In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state and several local jurisdictions have issued orders/rules in the last few weeks that affect not only the timing of processing land use and planning entitlements, but also the filing of California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and other claims challenging land use projects and approvals in California courts. The situation is fluid, but this entry summarizes some of the major orders affecting planning and CEQA deadlines.
In one of the most significant developments, on April 6, 2020, the Judicial Council of California issued Emergency Rules to address impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the judicial branch. Among other things, the Judicial Council added emergency rule 9 to the Rules of Court, which tolls the time to file any type of civil litigation from April 6, 2020 until 90 days after California Governor Gavin Newsom lifts the state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a significant time extension for many civil case types, and CEQA claims in particular, as they otherwise must be filed within 30 or 35 days of agency action. In practice, this means that project proponents and lead agencies will likely have a longer period of uncertainty related to whether a project will be challenged in court, both during the state of emergency and for some time afterward.
Since the COVID-19 crisis began, advocates for the plaintiffs’ bar, community activists, and legal scholars have been pressing for continuances of administrative and litigation deadlines, including the deadlines for public comment on environmental review under CEQA. But on March 24, 2020, just five days after the Governor issued a stay at home order for the entire state, the Office of Planning and Research (“OPR”) announced that “[a]t this time, there has been no change to the deadlines, noticing, or filing requirements contained within CEQA.”
Further, some local jurisdictions have been issuing their own orders to address COVID-19 and its impacts on planning departments and acceptance of new applications. For example, the mayor of Los Angeles issued an emergency order to toll and extend certain land use-related deadlines and time limits as provided in the Los Angeles Municipal Code. The City of Santa Cruz is not accepting new planning applications at this time. The City of Mountain View is not accepting new planning applications for a majority of non-residential projects (healthcare projects and essential function projects are still being processed).
The situation is fluid and rapidly changing, given the uncertain nature of the pandemic. Accordingly, developers, agencies, and public stakeholders should carefully consider and monitor orders being issued by the judicial branch, as well as state and local agencies, to evaluate the potential effects on planning and CEQA deadlines, and on existing and potential land use and CEQA litigation.