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California Building Ass'n v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District

ELR Citation: 45 ELR 20243
Nos. S213478, (Cal., 12/17/2015)

The California Supreme Court held that agencies subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) generally are not required to analyze the impact of existing environmental conditions on a project's future users or residents. But when a proposed project risks exacerbating those environmental hazards or conditions that already exist, an agency must analyze the potential impact of such hazards on future residents or users. In those specific instances, it is the project's impact on the environment—and not the environment's impact on the project—that compels an evaluation of how future residents or users could be affected by exacerbated conditions. Moreover, special CEQA requirements apply to certain airport, school, and housing construction projects. In such situations, CEQA requires agencies to evaluate a project site's environmental conditions regardless of whether the project risks exacerbating existing conditions. The environmental review must take into account—and a negative declaration or exemption cannot issue without considering—how existing environmental risks such as noise, hazardous waste, or wildland fire hazard will impact future residents or users of a project. That these exceptions exist, however, does not alter the conclusion that ordinary CEQA analysis is concerned with a project's impact on the environment, rather than with the environment's impact on a project and its users or residents.