What is an Environmental Impact Report?
An Environmental Impact Report – often abbreviated as “EIR” – is a comprehensive technical analysis of the impact of a proposed development project on the surrounding environment. The “environment” addressed by the report refers not only to wildlife and natural resources, but also to the lived environment of area residents & workers. See: http://ceres.ca.gov/ceqa/flowchart/lead_agency/EIR-ND.html
Where does it fit in the development process?
An Environmental Impact Report is one of the first steps in the development process and must be completed and certified before applying for a permit. See EIR Flowchart at: http://ceres.ca.gov/ceqa/flowchart/
How are a ‘Draft’ and a ‘Final’ Environmental Impact Report different?
The Draft Environmental Impact Report is the first draft of the document. This draft is released to the public and there is a limited 30 to 60 day period when the public can submit written comments. (Typically the comment time is 45 days.) The consultants must respond to substantive public comments – i.e. comments that make legitimate points about the content of the EIR. Comments that are not specifically related to the content of the EIR will be ignored. Public comments and the responses to them become part of the final EIR. See EIR Flowchart at: http://ceres.ca.gov/ceqa/flowchart/
What happens when the Final Environment Impact Report is released?
The Lead Agency (San Diego Unified School District) must vote to certify (“approve”) the Final EIR. They will do this only if they are confident that the environmental documentation is complete and fully accurate and will not expose them to lawsuits. (See Title 14, Chapter 3, Article 7, Sections 15090-15092.)
If the report shows that there are environmental impacts, does that automatically mean the project will not be approved?
No. The Environmental Impact Report will propose mitigation strategies for any documented environmental impacts. In some cases there may be impacts that cannot be mitigated. The presence of immitigable environmental impacts does not necessarily mean that a project will not be approved. According to the California Environmental Quality Act website: “if the benefits of a proposed project outweigh the unavoidable adverse environmental effects, the adverse environmental effects may be considered ‘acceptable.’” The developer must make a written “Statement of Overriding Considerations” to explain why the benefits of the project outweigh its environmental impacts; that statement must be based on fact, reasonable assumptions predicated upon facts, and/or expert opinions supported by facts. An inadequate Statement of Overriding Considerations may leave a public agency vulnerable to damaging legal action. (http://ceres.ca.gov/ceqa/flowchart/la_soc.html)
Who prepares the Environmental Impact Report?
The Lead Agency in charge of the project can prepare the report itself, but more commonly it pays for consultants to prepare the report. In this case, the Lead Agency is the San Diego Unified School District. The consultant that they have hired is BRG Consulting. BRG Consulting has a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract with the San Diego Unified School District to provide environmental documentation consulting services. The continuation of their contract is based on their ability to minimize the apparent environmental impact of projects through the creative use of data & statistics.
What topics does the Environmental Impact Report cover?
There are 18 categories of environmental impacts that may be addressed in an Environmental Impact Report. However, not all of these categories are relevant to every project. The categories of impact that may be relevant to the Point Loma High School Stadium Expansion & Lighting Project (Phase I) include:
This section analyzes whether a project would have a substantial adverse effect on scenic vistas, damage scenic resources (trees, rock outcroppings, historic buildings), degrade the existing visual character of a site & its surroundings, or create a new source of substantial light or glare that would negatively affect day or nighttime views in the area.
2. Agriculture & Forest Resources: Not Likely to be Relevant
3. Air Quality: Not Likely to be Relevant
4. Biological Resources: Not Likely to be Relevant
5. Cultural Resources:
This section analyzes whether a project would negatively affect historical or archaeological resources, destroy paleontological resources or disturb human remains. From the perspective of the PLHS Stadium Expansion this section would be relevant if an aspect of the project (the bleachers, for example), were a possible historic resource, or if area homes that are designated historic resources would be negatively affected by the project.
6. Geology and Soils: Not Likely to be Relevant
7. Greenhouse Gas Emissions:
This section analyzes whether the project has a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions.
8. Hazards & Hazardous Materials:
This section analyzes general hazards created by a project, including the transport of hazardous materials (both during construction and in regular use), the creation of safety hazards due to proximity to an airport, interference with emergency response & evacuation plans, and/or the likelihood of exposing people do a significant risk of loss, injury, or death due to wildland fires.
9. Hydrology & Water Quality: Not Likely to be Relevant
10. Land Use & Planning:
This section analyzes whether the project would have a significant impact on land use and planning in the project vicinity. Specific concerns include whether the project would physically divide an established community, whether it would conflict with applicable land use plans or policies, and whether it would conflict with any applicable habitat conservation plan or natural community conservation plan.
11. Mineral Resources: Not Likely to be Relevant
This section analyzes whether the project would expose persons & residents to noise levels in excess of standard levels, or to excessive groundborne vibration or groundborne noise levels. It also considers whether the project would create a substantial permanent increase in ambient noise levels in the project vicinity or whether it would create substantial temporary or periodic increases in ambient noise levels in the vicinity above levels existing without the project.
13. Population & Housing
This section analyzes whether the project would induce substantial population growth in an area (either daytime commuter population or residential population), and whether it would displace substantial numbers of existing housing or people (to the extent that replacement housing would need to be created elsewhere.)
14. Public Services
This section analyzes whether the project would necessitate additional public services, including fire protection, police protection, parks, other public facilities, and schools.
This section analyzes whether the project would increase the use of neighborhood & regional parks or other recreational facilities to the extent that it would cause substantial physical deterioration of the facility. It also analyzes whether the project includes recreational facilities that might have an adverse physical effect on the environment.
This section analyzes whether the project will substantially increase traffic compared to the existing traffic load & street system capacity. These impacts include increases in number of vehicle trips, increase in volume-to-capacity on roads, and congestion at intersections. This also analyzes whether the project will result in inadequate emergency access or inadequate parking capacity, as well as whether it would conflict with policies put in place to encourage alternative transportation (buses, bicycle racks, etc.)
17. Utilities and Service Systems: Not Likely to be Relevant
18. Mandatory Findings of Significance
This is a ‘catchall’ section dealing with a few very specific issues. It addresses whether the project would degrade the overall quality of the environment or threaten endangered species. It also considers whether the impacts assessed in the report are individually limited but cumulatively considerable (i.e. do the incremental effects of the project gain significance when considered in the context of the impacts of past and probable future projects.) In addition, this section considers whether the project will have any general environmental effects that would cause substantial adverse effects on human beings, directly or indirectly.
(For more details, see http://ceres.ca.gov/ceqa/guidelines/Appendix_G.html)
Why should individual citizens respond to the Draft Environmental Impact Report?
The Draft Environmental Impact Report will have been prepared by consultants who do not live in (and may have never stepped foot in) the neighborhood surrounding the project site. Furthermore, the consultants crafting the Draft EIR have a tremendous incentive to select data and statistics that portray their employer’s project in the most favorable light. As a result, many of the assumptions and conclusions in the Draft EIR may be biased or flawed. If the assumptions and conclusions are not correct, the impacts of the project may appear less significant than they are, and because of this appropriate mitigation strategies will not be considered or addressed. If the right mitigation strategies are not considered and incorporated into the project, area residents will be subjected to unmitigated impacts as a result of the project. Greater legal recourse against these impacts exists if these impacts (and appropriate mitigation strategies) are part of the public record, which they will be if they are received and incorporated into the Final EIR. (For more information on the importance of active public participation in the Environmental Impact Report review process, see http://ceres.ca.gov/ceqa/cases/1986/costa_mesa_120186.html)