Formerly known as the “general rule,” the Common Sense Exemption frees a project from CEQA review when it clearly and definitively will not have any significant impacts on the environment. For this exemption to be applied the Lead Agency must back up its determination with factual evidence. 


The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) filed a Notice of Exemption for its Community Center Theater 21kV Offsite Project. The project consisted of installing an underground feeder cable between two junction points, an existing manhole, and a termination stub–both within the pedestrian sidewalks. With this, the project would be working within the built infrastructure. SMUD claimed that it qualified for a Common Sense Exemption because the project had no environmental impacts and did not involve any unusual circumstances.  

Other Exemptions 

Additional CEQA exemptions exist that fall under narrowly applicable exemptions, with too many to list. The Association of Environmental Professionals (AEP) has listed a few in their CEQA Portal Topic Paper, “CEQA Exemptions.” These include:  

  • Agricultural housing (CEQA Guidelines Article 12.5) 
  • Affordable housing (CEQA Guidelines Article 12.5) 
  • Residential infill projects (CEQA Guidelines Article 12.5)  
  • Sustainable communities projects (Public Resources Code Section 21155.1) 
  • An exemption for residential projects pursuant to a specific plan (CEQA Guidelines Section 15182) 
  • An exemption for projects that are consistent with a community plan or zoning ( CEQA Guidelines Section 15183) 
  • Various other narrowly applicable exemptions granted by the Legislature   


The City of Los Angeles applied one of these exemptions for the 6400 Sunset Boulevard Project. The project was a mixed-use development project that included residential units, some reserved for very low-income families, open space, and commercial uses. The city applied the Sustainable Communities Project exemption, pursuant to PRC Section 21155. Thus, the project was exempt from CEQA and no further CEQA review was completed.