What Constitutes a Project Under CEQA ?

Generally, California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires the preparation of an environmental impact report (EIR) for any "project" an agency intends to approve or carry out which may have a significant effect on the environment. (Pub. Resources Code, 21080, subd. (d); CEQA Guidelines, 15064, subd. (a)(1).) A "project" is "an activity which may cause either a direct physical change in the environment, or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment . . . ." (Pub. Resources Code, 21065; CEQA Guidelines, 15378.) Some government activities are not "projects" and therefore do not require preparation of an EIR. As relevant here, the term "project" does not include "the creation of government funding mechanisms or other government fiscal activities, which do not involve any commitment to any specific project which may result in a potentially significant physical impact on the environment." (CEQA Guidelines, 15378, subd. (b)(4).) A significant impact on the environment is defined as "a substantial, or potentially substantial, adverse change in any of the physical conditions within the area affected by the project including land, air, water, minerals, flora, fauna, ambient noise, and objects of historic or aesthetic significance." (CEQA Guidelines, 15382.) New government action which results in no significant change in the environmental impact does not convert that activity into a new project requiring that environmental review begin anew under CEQA. (Moss v. County of Humboldt (2008) 162 Cal.App.4th 1041, 1055 (Moss) expiration of tentative map did not convert subdivision into a new project for purposes of CEQA review; Not About Water Com. v. Board of Supervisors (2002) 95 Cal.App.4th 982, 1001-1002 (Not About Water) an assessment district formed after establishment of a water district was not a project under CEQA, disapproved on another ground in Silicon Valley Taxpayers' Assn., Inc. v. Santa Clara County Open Space Authority (2008) 44 Cal.4th 431, 450.) In sum, Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) guidelines, " 'Project' means the whole of an action, which has a potential for resulting in either a direct physical change in the environment, or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment ... ." (CEQA Guidelines, 15378, subd. (a).) The City may not chop the project into smaller units in order to avoid consideration of the entire project. (Bozung v. Local Agency Formation Com. (1975) 13 Cal.3d 263, 283-284.) An example of this prohibited division of a project into separate projects occurred when a shopping center was divided into two parts for separate environmental review. (Citizens Assn. for Sensible Development of Bishop Area v. County of Inyo (1985) 172 Cal.App.3d 151, 167.) In that case, the court stated: "This approach is inconsistent with the mandate of CEQA that a large project shall not be divided into little ones because such division can improperly submerge the aggregate environmental considerations of the total project. " (172 Cal.App.3d at p. 167.)