Phase I: Office Investigations

Performing a Title Search | Review Agency Files | Scaled Site Maps | Aerial Photos | Enforcement | Environmentally Sensitive Locations in California

Phase I Office Investigations for Closed, Illegal, and Abandoned (CIA) disposal sites are similar to Comprehensive Environmental Restoration, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) Phase I Investigations and the Site Investigation Process (SIP) established by CalRecycle for CIA sites.

The purpose of these investigations is to obtain as much available information regarding a site from existing agency files, reports, and databases. This information may include property owner information, enforcement documentation, inspection documents, maps and drawings, historical aerial photos, permits, and previous investigation reports (e.g., air and water Solid Waste Assessment Testing (SWAT) reports. Additionally, when investigating a burn dump, a reasonable search to identify designated environmentally sensitive locations in California should be conducted.

A site visit or field inspection may be performed as part of a Phase I office investigation, however, no field work is performed, such as surveying, intrusive investigation, or sampling. Generally, the information obtained from the Site Investigation Process (SIP) will meet the requirements for a Phase I office investigation. For the forms used in the SIP process, visit the LEA Central forms page.

Performing a Title Search

When conducting a phase I office investigation it is necessary to obtain a assessor parcel number or a parcel map in order to obtain a title or deed for the property in question. The title or deed helps to establish the responsible party as well as the contact person for that particular piece of property and is helpful in obtaining history of past tenants or any attachments that may be included with the deed.

  1. To conduct the title search you must have the physical address of the property in question and the name of the property owner. If both the physical address and the property owner’s name are unknown, research can be done at the County Assessors Office by looking up the property’s street and/or road name on parcel maps.
  2. Once you know the address and owner contact the appropriate County Assessors Office, provide them with the address and owner of the property and request an assessors parcel number (APN #). With the APN # the Assessors Office can provide the document number of the title or deed.
  3. With the APN # and the title/deed document number you can contact the County Recorder’s Office to request a copy of current or past deeds for the property in question.

Review Agency Files and Reports

Files and reports such as air and water Solid Waste Assessment Tests (SWAT) that  have been developed from an analysis of a CIA site that is being investigated should be reviewed. It may therefore be necessary to contact agencies such as the Air Quality Management District and the Regional Water Quality Control Board to obtain reports which will be utilized as part of the Office Investigation.

Scaled Site Maps

The site map graphically illustrates the physical characteristics of the subject site (boundaries, size, orientation, landmarks, improvements/structures). In addition, it shows the location of the disposal site within the property, and it can be used to choose sampling locations or plot a sampling grid for Phase II investigations.

Sometimes the landowner or tenant may have a site map available for the subject site. It is always a good idea to double check the boundaries, the north direction, the scale, the measurements, and the locations of benchmarks and or structures to make sure that the site map accurately reflects the current conditions at the subject site. If there is no map available then you will need to develop a scaled site map.

One way to do so is to have a contractor fly an aerial photograph of the site and develop a map using software that identifies the topography of the area photographed.

Another way to develop a site map is to hire a surveyor to traverse the boundaries and mark the locations of structures and benchmarks using GPS technology. The surveyor can then generate an accurate site map. If any details are missing, you can take field measurements and use drawing software to add the features you need to an electronic or scanned copy of the site map.

If none of these options are feasible, if the site is relatively small or if money is an issue then a scaled site map can be developed by walking the site with a wheel and 100-ft measuring tape and measuring the boundaries, structures, utilities (if applicable), landmarks, and benchmarks. Often a good landmark may be as simple a tree or bush that is different from the rest of the surrounding flora. Be sure to note the north direction with regards to the site. It is also a good idea to include the relative location of the subject site to any roads or highways, bodies of water, or any other prominent landmark that will help you identify the site on a topographic, aerial or parcel map. A field sketch containing all of the measurements taken at the site can be converted to a scaled drawing (usually 1 inch = 40, 50, or 60 feet) with a little patience and just about any drawing program.

Historical Aerial Photos

Aerial photographs may be used for the manual interpretation of land use and land cover characteristics for comparison with other photographs, plans, maps or drawings of the site. They can also be of help when performing a preliminary waste area and volume estimate prior to a field investigation or topographic survey of the site. When preparing a Phase I Investigation, aerial photography resources are varied, but online resources can be advantageous when a common computer system with internet access is available. Some of these sites include:

The MSR Maps (formerly Microsoft TerraServer website) is one of the world’s largest online databases, providing free public access to a vast data store of maps and aerial photographs of the United States. TerraServer is designed to work with commonly available computer systems and Web browsers over slow speed communications links. For more information on this resource, visit Using Microsoft TerraServer.

Google Earth Software Tools to Support CIA Site Investigations: A presentation developed by CalRecycle staff that provides an overview of Google Earth software tools that contain the capabilities to develop data such as site maps that depict disposal site features. The developed data regarding CIA disposal sites can be used for a variety of purposes like historical information and site investigation. A specific presentation on “Using Google Earth for Historical Aerial Photo Analysis” provides detailed information and instructions on using the Google Earth “Overlay Tool” to import and analyze historical aerial photographs for the purpose of investigating the areal or horizontal extent of a disposal site.


Enforcement is an essential tool in the investigation and analysis of Closed, Illegal, and Abandoned Sites. It provides for necessary actions, such as acquiring site access, abatement, notifications, stipulated agreements, and compliance with Title 14 California Code Regulations. LEAs have discretion in determining what enforcement actions to take, however it is recommended that compliance be pursued through all available means before taking a formal enforcement action. Appropriate and timely enforcement actions are necessary for building defensible enforcement cases, however. For more information on enforcement please refer to Enforcement Tools and Case Work.

Designated Environmentally Sensitive Locations in California

During the site assessment process for a burn dump, a reasonable effort should be made to determine if the site is located in a designated environmentally sensitive area, such as a wetland, wildlife refuge, or designated endangered species habitat.

The purpose for this research is so that field investigation activities (e.g. drilling, trenching) will not disturb or destroy designated environmentally sensitive areas. Since the site investigation process (SIP) is not considered a project under CEQA, there is no formal mechanism to require the mitigation of activities associated with field investigations.

Documents to assist in determining designated environmentally sensitive locations

Resource Web Sites

Good Local Government Access Web Site

Useful Habitat Designation Maps

  • Designated wetland
  • Designated endangered species habitat
  • Designated wildlife refuges
  • Navigable waterways