On April 22, 2020, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order that suspended for 60 days certain public filing, posting, notice, and public access requirements under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). This order affects all projects in the state requiring a governmental approval that triggers environmental review. This could be anything from a commercial development project to a municipality’s general plan.
This suspension, which was part of Executive Order N-54-20, is meant to address some of the hurdles we all face during the COVID-19 pandemic. The order stated: “[D]ue to physical distancing protocols, it may be impossible or impracticable for lead agencies, responsible agencies, and project applicants to adhere to certain public filing and notice requirements under [the CEQA].” Further, “strict compliance with various statutes and regulations [such as the CEQA laws specified in the order] would prevent, hinder, or delay appropriate actions to prevent and mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The 60-day suspension primarily concerns posting, notice and filing requirements when a lead agency requires an environmental impact report (EIR) [Pub. Res. Code, §§ 21080.4, 21092.3]; adopts a negative declaration or a mitigated negative declaration [id., §§ 21092, 21092.3]; approves a project [id., § 21152]; exempts a project from CEQA review [Cal. Code Regs., tit. 14, § 15062(c)(2)]; then posts a draft EIR for public review [Pub. Res. Code, § 21091].
Importantly, however, “[t]he suspension does not apply to provisions governing the time for public review” (emphasis added). Interested parties must be diligent about tracking CEQA decisions by lead agencies, otherwise one risks missing the opportunity to submit public comments and, as a consequence, fail to maintain standing to appeal a CEQA decision.
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