The purpose of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is to:
- Prevent or minimize significant, avoidable damage to the environment.
- Disclose potential environmental effects of a proposed discretionary project, through a variety of publicly accessible documents.
- Encourage public participation in the environmental review and decision-making process.
- Ensure transparency in governmental decision-making process.
All projects requiring discretionary governmental approval, whether public or private, are subject to CEQA. CEQA statute can be found in the Public Resources Code § 21000-21189, and CEQA guidelines can be found in the California Code of Regulations § 15000-15387.
CEQA statute provides the fundamental regulations that an agency must follow, while CEQA guidelines provide clarification for those agencies required to administer CEQA and the public.
Land Evaluation and Site Assessment (LESA) is a term used to define an approach for rating the relative quality of land resources based upon specific measurable features. The formulation of the California Agricultural LESA Model is the result of Senate Bill 850 (Chapter 812 /1993), which charged the Resources Agency, in consultation with the Governor's Office of Planning and Research, with developing an amendment to Appendix G of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Guidelines concerning agricultural lands. This legislation authorized the Department of Conservation to develop the California LESA Model, which was in turn adopted as the required amendment to Appendix G of the CEQA Guidelines. The LESA model was intended "to provide lead agencies with an optional methodology to ensure that significant effects on the environment of agricultural land conversions are quantitatively and consistently considered in the environmental review process" (Public Resources Code Section 21095).
The Division of Land Resource Protection (DLRP) reviews, comments, and provides technical assistance to state and federal agencies, local jurisdictions, and the public regarding the multiple facets of the CEQA process. For Lead Agencies, the Department recommends the following discussion regarding agricultural resources:
- Type, amount, and location of farmland conversion resulting directly and indirectly from implementation of the proposed project.
- Impacts on any current and future agricultural operations in the vicinity; e.g., land-use conflicts, increases in land values and taxes, loss of agricultural support infrastructure such as processing facilities.
- Incremental impacts leading to cumulative impacts on agricultural land. This would include impacts from the proposed project, as well as impacts from past, current, and likely future projects.
- Potential conflict with land in an agricultural preserve and/or enrolled in a Williamson Act contract.
- Proposed mitigation measure for all impacted agricultural lands within the proposed project area.
The conversion of agricultural land represents a permanent reduction in the State's agricultural land resources. Conservation easements are an available mitigation tool and considered a standard practice in many areas of the State. As such, the Department advises the use of permanent agricultural conservation easements on land of at least equal quality and size as partial compensation for the direct loss of agricultural land. Conservation easements will protect a portion of those remaining land resources and lessen project impacts in accordance with CEQA Guidelines § 15370. The Department highlights this measure because of its acceptance and use by lead agencies.
If you have any questions regarding the CEQA process, please contact the Division of Land Resource Protection, at firstname.lastname@example.org.