- Barrier Aesthetics
- Blue Star Memorial Highways
- Classified Landscaped Freeways
- Community ID
- Context Sensitive Solutions
- Erosion Control Toolbox
- Gateway Monuments
- Main Streets
- Mission Bells
- New Product Review
- Policy and Procedures
- Roadside Toolbox
- Safety Roadside Rest Area System
- Scenic Highways
- Transportation Art
- Visual Impact Assessment Outlines
- VIA Training
- Water Conservation
Policy and Process
- Rationale for Assessing Visual Impacts
- Rationale for VIA Training
- Regulatory Setting
- VIA Overview
- Team Project Introduction
Visual Quality and Visual Impacts
Module 1: Policy and Process
Lesson 4: Regulatory Setting
The fourth lesson is on the regulatory setting in which a VIA must be developed.
A visual impact assessment is typically conducted to meet both NEPA and CEQA requirements. In addition to federal and state contexts, a VIA may also be necessary to evaluate conformance to local regulations.
Regulatory Setting Overview
There are three main regulatory settings—federal, state, and local—that affect a VIA. The following slides deal with one of these settings at a time.
Regulatory Setting - Federal
The federal setting is dominated by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) passed by Congress in late 1968 and signed into law by President Nixon in early 1969. NEPA has been the law of the land for over 40 years. It states unequivocally that it is the responsibility of the federal government to preserve visual quality, stating “it is the continuing responsibility of the Federal Government to use all practicable means…to…assure for all Americans … aesthetically …pleasing surroundings.”
Other acts of Congress, Executive Orders, and regulations, such as Section 106 of the Historic Preservation Act and the federal Coastal Zone Management Act, follow this general requirement with specific injunctions. No level of government that uses federal funds is to allow its projects to make the environment less attractive.
Regulatory Setting - State
At the state level, the regulatory setting is similar to what is found at the federal level—an overarching law, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) followed by laws enacted to protect specific scenic resources, such as the California coastline. CEQA itself has requirements related to protecting scenic resources along state designated scenic roads.
Regulatory Setting - Local
Although legally federal and state governments are not subject to the authority of local jurisdictions, as a practical matter Caltrans works with local jurisdictions in matters of aesthetics. Both regional and municipal agencies may have certain landscapes or structures that have varying levels of aesthetic protection, such as parks or historic sites. Although these elements may have other protections (such as 4(f) and Section 106) under federal or state law, understanding what resources have been protected by local units of government for aesthetic reasons will, at a minimum, help the author of a VIA understand viewer sensitivity. CEQA, in fact, requires that Caltrans evaluate if its proposed projects are consistent with local plans, including visual requirements.
Local units of government may also adopt rules, regulations, or ordinances that affect the visual environment, such a “dark-skies” ordinances which may affect how Caltrans elects to light a particular highway, bridge, or a maintenance or other facility. The Landscape Architect writing a VIA should coordinate with the Environmental Generalist about these local requirements.