Title 14. California Code of Regulations

Chapter 3. Guidelines for Implementation of the

California Environmental Quality Act

 

Article 8. Time Limits

 

Sections 15100 to 15112

15100. General

 

(a) Public agencies shall adopt time limits to govern their implementation of CEQA consistent with this article.

 

(b) Public agencies should carry out their responsibilities for preparing and reviewing EIRs within a reasonable period of time. The requirement for the preparation of an EIR should not cause undue delays in the processing of applications for permits or other entitlements to use.

 

Note: Authority cited: Section 21083, Public Resources Code; Reference: Sections 21000-21176, Public Resources Code.

 

Discussion: Subsection (a) identifies the requirements for state and local agencies to adopt time limits to implement CEQA. Adoption of these time limits is required by Sections 21100.2 and 21151.5. Requirements for specific time limits are scattered throughout the statute, so the citation of individual code sections in the note for this section would be so long as to be of little use. Where particular time limits are discussed in the later sections of this article, the specific statutory sections are referenced. Subsection (b) states the overriding policy consideration that applies throughout CEQA for agencies to carry out their responsibilities in an expeditious manner. This concern for expeditious processing was shown when the Legislature enacted Chapter 1200 of the statutes of 1977 (AB 884). That bill added many time limits to CEQA as well as providing time limits for the processing of development permits under the Government Code.

 

15101. Review of Application for Completeness

 

A Lead Agency or Responsible Agency shall determine whether an application for a permit or other entitlement for use is complete within 30 days from the receipt of the application except as provided in Section 15111. If no written determination of the completeness of the application is made within that period, the application will be deemed complete on the 30th day.

 

Note: Authority cited: Section 21083, Public Resources Code; Reference: Section 21083, Public Resources Code; Section 65943, Government Code.

 

Discussion: This section is necessary for coordinating the CEQA review of an application with the review of the application for completeness under other statutes. Government Code Section 65943 requires an agency to rule on the completeness of an application within 30 days. Government Code Section 65950 provides that the CEQA time periods shall begin on the same date as the permit processing time limits under the Government Code.

 

15102. Initial Study

 

The Lead Agency shall determine within 30 days after accepting an application as complete whether it intends to prepare an EIR or a Negative Declaration or use a previously prepared EIR or Negative Declaration except as provided in Section 15111. The 30 day period may be extended 15 days upon the consent of the lead agency and the project applicant.

 

Note: Authority cited: Section 21083, Public Resources Code; Reference: Section 21080.2, Public Resources Code.

 

Discussion: This section identifies the statutory requirement for the Lead Agency to make a determination within 30 days as to whether it will prepare an EIR or a Negative Declaration for a project. This section also allows for a 15 day extension of the 30 day period upon consent of the lead agency and the project applicant. The requirement is inserted here in the interest of clarity and completeness of this article dealing with time limits. The section adds to the statutory provisions the possibility of using a previously prepared EIR or Negative Declaration as is allowed by the Guidelines.

 

Public Resources Code Section 21151.5 provides that if a draft EIR, EIR, or focused EIR is to be prepared under contract to a local agency, the contract shall be executed within 45 days from the date on which the agency releases a notice of preparation. This limit may be extended in the face of compelling circumstances, with the approval of the project applicant.

 

15103. Response to Notice of Preparation

 

Responsible and Trustee Agencies, and the Office of Planning and Research shall provide a response to a Notice of Preparation to the Lead Agency within 30 days after receipt of the notice. If they fail to reply within the 30 days with either a response or a well justified request for additional time, the Lead Agency may assume that none of those entitles have a response to make and may ignore a late response.

 

Note: Authority cited: Section 21083, Public Resources Code; Reference: Sections 21080.4, Public Resources Code.

 

Discussion: This section identifies the statutory requirement for Responsible Agencies and Trustee Agencies to respond to a Notice of Preparation within 30 days after receiving the notice. The time period is supplemented by an interpretation allowing the Lead Agency to disregard late responses. The sanction on disregarding late responses is necessary to provide meaning to the time limit.

 

15104. Convening of Meetings

 

The Lead Agency shall convene a meeting with agency representatives to discuss the scope and content of the environmental information a Responsible Agency will need in the EIR as soon as possible but no later than 30 days after receiving a request for the meeting. The meeting may be requested by the Lead Agency, a Responsible Agency, a Trustee Agency, the Office of Planning and Research or by the project applicant.

 

Note: Authority cited: Section 21083, Public Resources Code; Reference: Section 21080.4, Public Resources Code.

 

Discussion: This section identifies the requirement for convening a meeting to discuss the contents of a draft EIR being prepared by a Lead Agency where such a meeting has been requested. This requirement is also statutory. This requirement is presented in the Guidelines in the logical sequence with other time limits. In this way, people implementing the law are likely to be made aware of this requirement and comply with it.

