OPPORTUNITIES AND REQUIREMENTS FOR PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT IN THE CEQA AND GENERAL PLAN PROCESSES
By Jeannie Lee*
Stakeholder engagement is a critical element of public agency decision-making processes. In addition to being required by law, robust engagement in a decision-making process can improve decisions, help decision-makers be more responsive to public needs, achieve shared vision and goals, and improve accountability. In California, two state statutory schemesâthe California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Public Resources Code §§ 21000 et seq., and the Planning and Zoning Law, Government Code §§ 65100 et seq.âhave requirements and opportunities for public engagement in environmental review and land use planning processes.
Both CEQA and general plan law generally establish floors, rather than ceilings, for public engagement. Public agencies may and should use their discretion to craft public engagement strategies that are appropriate for their communities and engage the public early in the planning and environmental processes. In doing so, public agencies should consider the particular needs and constraints of their communities, and ways to maximize opportunities for connecting with the public. For example, a public agency might make all environmental and planning documents available electronically on an agency’s website (a common practice of many public agencies, and which CEQA regulations encourage).1 Additionally, a public agency may take other measures to reach members of the public early on who do not have ready access to the Internet or who are otherwise unable to access information online. Early conversations with the public and affected communities can help ensure that public agencies are able to accurately identify the nature of any environmental burdens, and other concerns that should be considered during the planning and CEQA processes.