on the environment. (Public Resources Code §21064.5.)