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California Environmental Quality Act

CEQA Basics

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), has two major functions.  One is to provide decision makers with information about the environmental impacts of projects prior to granting approval.  Second, CEQA allows the public to comment on the impacts of projects in their community. Through the comment process, citizens can help projects avoid and minimize impacts by developing project alternatives and mitigation measures.   

Just because significant environmental impacts are identified, CEQA does not have an ability to approve or deny projects.  That decision is left to elected officials or appointed decision makers.  It is important for concerned citizens to participate in the CEQA comment process if they want to play a role.  Without public participation, decision makers will find it difficult determining what a tolerable or intolerable environmental impact looks like in their community. 

Local Governments (cities, counties, special districts) are referred to in CEQA as “Lead Agencies” and are tasked under CEQA with carrying out the environmental impact analysis.  There is no regulatory agency that determines if the Lead Agency has properly complied with CEQA or not, this function is left up to the judicial process. 

Historical resources (buildings, structures, or archeological resources) are considered part of the environment and are subject to review under CEQA.  Please contact the OHP if you have questions about how to participate in the CEQA process or how to identify and evaluate historical resources during an environmental impact analysis.

CEQA is encoded in Sections 21000 et seq  of the Public Resources Code (PRC) with Guidelines for implementation codified in the California Code of Regulations (CCR), Title 14, Chapter 3, Sections 15000 et seq., requires state and local public agencies to identify the environmental impacts of proposed discretionary activities or projects, determine if the impacts will be significant, and identify alternatives and mitigation measures that will substantially reduce or eliminate significant impacts to the environment. State owned properties are subject to the provisions of Public Resources Code Section 5024 and 5024.5.

Historical resources are considered part of the environment and a project that may cause a substantial adverse effect on the significance of a historical resource is a project that may have a significant effect on the environment. The definition of "historical resources" is contained in Section 15064.5  of the CEQA Guidelines.

Public Resources Code Section 21083.2-21084.1  (pdf 3 pages)

California Code of Regulations/Guidelines for Implementation of CEQA Section 15000-15387.

Public Resources Code Section 5024  (pdf 2 pages)

California Environmental Resources Evaluation System (CERES) Frequently Asked Questions

CEQA Process Flowchart


CEQA Case Studies

The California Office of Historic Preservation comments on CEQA documents as an authority on historic and cultural resources. The publications below use case studies taken from environmental documents produced in California to help environmental analysts and lead agencies  understand historical and cultural resource identification and evaluation. 


Volume I: How to Identify and Evaluate Historic and Cultural Landscapes

Volume II: Consider the Whole Action: How to Avoid Segmenting


CEQA Q & A


When does CEQA apply?


What is the CEQA review process and who initiates it?

What is the California Register and what does it have to do with CEQA?

Are archeological sites part of the California Register?

What is substantial adverse change to a historical resource?

How can substantial adverse change be avoided or mitigated?

What are exemptions under CEQA and how are they used?

What are local CEQA Guidelines?

Who ensures CEQA is being followed properly?

How should a citizen approach advocating for historical resources under CEQA?

What information is useful to have when contacting OHP about a CEQA project?


This information is intended to merely illustrate the process outlined in CEQA statute and guidelines relative to historical and cultural resources. These materials on CEQA and other laws are offered by the State Office of Historic Preservation for informational purposes only. This information does not have the force of law or regulation and should not be cited in legal briefs as the authority for any proposition. In the case of discrepancies between the information provided on this website and the CEQA statute or guidelines, the language of the CEQA statute and Guidelines (PRC Section 21000 et seq. and 14 CCR Section 15000 et seq.) is controlling. Information contained in this site does not offer nor constitute legal advice. You should contact an attorney for technical guidance on current legal requirements.