June 27, 2019
The Governor of California
President pro Tempore of the Senate
Speaker of the Assembly
Sacramento, California 95814
Dear Governor and Legislative Leaders:
As directed by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, the California State Auditor performed an audit of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (department) duties and activities related to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The following report concludes that the department has failed to meet its responsibilities under CEQA.
As the highest state authority overseeing California’s fish and wildlife resources, the department’s input on CEQA documents, such as environmental impact reports, is critical. However, in recent years, the department has reviewed less than half of the CEQA documents it received. The department frequently does not respond to consultation requests and rarely provides comments on draft CEQA documents. In 2018 the department provided formal comments on just 8 percent of draft CEQA documents it received. Because it lacks policies for prioritizing and reviewing CEQA documents, the department cannot ensure that its staff are consistently reviewing projects with potentially significant impacts on the environment.
Further, the department has not ensured that it spends the filing fee paid by project applicants and public agencies subject to CEQA exclusively on its CEQA activities. Although state law restricts the use of the filing fee revenue to fund only activities related to its CEQA responsibilities, the department keeps this revenue in a shared account with revenues for other functions, and it does not track the CEQA revenue and expenditures separately from the other functions. In fact, we determined that from fiscal years 2012–13 through 2016–17, the department spent $5.7 million in CEQA filing fee revenue to subsidize non-CEQA programs.
Similarly, the department’s current timekeeping practices do not differentiate between staff time spent on CEQA activities and staff time spent on other departmental work. Even though the department has frequently cited insufficient staff resources as the cause for its inability to meet its CEQA responsibilities, without accurately capturing the amount of time staff spend working on CEQA activities, it cannot correctly determine either its necessary staff resources or the amount it should charge for filing fees.
ELAINE M. HOWLE, CPA
California State Auditor