Land Use and CEQA Environmental Review

Land use refers to how a community uses its land – what is built, and where.

Land use decisions are generally made by cities, and by Santa Barbara County in unincorporated areas. These agencies have long-term plans and permit processes that guide land development decisions. Other agencies, such as the Coastal Commission, State Lands Commission, federal land agencies, and special districts such as water and sanitation districts, may also have a say in land-use decisions.

Land use decisions affect air quality. For example, a newly constructed business may emit air pollution directly. Commercial, industrial and residential developments contribute to short- and long-term air quality impacts through the use of fuels, consumer products, vehicles, and other equipment. Because cars and trucks represent a large portion of the smog-forming pollution in our county, the impacts of land-use decisions are important.

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires state and local agencies to identify and reduce the environmental impacts of land-use decisions. Several different types of documents may be prepared under CEQA, including Notices of Exemption, Initial Studies, Negative Declarations or Mitigated Negative Declarations, and Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs). For more information on CEQA, see the California Environmental Resources Evaluation System (CERES) CEQA home page or CEQA frequently asked questions.


District Roles Under CEQA

Depending on circumstances, the District may assume the following roles:

  1. As a lead agency the District prepares environmental documents for its own discretionary actions, such as air quality plans and rules. The District may also be a CEQA lead agency for District permits if the impacts of the permit action were not addressed in a land-use decision or other agency action.
  2. As a responsible agency the District reviews environmental documents prepared by other lead agencies to ensure that air quality impacts were addressed and the document is adequate to fulfill CEQA requirements for APCD permit actions.  The District’s jurisdictional area includes unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County, the cities of Santa Maria, Guadalupe, Lompoc, Buellton, Solvang, Goleta, Santa Barbara, and Carpinteria, and offshore of Santa Barbara County.
  3. As a concerned agency the District reviews development projects, within the county and offshore of Santa Barbara County, that may have air quality impacts and provides guidance to mitigate adverse impacts.

Board-adopted Environmental Review Guidelines

The District Board has adopted Environmental Review Guidelines pursuant to CEQA. These guidelines include definitions of common terms, procedures for environmental review, adopted thresholds of significance, time limits, fees, forms, and District-approved exemptions to CEQA review. The current version of the guidelines is available here: District Environmental Review Guidelines.

On April 30, 2015 these guidelines were updated to include guidance for evaluating the significance of the impacts from greenhouse gas emissions from new or modified stationary sources. For more information on the threshold adoption process, see Greenhouse Gases and CEQA.

See also September 6, 2016 Notice about CEQA Greenhouse Gas Thresholds.

Note: Air Quality Significance Thresholds used by the County of Santa Barbara for projects where the County is a lead agency under CEQA can be found at Santa Barbara County Environmental Review.

 Guidance Document

The District maintains a guidance document for assessing and mitigating air quality and greenhouse gas impacts. This document includes tools and methodologies to quantify air pollutant emissions and characterize impacts, and strategies to mitigate impacts. It also includes discussion of the California Emission Estimator Model (CalEEMod). CalEEMod version 2016.3.2 is available on the CalEEMod website for download. The June 2017 version of this document can be downloaded here: Scope and Content of Air Quality Sections in Environmental Documents.

(Note: Staff is currently working on a comprehensive update to this document.)

To request a print copy of either of these documents, contact [email protected].

See GHG Mitigation Strategies in Santa Barbara County, with input from September 2017 workshops incorporated.

See September 6, 2016 Notice about CEQA Greenhouse Gas Thresholds

This is an evolving policy area, especially in light of the passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB-32). As the California Air Resources Board and other state agencies and offices develop policies and regulations to address greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the interface between the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and these other programs may change.  Following is a list of activities and resources related to this topic:

  • The District has updated the District Environmental Review Guidelines to include a greenhouse gas thresholds of significance for new or modified stationary sources, for more information see our webpage Greenhouse Gases and CEQA.

  • The California Office of Planning & Research (OPR) developed amendments breezeto the CEQA Guidelines, which were adopted by the California Natural Resources Agency on December 30, 2009 and became effective March 18, 2010.  These amendments establish a framework for addressing global climate change impacts in the CEQA process, and include revisions to the Environmental Checklist Form (Appendix G) as well as to the Energy Conservation appendix (Appendix F).  A new section (§15064.4) has been added that provides an approach to assessing impacts from GHGs.  For additional information on these amendments, visit the Resources Agency’s website on CEQA Guidelines.

  • The California Air Pollution Control Officers Association (CAPCOA) released a resource guide, CEQA and Climate Change, in January 2008 to addressing GHG emissions from projects subject to the California Environmental Quality Act.  This resource guide was prepared to support local governments as they develop their programs and policies around climate change issues. It is not a guidance document, and is not intended to dictate or direct how any agency chooses to address GHG emissions. Rather, it is intended to provide a common platform of information about key elements of CEQA as they pertain to GHG, including an analysis of different approaches to setting significance thresholds. The resource guide also contains an organized review of available tools and models for evaluating GHG emissions, and an overview of strategies for mitigating potentially significant GHG emissions from projects.