 

15105. Public Review Period for a Draft EIR or a Proposed Negative Declaration or Mitigated Negative Declaration

 

(a) The public review period for a draft EIR shall not be less than 30 days nor should it be longer than 60 days except under unusual circumstances. When a draft EIR is submitted to the State Clearinghouse for review by state agencies, the public review period shall not be less than 45 days, unless a shorter period, not less than 30 days, is approved by the State Clearinghouse.

 

(b) The public review period for a proposed negative declaration or mitigated negative declaration shall be not less than 20 days. When a proposed negative declaration or mitigated negative declaration is submitted to the State Clearinghouse for review by state agencies, the public review period shall not be less than 30 days, unless a shorter period, not less than 20 days, is approved by the State Clearinghouse.

 

(c) If a draft EIR or proposed negative declaration or mitigated negative declaration has been submitted to the State Clearinghouse for review by state agencies, the public review period shall be at least as long as the review period established by the State Clearinghouse.

 

(d) A shortened Clearinghouse review period may be granted in accordance with the provisions of Appendix K and the following principles:

 

(1) A shortened review shall not be granted for any proposed project of statewide, areawide, or regional environmental significance.

 

(2) Requests for shortened review periods shall be submitted to the Clearinghouse in writing by the decision-making body of the lead agency, or a representative authorized by ordinance, resolution, or delegation of the decision-making body.

 

(3) The lead agency has contacted responsible and trustee agencies and they have agreed to the shortened review period.

 

Note: Authority cited: Section 21083, Public Resources Code; Reference: Sections 21091 and 21092, Public Resources Code; People v. County of Kern 39 Cal.App.3d 830.

 

Discussion: The discussion of public review period brings together requirements from a number of different articles in the Guidelines. Both this section and Section 15106 are purely regulatory in origin. They spell out the minimum and maximum review periods under CEQA as an effort to balance the ability of the public to respond within relatively short periods against the interests of applicants and public agencies in moving expeditiously in order to reach an ultimate decision on the project. This discussion applies equally to Section 15106.

 

Refer to the discussions under Sections 15073 and 15087 for the statutory requirements for minimum public review periods. With specific exceptions, the review period for an EIR shall be 45 days when submitted to the State Clearinghouse and 30 days when subject to local review only. The review period for a Negative Declaration shall be 30 days when submitted to the State Clearinghouse and 20 days otherwise, with certain exceptions. This section also specifies the circumstances under which OPR may grant a shortened review period for negative declarations and EIRs which are submitted to the State Clearinghouse.

 

15106. [Deleted]

 

15107. Completion of Negative Declaration

 

With private projects involving the issuance of a lease, permit, license, certificate, or other entitlement for use by one or more public agencies, the negative declaration must be completed and approved within 180 days from the date when the lead agency accepted the application as complete.

 

Note: Authority cited: Section 21083, Public Resources Code; Reference: Sections 21100.2 and 21151.5, Public Resources Code.

 

Discussion: This section reflects the statutory requirement that a Negative Declaration be completed and adopted within 180 days of the day a private project is accepted as complete for processing. Under prior law, now repealed, the time frame for completion of a Negative Declaration was 105 days.

 

15108. Completion and Certification of EIR

 

With a private project, the Lead Agency shall complete and certify the final EIR as provided in Section 15090 within one year after the date when the Lead Agency accepted the application as complete. Lead Agency procedures may provide that the one-year time limit may be extended once for a period of not more than 90 days upon consent of the Lead Agency and the applicant.

 

Note: Authority cited: Section 21083, Public Resources Code; Reference: Sections 21100.2 and 21151.5, Public Resources Code; Government Code Section 65950.

 

Discussion: This section identifies the requirement to complete and certify an EIR within one year from the date when the application is received as complete, and combines the statutory one-year time limit in CEQA with the requirement in the Government Code that the one year period be measured from the date on which the application is accepted as complete. Sections 21100.2 and 21151.5 of CEQA allow a reasonable extension to the one-year time limit with the consent of the applicant. Section 15108 adds the interpretation providing that this extension should not exceed 90 days. This interpretation is added to make the extension match the limit on the extension allowed for the one-year time limit for processing permits for development projects under Government Code Section 65957. Because most development projects will be subject to time limits under both the Government Code and CEQA, the time limits should be as similar as possible to avoid conflicts and confusion.

 

15109. Suspension of Time Periods

 

An unreasonable delay by an applicant in meeting requests by the Lead Agency necessary for the preparation of a Negative Declaration or an EIR shall suspend the running of the time periods described in Sections 15107 and 15108 for the period of the unreasonable delay. Alternatively, an agency may disapprove a project application where there is unreasonable delay in meeting requests. The agency may allow a renewed application to start at the same point in the process where the application was when it was disapproved.

