Anyone may comment on the adequacy of the environmental document. To challenge the Negative Declaration, one must present substantial evidence, in light of the whole record before the County, that the project will have a significant impact on the environment. County staff will respond to the comments and make the comments and responses available to the decision making body for their consideration. Sometimes, when the evidence is compelling enough, a new environmental analysis is conducted. That analysis may result in finding significant impacts requiring the preparation of an EIR or a revised Negative Declaration with added mitigation measures may suffice.
An EIR was prepared for a project in my neighborhood. Environmental damage is expected to be substantial and can't be reduced or eliminated. Doesn't CEQA stop a public agency from approving projects that harm the environment? Aren't they required to mitigate environmental damages? When the state legislature passed CEQA, it was aware that some environmental damage would be caused by growth related activities. CEQA was designed to make sure that decision makers and the public knew how much, if any, environmental damage would be caused by a particular project or group of projects. The legislature made it clear that they expected agencies to reduce or eliminate environmental harm whenever possible. An agency is permitted to approve projects that cause significant environmental damage. However, the agency must make findings that clearly explain the circumstances surrounding the project analysis and the approval. Then, the agency must explain their decision to approve the project, despite expected environmental damage, by adopting a Statement of Overriding Considerations. This type of statement points out the reasons why the decision makers felt a project's benefits outweigh its environmental costs. Decision makers may find impacts "acceptable" based on specific economic, legal, technological reasons or other benefits of a proposed project.