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On April 23, 2020, Governor Newsom signed Executive Order N-54-20 (the “Order”) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which eased procedural legal requirements as to a variety of types of civil actions, including CEQA cases.  In order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the Governor has proclaimed a State of Emergency, and shelter in place orders have required state and local governments and members of the public to implement social distancing protocols statewide.  Recognizing that physical distancing protocols may prevent lead agencies, responsible agencies, and project applicants from complying with CEQA’s public filing and noticing requirements, the Order suspends all such requirements for 60 days, until June 22, 2020.  The suspension does not apply to provisions governing the timeline for public review.  It also does not apply to the requirement to publish and mail notices of preparation to interested parties and contiguous property owners and occupants.

Specifically, the suspension applies to public noticing requirements for notices of preparation of an environmental impact report, negative declaration, or mitigated negative declaration, notices of availability, notices of determination, and notices of exemption required under CEQA.  Normally, such notices must be posted in the county clerk’s office where the proposed project or action is located. In light of the statewide orders and distancing protocols, posting of such notices is impractical if not impossible for offices that have limited public access during the pandemic.  (See Order, suspending timelines under Pub. Resources Code, §§ 21092.3, 21152; CEQA Guidelines, §§ 15062(c)(2), (c)(4), 15072(d), 15075 (a),(d),(e), 15087(d), 15094(a), (d), (e).)

During the suspended period, if a lead agency, responsible agency, or project applicant would have otherwise been required to file or post public CEQA materials under these rules, it must now:

  1. post the materials on the agency or applicant’s public-facing website for the same period of time;
  2. submit all materials to the State Clearinghouse CEQAnet Web Portal; and
  3. engage in outreach with interested parties.

The Order further encourages lead agencies, responsible agencies, and project applicants to pursue additional methods of public notice and outreach tailored to what is appropriate for particular projects and communities.

Paragraph 9 of the Order suspends deadlines for consultation with Native American Tribes under Public Resources Code sections 21080.3.1 and 21082.3 for 60 days.  These statutes require a lead agency to begin consultation within 30 days of receipt of a request for consultation by the Tribe.  They also require that when a public agency determines that a project application is complete or decides to undertake a project it must notify affiliated Tribes within 14 days.

The Governor’s Order follows a series of prior orders of Judicial Council, California courts, and the California Office of Planning and Research.  For more information, see our previous post on the April 6, 2020 Order tolling the time to file any civil case, including all CEQA cases until 90 days after the State of Emergency is lifted.