Noticing is sometimes seen as the easy part of CEQA, but the CEQA public noticing process is an alphabet soup of categories and acronyms that isn’t clearly laid out in a single resource. In addition, it’s helpful to be familiar with case law that provides guidance on legally defensible notification, as well as with other laws that have noticing requirements that overlap with the CEQA process.
Specific public noticing requirements vary depending on whether your project is subject to CEQA and what CEQA document you are preparing. Projects not subject to CEQA have the most straightforward requirements. All that is required is a Notice of Exemption (NOE), which states that your project is exempt from CEQA compliance. If your project is subject to CEQA, the next step is to prepare an initial study, whose findings will determine whether you must prepare a negative declaration (ND)/mitigation negative declaration (MND), or whether you must prepare a full environmental impact report (EIR).
If you are preparing an ND or MND, you must circulate a Notice of Intent (NOI), that is, a notice of your intent to prepare the ND or MND. Then, at the end of the environmental documentation process, you must circulate a Notice of Determination, which describes your project and identifies any expected environmental impacts.
Preparing an EIR requires the most public noticing, including:
- Notice of Preparation
- Notice of Completion
- Notice of Availability
- Notice of Determination
Types of CEQA Public Notices
Following are some insider tips and tricks to manage CEQA noticing accurately and effectively and mitigate risk to your project.
Notice of Exemption (NOE)
An NOE is filed with the County Clerk after a discretionary application is approved. When filing an NOE, you should:
- Publish the notice online. Publishing online is not required, but is strongly encouraged, as it can shorten the challenge period from 180 days to 35 days.
- Clearly and explicitly articulate the reason for filing an exemption. A weak reason might simply state, “It is a Class 1.” A stronger reason would be stating “This project qualifies as a Class 1 categorical exemption in accordance with CEQA, in that it consists of two on-premise signs.”
Notice of Preparation (NOP)
The NOP notifies the public, as well as responsible agencies, trustee agencies, and involved federal agencies that an environmental assessment or EIR will be prepared for a project. When filing an NOP, you should:
- Send notices via traceable methods, such as certified mail. The 30-day response period starts from the date notice is received, not the date the notice was mailed.
- Use the jurisdiction’s (lead agency) mailing list. This ensures your notice maintains consistency with other projects the lead agency is processing and reduces the risk of missing an entity that should have been notified.
Notice of Availability (NOA)
NOAs announce that a draft environmental impact report (EIR) is available for viewing or that an EIR is being recirculated due to new information about a previously approved project.
- Send the NOA to anyone who has requested notice and publish it in a general circulation newspaper. If the notice is also mailed, it needs to be sent to property owners and occupants contiguous to a project site.
- Post the NOA physically at or near the project site. Sometimes people don’t go through their mail or read the paper. Posting at the project site is another step to ensure proper notification.
- Include a statement about whether the project site appears on any list of places containing hazardous materials. Even if the site is not on a list, that should be stated to remove any ambiguity.
Public Noticing Best Practices
The various avenues for dissemination have different lead times, so it is important to consider transmittal timing. The State Clearinghouse takes up to 3 days to distribute documents, while County Clerks post notices within 24 hours. Deadlines for inclusion in general circulation newspapers may vary, so it’s best to check with the newspaper in question regarding their lead times for publishing notices in print and online. Don’t forget to factor in how long it will take for CEQA documents to be delivered to the filing agencies. Delivery timing varies, however, using overnight services can make it more predictable.
County Clerk Filing
When delivering to a large municipal complex, know which building to go to and at which office/window to deliver the notice. As basic as it sounds, a phone call ahead of time confirming where to file will prevent wandering the floors and hallways of large municipal complexes, particularly if a deadline is looming. There have also been cases where a helpful person at a counter has accepted a filing, only for the filer to find out later that the notice was given to the wrong person who didn’t know where to route it. You should also check the following, prior to filing:
- Fees and payment methods. Confirm the preferred payment method, and/or whether they will allow you to combine the county fee and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife fee in one payment.
- Signature requirements. An original signature may be required, however, a duplicate signature may also be accepted.
Public noticing under CEQA can be taken for granted. Yet, a misstep in the CEQA public noticing procedure carries both minor and major risks, from having to recirculate your notification to getting sued. For more information on public noticing and the CEQA process, contact us.