California Supreme Court Shifts Gears on “Reverse CEQA”

by Garret Murai : jdsupra – excerpt

The California Supreme Court has shifted gears on so-called “reverse CEQA” under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”).

The Supreme Court, in a much-anticipated decision, in California Building Industry Association v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Case No. S213478 (December 17, 2015), held that public agencies subject to CEQA are not required to analyze whether existing environmental conditions may impact a proposed project’s future users or residents – also known as “reverse CEQA” or “CEQA in reverse” – as opposed to the more traditional analysis of a proposed project’s impact on the environment, unless:

  • The proposed project risks exacerbating existing environmental hazards – in which case, it is the proposed project’s impact on the environment not the environment’s impact on the proposed project, which compels the evaluation; or
  • A reverse CEQA analysis is already required under statute, for example, on certain airport, school and housing projects…


While the Supreme Court’s decision clarifies, at least partially (the “exacerbation of existing environmental hazards” exception may lead to its own interpretive disagreements), when a public agency is required to conduct a “reverse CEQA” analysis, the Court noted in a footnote that CEQA does not “prohibit an agency from considering – as part of an environmental review for a project it proposes to undertake – how existing conditions might impact a project’s future users or residents” (emphasis in original). So, is the decision just a pyrrhic victory for developers? We’ll have to see…(more)



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