CEQA & Housing
Information on how the Legislature and the CEQA Guidelines have streamlined environmental review of housing projects.
In order to streamline the construction of housing projects in California, the Legislature has created multiple CEQA statutory exemptions for housing projects. Additionally, OPR and the Natural Resources Agency have streamlined regulations for certain classes of projects – such as small housing developments and infill housing – that typically do not have substantial impacts on the environment. In order to assist lead agencies, housing developers, and members of the public with navigating these various provisions, OPR has created and compiled resources on this page.
Developed in coordination with the Department of Housing and Community Development, Site Check is an innovative mapping tool that allows users to see if selected parcels may qualify for an existing streamlining option. Currently in Beta format, the tool allows users to map various CEQA definitions and filter parcels based on planning, transportation, and environmental criteria. Site Check is a good “first step” for developers and public agencies considering how CEQA may apply to a housing project. Version 1.0 is expected in late 2021 or early 2022. Note: Users should not construe as legal advice any contents of, or outputs from, Site Check, and should independently verify all determinations.
OPR has issued two technical advisories on streamlining options for housing projects:
Multiple studies have analyzed the link between CEQA and housing production. Those studies are linked below. Note: OPR does not endorse any statements or policy recommendations contained in the following reports. They are provided for informational purposes only.
CEQA applies when a governmental agency can exercise judgment in deciding whether and how to carry out or approve a project. The ability to exercise judgment makes the project “discretionary.” (CEQA Guidelines, § 15357.) Where the law requires a governmental agency to act on a project using fixed standards and the agency does not have authority to use its own judgment, the project is called “ministerial,” and CEQA does not apply. (CEQA Guidelines, §§ 15268(a), 15369.)
State and local laws and guidelines should be consulted when determining whether a project may be ministerial or "by right."
SB 35 - GOV § 65913.4 - Creates a streamlined approval process for developments in localities that have not yet met their housing targets, provided that the development is on an infill site and complies with existing residential and mixed-use zoning. Participating developments must provide at least 10 percent of units for lower-income families. All projects over 10 units must be prevailing wage and larger projects must use skilled and trained labor. See the SB 35 section of HCD’s website.
Recent legislation requires tribal consultation prior to using this option. See OPR’s Technical Advisory on AB 168 for more information.
- AB 2162 – GOV § 65650-65656 - Allows for by-right development for supportive housing anywhere zoned for multifamily and mixed-use housing.
- AB 430 - GOV § 65913.15 - Establishes a ministerial approval process for housing development in the cities of Biggs, Corning, Gridley, Live Oak, Orland, Oroville, Willows and Yuba City. These provisions expire on January 1, 2026.
Housing projects may also be by right under local the zoning code on certain parcels. Check with the appropriate local jurisdiction for more information. Note, where local discretion is limited to design review, the project may not be subject to CEQA. (See McCorkle Eastside Neighborhood Group v. City of St. Helena (2019) 31 Cal.App.5th 80.)