California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Overview

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What is Environmental Review? 

The Current Planning Division reviews discretionary applications for potential environmental impacts in a process known as environmental review. The process aims to provide information on such environmental impacts of potential projects to decision-makers and the public for their consideration. Common types of environmental impact include traffic, noise, groundwater contamination, archaeological resources, vegetation, and wildlife.

If significant environmental impacts are identified, feasible mitigation measures must be included in a project to eliminate or reduce these impacts. Various State and City policies provide the basis for determining impacts and a means for ensuring that such impacts are mitigated.


How are Environmental Reviews conducted?

Reviews are conducted pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and Chapter 18.31 of the Palo Alto Municipal Code, which provide guidelines for implementing the CEQA process. The reviews identify any potential adverse environmental effects of proposed actions, assess their significance, and propose measures to eliminate or mitigate significant impacts. Certain actions identified by the state, known as Categorical Exemptions, are exempt from environmental review. Such exempt projects generally include small-scale new construction, some changes of use, some additions, and other generally small projects. These projects are enumerated in CEQA Guidelines.


What if my project required an environmental review? 

If your project requires an environmental evaluation, please fill out the Environmental Assessment Worksheet. See also our Planning Forms for more details on application requirements.

Project-specific environmental review documents for the City of Palo Alto are posted on the Pending and Approved webpage(s).


Want to learn more?

For further information about CEQA, see the State’s FAQ page and the CEQA Guidelines.