 

Note: Authority cited: Section 21083, Public Resources Code; Reference: Sections 21100.2 and 21151.5, Public Resources Code; Carmel Valley View, Ltd. v. Maggini, 91 Cal. App. 3d 318.

 

Discussion: This section is an interpretation responding to the question of what happens to the Lead Agency's one-year time limit if the applicant unreasonably delays providing information that was requested by the Lead Agency. The problem of unreasonable delays has plagued many agencies and has led to disputes over whether a project has been approved by operation of law. The section is necessary to resolve the disputes and to avoid the need to litigate the same. This interpretation is consistent with the court decision in Carmel Valley View, Ltd. v. Maggini, cited in the note.

 

The section also identifies the option of disapproving the project in response to unreasonable delays. The section also validates the use of a "disapproval without prejudice" that is used by some agencies. This approach allows a new application for a disapproved project to start at the same point in the process where it was when disapproved. Following this approach, an agency can avoid the time and expense for early steps in the process that would not be necessary for a project that had been partially reviewed before.

 

15110. Projects with Federal Involvement

 

(a) At the request of an applicant, the Lead Agency may waive the one-year time limit for completing and certifying a final EIR or the 105-day period for completing a Negative Declaration if:

 

(1) The project will be subject to CEQA and to the National Environmental Policy Act,

 

(2) Additional time will be required to prepare a combined EIR-EIS or combined Negative Declaration-Finding of No Significant Impact as provided in Section 15221, and

 

(3) The time required to prepare the combined document will be shorter than the time required to prepare the documents separately.

 

(b) The time limits for taking final action on a permit for a development project may also be waived where a combined EIR-EIS will be prepared.

 

(c) The time limits for processing permits for development projects under Government Code Sections 65950-65960 shall not apply if federal statutes or regulations require time schedules which exceed the state time limits. In this event, any state agencies involved shall make a final decision on the project within the federal time limits.

 

Note: Authority cited: Section 21083, Public Resources Code; Reference: Sections 21083.6 and 21083.7, Public Resources Code; Sections 65951 and 65954, Government Code; Public Law 91-190 as amended, 42 U.S.C.A. 4321-4347.

 

Discussion: This section implements the statutory provision allowing a waiver of CEQA time limits where the project will be subject to NEPA as well as CEQA. The regulation supplements the statutory provision by applying this principle to situations where a Negative Declaration under CEQA is prepared jointly with a Finding of No Significant Impact under NEPA. This approach is consistent with the principle contained in the statutory section but applies in a situation not mentioned by the statute. The section adds a requirement that any state agency involved make a final decision on the project within the federal time limit if that period is longer than the state time limit. This provision is necessary to avoid an interpretation that would provide that no time limits would apply to a state agency at all under this section. The section follows the general policy of CEQA and the Government Code of requiring action on development projects to be completed within a definite period of time.

 

15111. Projects with Short Time Periods for Approval

 

(a) A few statutes or ordinances require agencies to make decisions on permits within time limits that are so short that review of the project under CEQA would be difficult. To enable the Lead Agency to comply with both the permit statute and CEQA, the Lead Agency shall deem an application for a project not received for filing under the permit statute or ordinance until such time as progress toward completing the environmental documentation required by CEQA is sufficient to enable the Lead Agency to finish the CEQA process within the short permit time limit. This section will apply where all of the following conditions are met:

 

(1) The enabling legislation for a program, other than Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section 65920) of Division 1 of Title 7 of the Government Code, requires the Lead Agency to take action on an application within a specified period of time that is six months or less, and

 

(2) The enabling legislation provides that the project will become approved by operation of law if the Lead Agency fails to take any action within such specified time period, and

 

(3) The project involves the issuance of a lease, permit, license, certificate, or other entitlement for use.

 

(b) Examples of time periods subject to this section include, but are not limited to:

 

(1) Action on a timber harvesting plan by the Director of Forestry within 15 days pursuant to Section 4582.7 of the Public Resources Code,

 

(2) Action on a permit by the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission within 90 days pursuant to Section 66632(f) of the Government Code, and

 

(3) Action on an oil and gas permit by the Division of Oil and Gas within 10 days pursuant to Sections 3203 and 3724 of the Public Resources Code.

 

(c) In any case described in this section, the environmental document shall be completed or certified and the decision on the project shall be made within the period established under the Permit Streamlining Act (Government Code Sections 65920, et seq.).

 

Note: Authority cited: Section 21083, Public Resources Code; Reference: Sections 21100.2 and 21151.5, Public Resources Code; N.R.D.C. v. Arcata National Corp. (1976) 59 Cal.App.3d 959.

