Becoming a CEQA Advocate pt. 2
Step 4. How to write a thoughtful Public Comment
After analyzing the potential environmental impacts of a proposed project through research based on some general questions about each impact category, you are ready to deliver your comments. In order to present your comments in a way that is most effective and memorable to your audience, be aware of these simple reminders:
Become a Local Expert
Become an expert by stating in your comments your background, and where relevant include your education, training, experience, community standing, and any appointments or offices you hold. By doing this, you distinguish yourself as an expert participating in the process which can leave a more lasting impression on your audience.
Content of Comment
Reference the project by name and State Clearinghouse Number (SCH#) at the beginning of your comments. Be fact-based in your comments and include the sources you used to gather any technical data or information.
Use proper English (no slang), proper punctuation and proper grammar in both written and oral presentations. Be clear and concise with your comments being sure your take-home message does not get buried underneath excess words.
Structure of Comment
Comments should be structured in the standard introduction, body, conclusion format. Using this format will assist you, as well as your audience, organize your thoughts and follow along easily.
The introduction includes introducing yourself and introducing your position on the issue(s). The body of the comment is where you will explain your position using fact-based information from your research. If addressing multiple impact categories, separate these in different sections. In conclusion, you reiterate your position from the introduction as the take-home message. Use page references throughout the comment letter.
Presentation of Oral Comment
When presenting your comments orally, be aware that your appearance and demeanor will be the first impression you present. Remember to dress professionally, acknowledge the governing body, and be prepared (write a speech). When it is your turn to speak, limit your focus on the topics being discussed, be courteous and polite, consider your tone, use facts and examples, and adhere to the time limits. When you are complete, thank the governing body and submit the speech for the record.
Items to Avoid
Aside from the obvious items such as insulting the governing body, staff, or project applicant, be careful not to swear, wear inappropriate attire, ignore the rules of the hearing, or partake in name-calling and threats. Please remember to avoid taking things personally. You can still be passionate without being emotional.
How to Analyze a Negative Declaration
A Negative Declaration is Similar to an EIR but the agency makes a finding that there is no significant environmental impact. When reviewing a Negative Declaration, focus on the aspects of the project that the Agency had not focused on that have the potential to cause an environmental impact.
What to Do:
1) Review the Initial Study, the Negative Declaration, and any proposed mitigation measures.
2) Note any omissions or errors in these documents through written or oral comments submitted to the lead agency in the appropriate timeframe.
3) Justify your position with substantial evidence (e.g. contrary to substantial evidence that, despite revisions, the project may still have a significant adverse environmental effect).
When reviewing and commenting on the Initial Study:
- Is there substantial evidence to support the agency’s conclusions?
Did the Initial Study:
- Evaluate the entire project? (or is it being chopped into smaller pieces?)
- Describe the existing environmental setting?
- Calculate baseline conditions?
- Adequately address cumulative impacts?
- Determine whether the project would contribute directly or indirectly to the generation of new greenhouse gas emissions?
- Determine if the project would be a “catalyst” for future development?
When reviewing and commenting on the proposed mitigation measures:
- Is there substantial evidence supporting the claim that revisions have reduced or avoided potential significant impacts?
Links to CEQA Statutes and Cases
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was passed by the California State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Ronald Reagan in 1970. In addition to the statutes in the Public Resources Code, CEQA includes a document known as the “CEQA Guidelines” in which the California Resources Agency provides detailed guidance on how agencies should comply with CEQA. The Guidelines are given great weight by courts and agencies generally treat them as the law. The Guidelines are updated from time to time to reflect the latest legal decisions of the California Supreme Court and California Appellate courts. Also, the California Resources Agency provides a chronological listing of reported CEQA cases from 1972-2010 that have affected and influenced CEQA statutes and guidelines.
You can find the complete text of the CEQA Statutes and Guidelines here.
The CEQA Guidelines are binding on all public agencies in California. You can find the CEQA Guidelines at the California Office of Administrative Law and then follow links to Title 14, Division 6, Chapter 3.
Update to CEQA
PCL is currently working on updating the CEQA statute for the twenty-first century. We are working closely with Law Firms and Stakeholder to update CEQA to reflect the new environmental findings and include provisions on climate change. For more information, click here.