Given California’s extensive environmental laws, it might make sense to have a few planning firms at the ready.
County Supervisors recently did just that when they approved 5-year contracts with three environmental planning firms paying millions each year, to have them on call and ready to step in quickly to work on big projects.
The contracts are with Aspen Environmental Group, Inc., MRS Environmental, Inc., and SWCA Environmental Consultants, Inc., for $1.5 million the first year and $500,000 maximum a year after that for a total contract amount of $3.5 million.
In a staff report from the Environmental Office of Planning and Building Department, it was explained that the department has “on call” special service providers “to help expedite preparation of environmental and planning documents such as environmental impact reports (EIR), negative declarations, technical studies, mitigation monitoring plans, general plan amendments, and land use and subdivision reports. The consultants also provide special expertise and mitigation monitoring services.”
The three companies were chosen from 15 responses the County recieved to a request for proposals to become an on call firm after an old contract expired in September 2022 before the County could get around to issuing a new RFP.
The County cited limited resources and “several pressing priority projects,” as why it didn’t get the RFP done before the contracts expired.
“The major benefit of doing this RFP,” the report said, “and contracting for on-call services, is that it shortens the time for the consultant to start work on a given project. This is because the RFP and contract negotiation process, which can take 8-10 weeks, is done once instead of for each separate project.”
The County is anticipating a big EIR project will soon come its way — the decommissioning of the Phillips 66 refinery. That Nipomo facility is expected to cease operations soon and it will be a monumental job shuttering it, cleaning up and restoring the land.
But it won’t just be the big EIR jobs that these firms will help with, as the County Planning & Building Department has seen an exodus of employees in recent years and is short handed to handle even simple environmental work, including “negative declarations, technical studies, mitigation monitoring plans, general plan amendments, and land use and subdivision reports. The consultants also provide special expertise and mitigation monitoring services. “
The whole idea with the on-call contracts is to “help expedite the land use and environmental review process, and provide special expertise, as needed. This is consistent with the County goal of a prosperous and well governed community.”
It should be noted that the County’s Environmental Division doesn’t itself do full blown EIRs, but can do negative declarations and so-called “mitigated neg-decs,” which are mainly just a checkmark list of potential impacts that come with ready-made mitigation measures.
When a mitigated neg-dec is insufficient is when full-blown EIRs are required and applicants normally pay those costs, including County expenses. A full EIR on something like the refinery decommissioning, could cost applicants several million dollars.