EIR is short for an Environmental Impact Report. It is a document which states what the potential impact would be of a given project. Each project has its own particular set of impacts on the neighboring environment, but the impacts most often looked at include noise, air quality, visual impact, traffic, etc.
The EIR will also contain mitigation measures to constrain the impacts to tolerable levels. When an EIR is released to the public, it is called a Draft EIR. The public then has a finite period of time to comment on it. These comments are then reviewed and (hopefully) reworked into the next draft of the EIR, called the Final EIR. The spacing and timing of the drafts and comment periods of an EIR are legislated by the California Environmental Quality Act, also known as CEQA (pronounced “see-kwah”).
Finally after preparation of the Final EIR and preliminary hearings by the Planning Commission, the EIR is wrapped up and presented before the County Board of Supervisors for approval. It is at this presentation that the public has one last chance to comment on the EIR’s contents and adequacy.
It is important to remember that the EIR is just a study document. Its purpose is to inform the public and the decision makers of the ramifications of their proposed decision. It has no teeth after the project is approved. The EIR informs the public about what special individualized changes should be made to better regulate a proposed project. When a project is proposed, the project’s plans, whether they be for the expansion of a college, the development of a building, or the formulation of zoning laws for future oil drilling, are first studied in the EIR to determine what kinds of impacts should be anticipated and how to reduce those impacts to tolerable levels. Thus, if no one comments or complains about what the EIR reveals, then the plans which have been studied will seem ready for approval. This is why an EIR is so important: it is your opportunity to influence the scale and scope of a particular project.