  • The California Attorney General’s Office has compiled a comprehensive list of mitigation measures that can be applied to land use development projects, entitled Addressing Climate Change at the Project Level.

In 2005, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) developed an Air Quality and Land Use Handbook that was intended to serve as a general reference guide for evaluating and reducing air pollution impacts associated with new land use development projects.  As documented in the handbook and in subsequent health studies, living in proximity to freeways and high traffic roadways leads to adverse health effects beyond those associated with regional air pollution.  CARB’s handbook provides recommendations for appropriate distances between sources of air pollution and sensitive land uses, such as residences.

Freeway Santa Barbara

In 2015, the EPA released a document that both shows the importance of reducing children’s exposure to traffic-related air pollution and what schools and parents can do to reduce children’s exposure. For more information see Best Practices for Reducing Near-Road Air Pollution at Schools.

In April of 2017, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) released a Technical Advisory, “Strategies to Reduce Air Pollution Exposure Near High-Volume Roadways.” In response to this Technical Advisory, APCD has prepared a supplemental guidance document, District Guidance for Development near Busy Roadways in Santa Barbara County, that highlights relevant sections of the Technical Advisory and provides additional context for Santa Barbara County. For more information on the research behind this Advisory, see “Status of Research on Potential Mitigation Concepts to Reduce Exposure to Nearby Traffic Pollution” (CARB, 2012).

In order to provide consistency to lead agencies, project proponents, and the general public throughout the state, the California Air Pollution Control Officers Association (CAPCOA) prepared a guidance document, entitled “Health Risk Assessments for Proposed Land Use Projects,” to assist lead Agencies in complying with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when projects may involve exposure to toxic air contaminants.  This document, which can be accessed from the CAPCOA website, focuses on the acute, chronic, and cancer impacts of sources that may undergo CEQA review.  It also outlines the recommended procedures to identify when a project should undergo further risk evaluation, how to conduct the health risk assessment (HRA), how to engage the public, what to do with the results from the HRA, and what mitigation measures may be appropriate for various land-use projects.  With respect to health risks associated with locating sensitive land uses in proximity to freeways and other high traffic roadways, HRA modeling may not thoroughly characterize all the health risk associated with nearby exposure to traffic-generated pollutants.  Therefore, Santa Barbara County APCD does not recommend using HRA modeling as a tool for assessing health risk impacts for these types of projects.

APCD Advisory

California Proposition 64, The Adult Use of Marijuana Act, went into effect on January 1, 2018 and contains provisions that legalize the cultivation and growing, processing, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of cannabis and cannabis products. Local governments have the authority to regulate cannabis operations within their jurisdiction. The District prepared an APCD Advisory on Air Quality and Cannabis Operations, that provides local agencies and cannabis operators guidance regarding the air quality aspects of this industry. The advisory discusses the District’s regulatory limitations on odors from agricultural operations, recommendations for odor abatement, and cannabis-related operations that may require a District permit.

APCD Comment Letters

Land use agencies, such as Santa Barbara County and cities within the County, have forwarded cannabis-related land use proposals to the District for review and comment. Please see here for the District’s comment letters related to these projects.

Links to more information

Please see the Cannabis Permitting Requirements table to find out what cannabis-related equipment and operations require APCD permits and/or are subject to APCD nuisance requirements.

APCD Cannabis Permit Information

Jurisdictions within Santa Barbara County have adopted restrictions and/or regulations on cannabis-related land uses through their individual planning processes. Links are provided below.

County of Santa Barbara – Cannabis Regulation & Licensing

City of Buellton – Ordinance 18-02

City of Carpinteria – Ordinance No. 721

City of Goleta*** – Ordinance No. 18-02 and 18-03

***City of Goleta ordinance updated June 2019 to allow a maximum of 6 storefronts. For more information, please visit the City of Goleta’s website.

City of Guadalupe – Amendment 9.21

City of Lompoc – Cannabis Regulation & Licensing

City of Santa Barbara – Ordinance No. 5813

City of Santa Maria – Ordinance No. 2018-01

City of Solvang – Ordinance No: 11-12-22, Resolution No. 18-1064

Here are some helpful tools to estimate winery project emissions for environmental review.

  • Winery Project Information Worksheet– This worksheet lists all the required project information to use the Winery Excel and CalEEMod for project emissions estimates. Please fill out the worksheet prior to using the Winery Excel.
  • Winery Excel–  This Excel will estimate emissions from the winery fermentation process and equipment, such as boilers and emergency generators. Additionally, the Winery Excel will calculate the project specific trip rate needed for the CalEEMod emissions estimate.
  • How to Calculate Winery Emissions for CEQA– This pdf is a guide on how to use the Winery Excel and CalEEMod to estimate winery project emissions.

For more information on the District’s Land Use and Environmental Review program, contact [email protected].