 

Discussion: This section provides a way of reconciling the competing and apparently inconsistent demands of different statutes. The state court of appeal decision in N.R.D.C. v. Arcata National Corporation, cited in the note, approved the interpretation that allowed an agency to suspend the running of the shorter time limit until the CEQA process had been completed. This is the approach taken in this section. The section was developed in the interest of treating all laws as part of one large body of law which should be read consistently wherever possible. This approach allows the purposes to be served by all these different laws to be promoted rather than forcing an agency to choose which of several laws they will ignore in order to accomplish the requirements of others.

 

This section is designed to call for the maximum overlap between the CEQA process and the short permit time period rather than calling for the CEQA process to be completed before the short permit time period could begin. Under this approach, the Lead Agency would suspend the short permit time period and begin the CEQA process. When the Lead Agency was far enough along in the CEQA process that it could finish the CEQA process within the permit time period, the agency would start the clock for the permit time period and begin processing the permit. This way the last part of the CEQA process and the permit process would overlap as much as possible. This would save time for the permit applicant.

 

Subsection (c) is intended to place a maximum time limit on the special approach allowed in this section. It also seeks to avoid conflicts with the time limits for processing development projects under the Government Code by adopting the 90-day limit on a time extension that is contained in Government Code Section 65957. This provision is necessary to avoid a conflict with the time limit on processing development projects under the Government Code because most development projects are subject to both CEQA and the Government Code time limits. The time limits should be as similar as possible.

 

15112. Statutes of Limitations

(a) CEQA provides unusually short statutes of limitations on filing court challenges to the approval of projects under the Act.

 

(b) The statute of limitations periods are not public review periods or waiting periods for the person whose project has been approved. The project sponsor may proceed to carry out the project as soon as the necessary permits have been granted. The statute of limitations cuts off the right of another person to file a court action challenging approval of the project after the specified time period has expired.

 

(c) The statute of limitations periods under CEQA are as follows:

 

(1) Where the public agency filed a Notice of Determination in compliance with Sections 15075 or 15094, 30 days after the filing of the notice and the posting on a list of such notices.

 

(2) Where the public agency filed a Notice of Exemption in compliance with Section 15062, 35 days after the filing of the notice and the posting on a list of such notices.

 

(3) Where a certified state regulatory agency files a Notice of Decision in compliance with Public Resources Code Section 21080.5(d)(2)(E), 30 days after the filing of the notice.

 

(4) Where the Secretary for Resources certifies a state environmental regulatory agency under Public Resources Code Section 21080.5, the certification may be challenged only during the 30 days following the certification decision.

 

(5) Where none of the other statute of limitations periods in this section apply, 180 days after either:

 

(A) The public agency's decision to carry out or approve the project, or

 

(B) Commencement of the project if the project is undertaken without a formal decision by the public agency.

 

Note: Authority cited: Section 21083, Public Resources Code; Reference: Sections 21167, 21167.3, and 21080.5, Public Resources Code; Kriebel v. City Council, 112 Cal. App. 3d 693; Citizens of Lake Murray Area Association v. City Council, (1982) 129 Cal. App. 3d 436.

 

Discussion: This section discusses the various statutes of limitations under CEQA. These periods are contained in Public Resources Code Sections 21080.5 and 21167. Subsection (b) explains that the statute of limitation period is not a public review period but is merely an unusually short period during which approved projects are subject to challenge by lawsuit. In the absence of a statute of limitations as specified in Sections 21080.5 and 21167, a longer period would apply. Amended Public Resources Code section 21167 (Chapter 1294, Statutes of 1994) provides that the time period during which to file an action or proceeding commences from the date that the public agency mails a written copy of the Notice of Determination to any person requesting a copy within the posting periods for that notice. This effectively extends the potential statute of limitations.

 

Subsection (c) reorganizes and simplifies the presentation of the statutes of limitations under CEQA and adds an administrative interpretation. The section responds to the problem that the statute does not address the situation where an agency prepared an EIR or Negative Declaration but neglected to file a Notice of Determination.

 

The court in Concerned Citizens of Costa Mesa, Inc. v. 32nd District Agricultural Assoc. (1986) 42 Cal. 3d 929, permitted a challenge to an agency's compliance with CEQA to be filed beyond the strict statutory time limitations because the agency made substantial changes in a project after filing the final EIR and failed to file a subsequent/supplemental EIR which was needed under section 21166. In this instance, a 5000 fixed seat amphitheater on six acres of land with noise directed away from residential areas was changed to 7000 fixed seats on ten acres of land and the stage was relocated to face the single-family residences. Further, the noise mitigation measures contemplated by the EIR were not taken and the noise levels generated during performances exceeded the level allowed by county law. Plaintiffs had no notice of the changes and were not afforded a hearing to comment on them. Accordingly, the challenge was permitted to be filed within 180 days of the time the plaintiff knew or should have known that the project under way differed substantially from the one described in the EIR, i.e., the construction stage that provided sufficient insight to final configuration.