Bringing Your Project Application and Biological Surveys Up to Date

There is a shortage of housing stock in the Bay Area. Environmental protections and development constraints are greater than ever. Land values are climbing higher than at the height of the 2008 bubble.

Many developments that began the planning process in the 2007-2008 era were shelved because of the national financial crisis.  Now many of those projects are economically viable again.  Technical studies were performed as part of the application process for development permits, and in most cases the application has expired by now.  In others, the application may still be active, but certain surveys may be out of date and to be performed again.

Here are five simple pointers to get your project moving again with as little risk as possible.

  1. Check if your original application has expired.  If the application is expired, the lead agency is likely to request new surveys and studies to support your new application.  Even if the application is not expired, the agency may require updated surveys – particularly for biological resources because they have the potential to undergo the most change.
  2. Renew surveys whenever there is doubt. Having an application deemed to be incomplete in the later stages of processing impacts your project’s schedule.  Similarly, the lead agency may determine that outdated survey information is inadequate to support CEQA.  This would result in the need for an updated survey or a new survey by a different environmental consulting firm.  Remember, some surveys are seasonal and can only be conducted at certain times of the year.
  3. Five years is often “too old” for a technical survey. This is debatable in some cases, but in others the rules are definitive. Most agencies will require renewal of 5-10 year old surveys.  Approved jurisdictional wetland determinations are only good for 5 years.  Biological surveys are most likely to be outdated after 5 years whereas one rarely needs to update a geotechnical report or cultural report as those conditions are not nearly as dynamic.
  4. Survey renewal will depend on the lead agency. Application requirements can differ between each lead agency and/or the applicant may choose to do more technical surveys and reports than required of the application as it would still be needed later (e.g., traffic report).
  5. External changes can change your game plan.  Laws, regulations, or survey protocols that are new or revised can have a big effect on what you need to do to get your project back on track.  Factors that may warrant updated surveys/reports include:  1) changes in laws or regulations, such as regular 5-year updates of the Nationwide Permit Program, newly listed species, new water quality regulations, new GHG (greenhouse gas) requirements, etc.; 2) changes in the boundary  or zoning of a given site warrants consideration of new surveys because the level of potential impact may have changed; 3) change in the size of the project or local demographics may require updated traffic surveys or aesthetic evaluation and other similar reports that re-quantify potential impacts.