On May 18, 2022, the County of Sonoma released a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Springs Specific Plan. The following webpage describes the environmental review process, what a DEIR is, how to participate, and the next steps in the process.
What is CEQA?
- INFORM the public and local decision makers about the potential environmental impacts of proposed projects – including policy projects like the Springs Specific Plan that don’t involve construction;
- IDENTIFY ways that environmental damage can be avoided or reduced;
- PREVENT significant, avoidable environmental damage by requiring changes in projects, either by adoption of project alternatives or through the use of mitigating actions; and finally
- DISCLOSE to the public why a project was approved, if it would cause unavoidable significant impacts.
When does CEQA apply?
A project is subject CEQA if:
- It requires the County’s discretion in approving, denying or funding it; and
- if the project would cause a “direct physical change in the environment”, or would cause a “reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment”; and
- Is not specifically exempted from CEQA review by state law.
Environmental review must be complete before local decision makers determine whether to approve or deny a project. Projects that are typically subject to CEQA include private projects like wineries that are subject to a conditional use permit, and public projects like a general or specific plan. See current examples being processed by Permit Sonoma
What are the steps in the CEQA process?
The CEQA process can involve a number of different steps, as shown in this CEQA flowchart. If a project does not qualify for an exemption in state law, the County typically begins with an “initial study”: a preliminary analysis of potential environmental impacts from the project. Based on the results of the initial study, the County then takes one of the following courses of action:
- Negative Declaration – if project will not cause a significant effect on the environment, the County can make a written statement to conclude the environmental review process.
- Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) – If a project would have had potentially significant negative impacts, but these impacts would be minimized to a less than significant level through revisions or conditions placed on the project, then an MND may be appropriate.
- Environmental Impact Report (EIR) – If a project may have a significant impact on the environment and these impacts cannot be mitigated or avoided to a less than significant level, an EIR is appropriate.
What is an EIR and what are the major steps in the process?
An EIR is required when the County determines that a project would have one or more significant impacts on the environment. An EIR includes a description of the project, a description of the environmental setting of the project, a discussion of environmental impacts and mitigation measures to minimize significant impacts. The process typically involves the following steps:
Notice of Preparation (NOP)
When the County has identified that an EIR will be prepared, a NOP is sent to notify responsible agencies, organizations and public. The purpose of the NOP is to invite guidance on what the scope and content of the EIR should be. Comments received in response to the NOP are considered in preparing the DEIR. The NOP for the Springs Specific Plan was posted on June 27, 2018.
One of the first steps in preparing an EIR is determining the range of issues that are relevant to the proposed project, and identifying feasible alternatives or mitigation measures that would avoid potentially significant environmental effects. Scoping is done in consultation with responsible agencies, the public and the applicant, and includes public noticing and a public meeting. The scoping meeting for the Springs Specific Plan was held on July 10, 2018.
Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR)
In addition to a description of the project and environmental setting the DEIR evaluates the potential environmental effects from adoption and implementation of the Project in different environmental categories (e.g. air quality, wildfire, visual impacts), determines whether the Project is expected to have no impact, a less than significant impact, or potentially significant impacts.
In each category, any impact that would be significant or potentially significant, includes proposed mitigation measures. The document also contains an analysis of project alternatives (modified versions of the project that would still accomplish the project goals), identification of significant and unavoidable impacts, how the project could affect population growth and how the project might interact with other projects in the area.
Notice of Completion (NOC)
When the DEIR is ready to be published, the County files a Notice of Completion (NOC) with the State and begins a public review period that typically extends for at least 45 days. For the Springs Specific Plan, this review period has been extended to 60 days to allow for additional review.
When the NOC has been filed, public notice will be provided consistent with legal noticing requirements, including an email to those who have requested notice through the project webpage. This notice will contain instructions on how to obtain DEIR documents, how to submit written comments, and a date for a future Planning Commission hearing where the public can provide verbal comments if preferred.
Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR)
Following the public review period, a Final EIR is prepared. The Final EIR responds to comments regarding environmental issues received during the public review period and to oral comments received at a public meeting during that review period.
The County decision-makers then review and consider the Final EIR, including the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. If the County finds that the Final EIR shows a good faith effort at full disclosure of environmental information and contains enough analysis to allow for an informed decision-making process, the County may take action to approve, approve with modifications, or reject the project, and certify the EIR. If the project is approved, a Mitigation Monitoring Program is also adopted to ensure that measures identified in the EIR are carried out during project implementation.
When will the DEIR be available and where can I get a copy?
The DEIR was released on May 18, 2022 and is available to download on the Project Documents page. A hard copy is also available for review at the Sonoma Valley Regional Library at 755 W Napa St, Sonoma, CA.
How can I provide my comments on the DEIR?
Comments will be accepted during the public review period via mail, email, or verbally at a future Planning Commission meeting. For more information, see the legal notice available on the Project Documents page.