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(originally published April 23, 2015) The California Environmental Quality Act is referred to as CEQA (pronounced SEE-kwuh). It is found at California Public Resources Code § 21000 et seq.
The Act is a disclosure law. It requires state and local government entities to analyze and publicly disclose the environmental impacts of their governmental decisions. Feasible mitigation of impacts are required unless the governmental entity makeing of over-riding consideration.

The Act requires preparation of an "Environmental Document", which can be any of the following: Notice of Exemption, Negative Declaration, Mitigated Negative Declaration, Focused Environmental Impact Report, or Environmental Impact Report. 

Notice of Exemption (NOE) may only be issued for projects that are either called out in law as being exempt (statutory exemptions) or as per administrative law embodied in the CEQA Guidelines issued by the California Resources Agency (see California Code of Regulations Title 14 § 15000 et seq.).
Projects that are not exempt are typically subjected to an Initial Study (checklist) keyed to the issues addressed by the statute and the guidelines. Depending on the results of the Initial Study, the project is determined to have no significant impacts on the environment or, if impacts may exist, the project is subjected to detailed analysis culminating in an Environmental Impact Report. See the chart below.

The Anton Arcade apartments project was determined by Sacramento County to be a "ministerial" project (involving no discretion by the County's decision-making process) that merited a Notice of Exemption. The Dolk et al v. County of Sacramento lawsuit challenged that assertion.

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