AB 819 – Changes to Encourage Online Public Access to CEQA Documents

Assembly Bill (AB) 819, signed into law on July 16, 2021, changes certain notice and filing requirements under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  As described in the legislative materials, AB 819 codifies the electronic public access requirements established by Governor Newsom via Executive Order N-54-20, which was issued early during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Previously, CEQA required agencies to utilize hard copies of environmental documents and notices, consistent with the technology limitations in place when CEQA was enacted 50 years ago.  Under the changes implemented by AB 819, agencies are now required to submit specified documents electronically and to post such documents on their websites.

AB 819, therefore, represents a small step towards modernizing CEQA.  The bill increases electronic availability of CEQA documents for the general public and provides electronic filing options for agencies.  The specific changes under AB 819 are outlined below.

  • A lead agency is required to mail or email notice of its determination that an environmental impact report (EIR) is required for a project to specified agencies. (CEQA, § 21080.4.)
  • A lead agency that is preparing an EIR or a negative declaration, or making a determination pursuant to section 21157.1(c), shall provide notice of that fact by posting the notice on the agency’s website (in addition to other pre-existing noticing procedures). (CEQA, § 21092.)
  • A lead agency must submit its draft EIR, negative declaration, or mitigated negative declaration in electronic format to OPR and post the document on its website. (CEQA, §§ 21082.1, 21091.)
  • A lead agency must accept comments via email and treat such comments as equivalent to written comments. (CEQA, § 21091.)
  • Notices required under CEQA sections 21080.4, 21083.9, 21092, 21108, 21152 and 21161 must be posted to the lead agency’s website, if one exists. (CEQA, § 21092.2.)
  • Notices of preparation and availability of an EIR, as required by CEQA sections 21080.4 and 21092, must be posted on the website of the county clerk. (CEQA, § 21092.3)
  • A notice of determination or exemption must be electronically filed by a state agency with OPR and available on OPR’s website for at least 12 months. (CEQA, § 21108.)
  • A notice of determination or exemption shall be electronically filed by a local agency with the county clerk (if that option is offered by the county clerk) and can now be posted on the county clerk’s website (in lieu of exclusively utilizing a physical posting). (CEQA, § 21152.)
  • An agency must file its notice of completion of an environmental document electronically with OPR. (CEQA, § 21161.)

The pre-existing CEQA law, as amended by AB 819, can be reviewed on the California Legislative Information website.

[This alert does not constitute legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is created by viewing or responding to this alert.  Legal counsel should be sought for answers to specific legal questions.]