Helping Our Peninsula's Environment


BOOK REVIEW: Guide to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

1996 edition by Remy, Thomas, Moose and Manley.

(c) Copyright 1997-2001 David Dilworth

Who Do You Call?

You live in California and you've been trying to stop an outrageous project. Your suggestions for a less harmful project (smaller and more reasonable) are greeted with the same enthusiasm as if you had an infectious disease.

What do you do? Who do you call? Is there a guide book to help stop this outrage?

Yes. This is it. If you want to be an effective California activist and can only afford one book - get this one.

What's CEQA?

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is the one law that applies to every project in California and every governmental decision. And here, in one place, all the different methods and madness of CEQA are explained carefully and fairly thoroughly.

Using non-lawyer English, this book patiently explains, objectively and clearly, all the different parts of the CEQA process and what to expect when you file a CEQA lawsuit, replete with quotes from the most important cases.

You could get slightly discouraged that most burdens of litigation in CEQA is on you - not the agency. But you should be encouraged that 1) the burden of preparing evidence in CEQA is mostly on the agency, 2) the Standard of Review is generally against the Agency and 3) in my experience and the opinion of many agency planners, there is yet to be a completely CEQA-legal project approved in California. This means that the project you oppose will almost certainly be approved illegally.

Also the book helps you realize that when you appeal your suit you have a better chance of winning environmental protection. Appeals courts more often decide in the public interest and the State Supreme Court is better yet. That doesn't mean you win when you get to the Appeals Court, it only means that when you have a reasonable complaint - you generally get a fairer hearing upon appeal. It's probably because the County Superior Court Judges who first hear your case - party with the elected officials who approved the awful project in the first place.

What's in the Book?

The book contains the complete CEQA statutes (passed by the California legislature and signed by the Governor), the CEQA Guidelines (written by the Department of Resources) applicable Water Codes, and Internet resources. One section methodocially examines every step through each part of the process from the determination of a project to filing an appeal.

The many benefits of having this reference book are significant. Even experienced CEQA lawyers can't always give you clear advice on whether you can win a suit or not. Using this book you will be able to make that decision yourself. You'll be far less likely to file a suit that can't win. But best of all - you'll be able to find flaws in project approvals that you might not have understood before.

It includes 150 pages of summaries, with quotes, from the Court's decisions of the important cases that have shaped CEQA since its creation in 1970. These summaries help you understand very clearly when something in the CEQA and EIR process is not legally permissible.

What Could be Better?

It is difficult to find important information missing, but the index could be more comprehensive. The index at fourteen (14) pages is large, yet there is no index entry for "Environmentally Superior Alternative" and no primary entry for "Addendum" which is a nasty device agencies are now using to avoid disclosing a project's environmental damage.

It would be very helpful if the index covered the 150 page section on important cases. It may be because the cases are in an Appendix, but somehow that should be fixed. An 800 page book should index more than the first 436 pages. This is not fatal, it only makes more work for you. The CD-Rom version probably doesn't have this drawback - but it costs a lot more. This is a book you will use a lot. Knowing that, it would be helpful to have Tabs for different sections, like some phone books.

The 1993 edition I reviewed was also about 800 pages, but this newer edition uses smaller, but still easily readable, type to give you much more information. And of course the laws are updated up to May 1996.

Is It Worth the Price?

This volume is not cheap ($65 or $224 on CD-ROM), but it will pay for itself the first 15 minutes you talk to a CEQA lawyer while his/her "dollar clock" is running. It will pay for itself when you successfully talk a lawyer into doing the case at no cost to you - only on the certainty you will win.

It will pay for itself the first time you get the attention of a bureaucrat who was previously dead set on ignoring you and approving that project. It will pay for itself the first time you win a case that a misinformed lawyer tried to talk you out of. But best of all your reasoning will now based on facts and law that can persuade a Judge to stop that damn project. Now if only there was a book this good on the Endangered Species Acts... Stay tuned.

From Solano Press: ISBN No. 0-923956-43-3 707 884 4508 or

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This Page Last Updated 8/16/02