What is the "Field Act"?
Following the magnitude 6.3 Long Beach Earthquake of 1933, in which over 230 school buildings were destroyed or severely damaged, the Governor and Legislature swiftly enacted legislation to enact minimum standards for the design and construction of all K-12 school buildings. The Field Act (California Education Code sections 17280-17317) is built upon four basic principles: seismic design standards, plan review, construction inspection, and special tests.

The Field Act requires, among other things, that the Division of State Architect (DSA) write design standards for public school construction; public school construction plans must be designed by qualified California-licensed architects and engineers; designs and plans must be approved by the DSA for compliance with the Field Act prior to award of construction contracts; qualified, independent inspectors are to provide continuous inspection throughout construction to verify compliance with the DSA-approved plans; special tests as may be required by the DSA are to be conducted by certified testing laboratories; and architects, engineers, contractors, and inspectors are required to verify, under penalty of perjury, that actual construction complies with the DSA-approved plans.

While there are various specified uses that are exempt from the Act, the Field Act generally requires that all public school facilities comply with rules and regulations adopted pursuant to the Act and building standards set forth in Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations.

What is CEQA, and when does it apply to a District project?
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was enacted in 1970 for the protection of environmental resources. CEQA is codified in California Public Resources Code section 21000 et seq., with guidelines set forth in Title 14, section 15000 et seq. of the California Code of Regulations. CEQA defines procedures for environmental review and impact analysis of projects that need approval by local or state agencies, whereby the potential environmental impacts of a proposed project are fully-assessed, quantified, disclosed, minimized, and eliminated whenever possible.

CEQA applies to certain activities of state and local public agencies. A public agency must comply with CEQA when it undertakes an activity defined by CEQA as a "project." A project is an activity undertaken by a public agency or a private activity that must receive some non-ministerial, discretionary approval (meaning that the agency has the authority to deny the requested permit or approval) from a government agency that may cause either a direct physical change in the environment or a reasonably foreseeable indirect change in the environment. Every development project that requires a discretionary governmental approval will undergo at least some environmental review pursuant to CEQA, unless an exemption applies. Certain types of projects that are, by their nature, not expected to damage the environment may be exempt from environmental review requirements. Unless a project is exempt from CEQA, however, the public agency must conduct in-depth studies, prepare detailed reports and make certain findings prior to and in support of its approval of the project.

Accordingly, the public agency must first prepare an Initial Study to assess whether implementation of a project may result in significant environmental impacts. Based upon the conclusions set forth in the Initial Study, one of three documents will be adopted by the public agency: (i) a Negative Declaration, if it is determined there is no substantial evidence that the project may have a significant effect on the environment, (ii) a Mitigated Negative Declaration, if it is determined that the project would have significant environmental impacts that may be mitigated to a level of less than significant, or (iii) an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), if there is substantial evidence in the record that supports a fair argument that significant environmental impacts may occur. The EIR is a detailed, informational document that serves to inform the public agency decision-makers and the public generally of the significant environmental effects of a project, the possible ways to minimize the identified significant impacts of the project, and reasonable alternatives to the project.