Understanding CEQA for the California Supplemental Exam for Landscape Architects

Regulatory Agency Series: Part 6

Why CEQA is Important for Landscape Architects

CEQA stands for the California Environmental Quality Act and affects certain landscape architect projects. Here are some things about CEQA that may help you answer question about regulatory agencies and programs on the California Supplemental Exam  (CSE) for landscape architects

CEQA is the California Environmental Quality Act

The California state legislature passed CEQA to create processes and a permitting structure that would increase oversight on projects that could potentially damage the environment.

CEQA usually is applied to larger projects that meet certain triggering criteria.

Land development and construction projects sometimes fall under CEQA regulations.

Automatic CEQA Triggers

Here are some questions to ask when evaluating a project to determine if CEQA review will be necessary:

  • Are there historical resources present as defined in California Code 15064.5?
  • Does the site have archaeological resources covered under to California Code 15064.5?
  • Are there unique paleontological resource or site or unique geologic features present?
  • Will human remains (interred in a cemetery or otherwise) be disturbed by proposed site development?
  • Does development threaten existing scenic vistas?
  • Is the site located in or next to a scenic highway?

If you can answer yes to any of the above items, your project must undergo a CEQA review.

Other Situations That May Trigger CEQA Review

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) also examines the following infrastructure elements when determining if a project will have a significant impact on existing conditions.

Observe and record the following during the site inventory process:

Emergency & Government Services

Are there existing government emergency services located near the site (i.e. fire protection, police protection, public schools, parks, and/or other government facilities)?


Is the site or surrounding area serviced by public utilities (i.e. wastewater, potable water, storm water management, and waste disposal facilities)?


Are their existing neighborhood or regional parks in the area? Other sensitive areas include the following areas and situations:

Endangered Species

Are there any rare, threatened, candidate, or endangered species that live on or use the site during some or all the year?

Invasive Species

Are there invasive plants or animals on the site?

Rivers and Streams

Are rivers or streams flowing through or next to the site?

Threats to Groundwater

Is there an available aquifer or other source of underground water than can be used? Will use of wells tax the recharge ability of the aquifer?

Erosion and Siltation

Will the project alter a stream course or river in a manner which would result in substantial erosion or siltation on site or offsite?

Conflicts with Wildlife Habitat

Does the project have the potential to “conflict with the provisions of an adopted Habitat Conservation Plan, Natural Community Conservation Plan, or other approved local, regional, or state habitat conservation plan?”

Migratory Wildlife

Does the movement of any native resident or migratory fish or wildlife species or established native resident or migratory wildlife corridors occur or exist on or through the site? Are there wildlife nursery sites or breeding grounds on the site?

Riparian Habitat

Is there riparian habitat or other sensitive natural community identified in local or regional plans, policies, regulations or by the California Department of Fish and Game or US Fish and Wildlife Service?

Special Status Species

Are there any species identified as a candidate, sensitive, or special status species in local or regional plans, policies, or regulations, or by the California Department of Fish and Game or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?


Is the site currently classified as “Prime Farmland”, “Unique Farmland”, or “Farmland of Statewide Importance”, as shown on the maps prepared pursuant to the Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program of the California Resources Agency, to nonagricultural use?

Significant Natural Features

Are there existing scenic resources, such as, significant trees, rock outcroppings, and historic buildings on site?

CEQA and Landscape Architecture

As you can see, there are several ways that a project can trigger CEQA review. It is best to identify conditions that could trigger CEQA review early in the design process. Know the basics of the California Environmental Quality Act so that you can confidently answer any questions on the CSE exam.

For More Information on Regulatory Agencies:

  1. Part 1: Introduction to Regulatory Agencies on the California Supplemental Exam
  2. Part 2: US Army Corps of Engineers
  3. Part 3: Federal Emergency Management Agency
  4. Part 4: United States Fish and Wildlife Service
  5. Part 5: California Department of Fish and Game
  6. Part 6: California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

Pass the California Supplemental Exam (CSE) for Landscape Architects e-book study guideIf you are looking for a study guide to help you prepare to pass the CSE the first time, check out Pass the California Supplemental Exam for Landscape Architects study guide e-book.


John is a landscape architect who is currently preparing to take the California Supplemental Exam to become licensed in California. He is currently a licensed professional landscape architect in Georgia and Florida. John graduated from California State University, Pomona with a BSLA degree in landscape architecture in 1997 and has extensive practice experience in residential and commercial landscape design.

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