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California State Cultural Considerations (11-CA-a)

In California, state cultural considerations are considered during the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process. In determining whether a project may have a significant impact on the environment, CEQA regulations consider historical resources as part of the environment. (Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 21001(b)).


The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), part of the State Historical Resources Commission has designed a program to identify, evaluate, register, and protect historical resources. The program lists four criteria for designating a historical resource. In order to be considered a significant historical resource the resource in question must:

  1. Be associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of local or regional history or the cultural heritage of California or the United States;
  2. Be associated with the lives of persons important to local, California, or national history;
  3. Embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, region, or method of construction, or represent the work of a master, or possess high artistic values; or
  4. Has yielded, or has the potential to yield, information important to the prehistory or history of the local area, California, or the nation.


See Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 5024.1(c).

A developer should contact the State Historical Resources Commission to determine if there are any listed historical resources within the proposed project’s site.

The California Register is an authoritative guide to California’s historical resources and establishes factors for considering what properties are considered significant for the purposes of CEQA. If the California Register has specifically listed a site or property as significant, the lead agency of a proposed project must determine if development will cause any adverse effects to the site or property. Although the California Register lists sites and properties as historical resources, a resource does not need to be listed in order to be considered a significant resource for the purposes of CEQA. In addition, local cities and counties may also designate certain areas as local historical resources. A developer should check with local authorities to determine the identity of any local historical resources.

See Cal. Pub. Res. Code §§ 21001(b); Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 5204.1(d)(5); CEQA and Historical Resources Technical Assistance.


State Cultural Considerations Process

11-CA-a.1 – Define Area of Potential Effect During CEQA Process

While the lead agency is considering the environmental impacts, the cultural considerations must be addressed as well. Typically the developer retains an archaeologist and a historian to perform the analysis. Before the archaeologist and historian conduct any studies, the lead agency must define the area to be considered by the archaeologist and historian.

11-CA-a.2 – Perform Literature Review

The archaeologist and historian perform a literature review. The state repository is usually the site of the literature review. The literature review will alert the archaeologist to any cultural resources that have already been discovered.

11-CA-a.3 – Conduct Surveys

The archaeologist and historian study/survey the area of potential effect. Oftentimes a special permit may be required to conduct the survey.

11-CA-a.4 – Draft Report

Following the cultural survey, the archaeologist completes a draft report to include any potential effects as well as recommended mitigation measures.

11-CA-a.5 – Review Draft Report

The archaeologist and historian’s draft report will be reviewed by the lead agency in the CEQA process. The lead agency will determine whether the proposed project will cause a substantial adverse change to a historical resource. If the proposed project will cause a substantial adverse change, the lead agency may determine that the project causes a significant impact on the environment for CEQA purposes and the proposed project will not be able to continue as planned. A substantial adverse change includes the demolition, destruction, relocation, or alteration in such a way that the significance of the historical resource would be impaired. See Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 5020.1(q).

Other impacts that are normally considered significant are impacts that will:

  • Disrupt or adversely affect a prehistoric or historic archeological site or a property of historic or cultural significance to a community or ethnic or social group; or a paleontological site except as a part of a scientific study.
  • Substantially disturb any area of possible cultural or historical significance.
  • Remove any structure determined to have historical significance.

See CEQA Environmental Review.

11-CA-a.6 to 11-CA-a.8 – Review Finding of the Lead Agency

Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 5024(f) requires state agencies to submit documentation for any project having the potential to affect historical resources to the SHPO for comment. In addition, Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 5024.5 requires state agencies to provide the SHPO with notice and a summary of a proposed action that will “alter the original or significant historical features or fabric, or transfer, relocate, or demolish historical resources on the master list maintained pursuant to Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 5024(d)…” 14 CCR § 15064.5(b)(5) requires lead agencies to consult with the SHPO in accordance with Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 5024.5 as part of the CEQA process. Consequently, the draft report should be submitted to the SHPO for review and comment.

11-CA-a.9 – Letter of Concurrence

If the SHPO reviews the draft report and agrees with the lead agency regarding the (1) the presence of historical resources at the site, (2) the potential adverse effects to historical resources, and (3) the proposed mitigation measures, the SHPO sends a letter documenting its concurrence with the proposed action. See Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 5024.5(c). Otherwise, the SHPO sends a letter requesting additional information in an attempt to resolve the disagreement. If the disagreement cannot be resolved, the SHPO reports to the Office of Planning and Research for mediation. See Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 5024.5(d).

11-CA-a.10 to 11-CA-a.11 – Are Historical Resources Present at the Project Site?

If the draft report determines that there are no historical resources present at the site there can be no significant effects. This should be noted in the CEQA document, but no further analysis is required.

11-CA-a.12 – Will the Project Cause Substantial Adverse Changes That Can Be Avoided or Mitigated?

If a proposed project will potentially cause a substantial adverse change to a historical resource, the lead agency in the CEQA process may require the developer to avoid or mitigate the change. Mitigation of significant impacts must lessen or eliminate the physical impact that the proposed project will have on the historical resource. A developer might consider redesigning the proposed project in order to avoid the objectionable or damaging aspects to the historical resource. The relocation of a historical resource may also be considered a mitigation measure, but the developer must consult with the lead agency to determine if this is a feasible option of mitigation or whether such a move would cause more damage to the historical resource. If the substantial adverse change to the historical resource can be avoided or mitigated, the lead agency may determine that the proposed project may continue as planned. The SHPO must concur with mitigation and avoidance measures. See 11-CA-a.6. See CEQA and Historical Resources Technical Assistance.

11-CA-a.13 – Incorporate Proposed Changes into the Project Plan and CEQA Analysis

If there are changes that the lead agency of the CEQA process determines will mitigate or avoid the significant impact that the proposed project will have on a historical resource, the developer must incorporate these changes into the project plan and CEQA analysis. See CEQA and Historical Resources Technical Assistance.

11-CA-a.14 – Cultural Consideration Report

After the lead agency for the CEQA process makes a final determination about the proposed project’s impacts on any historical resources, the lead agency issues a report containing its findings. The report will be added to any other CEQA documents that pertain to the proposed project. The cultural resource report helps the lead agency determine whether the proposed project will have a significant impact, no significant impact, or a mitigated impact on the environment. See Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 21000 et seq.

11-CA-a.15 – Include Report in CEQA Analysis

The lead agency includes the report in the CEQA analysis. During the CEQA process, the public may comment on the CEQA documents including the cultural report. The report is also distributed to the SHPO and potentially interested Native Americans through the CEQA process.




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