Timing is everything

Each project’s public notice comes with a public comment periodand a deadline. So, one of your first steps should be making sure you give yourself enough time to submit comments within the comment deadline. 

Lead agencies are required to accept all comments into the public record that are submitted prior to the filing of the Notice of Determination. However, they must only respond formally to comment submitted  in a timely manner during the Draft EIR comment period.

Read on for details on each stage of the public review process. 

Notice of Exemptions (NOE)

Some activities and projects are exempt from CEQA review. The lead agency may file a Notice of Exemption (NOE) if it determines that a project is exempt from CEQA pursuant to CEQA Guidelines Section 15061. Reasons for exemption may include:

  • exemption by statute,
  • categorical exemptions,
  • or “common sense exemptions,” when it’s certain that the activity in question will have no significant effect on the environment.

When the agency files an NOE, the statute of limitations for filing a legal challenge to the project is 35 days. There is no requirement for the agency to circulate the NOE for public review or comment. 

Comment and engagement period 

If a NOE was issued by a non-elected official or decision making body you may appeal to the lead agency’s elected decision-making body, when one exists, if you believe the NOE determination is inaccurate. The lead agency will likely have established procedures governing such appeals. If there is no established procedure for appeals than litigation may be necessary. 

Initial Study (IS)

If the project is not exempt, the lead agency will continue through the CEQA process. Following a preliminary review to determine whether the project application is complete and that the project is subject to CEQA, the lead agency will conduct an Initial Study (IS) to determine if the project may have a significant effect on the environment. If the lead agency is able to determine significant effect, an EIR will clearly be required for the project. 

The IS will be circulated to the public alongside the Negative or Mitigated Negative Declarations, or the Notice of Preparation for the EIR. 

Comment and engagement period 

There is no review period specifically for an IS. Public comments that address components of the IS are submitted during the review period of other CEQA documents.

Negative Declaration (“Neg Dec” or “ND”) or Mitigated Negative Declaration (“MND”)

An Negative Declaration (ND) is prepared if the agency believes that the project will have no significant impact on the physical environment. Similarly, a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) is prepared if revisions to the project or mitigation measures will result in the project having either no impact or a less than significant impact on the physical environment. 

If the lead agency determines that an ND or MND will be used for the project, they will file a Notice of Intent to Adopt ND/MND. The notice will be sent to relevant agencies and members of the public that have demonstrated their interest. 

See CEQA § 15072 (a) and (b)

Comment and engagement period 

There is a public review period for the ND/MND of at least 20 days. The review period will be extended to 30 days if a proposed negative declaration or mitigated negative declaration is submitted to the State Clearinghouse (SCH) for review by state agencies, unless the SCH approves a shorter review period (but not less than 20 days). (Public Resources Code § 21091(b); CEQA § 15073). Comments can be submitted at any time during this review period. These comments address the shortcomings of the Negative Declaration and are addressed directly to the lead agency. Although the lead agency is required to consider all the comments, they are not required to respond.  

When an ND or MND is certified by the lead agency, they will file a Notice of Determination (NOD). There is a 30-day statute of limitations to bring any legal challenges against the project from the time the NOD is filed.  

Notice of Preparation (NOP)

The Notice of Preparation (NOP) is a brief notice sent by a lead agency to notify the Responsible Agencies, Trustee Agencies, the Office of Planning and Research, involved federal agencies, and the public that the Lead Agency plans to prepare an EIR for the project. The purpose of the notice is to solicit guidance from those agencies concerning the scope and content of the environmental information that should be included in the EIR (CEQA Guidelines 15082, 15375).

Within 30 days of receiving the NOP, each responsible and trustee agency and the Office of Planning and Research shall provide the lead agency with specific detail about the scope and content of the environmental information related to the responsible or trustee agency’s area of statutory responsibility that must be included in the draft EIR.

The NOP is directed primarily to state and local agencies and is intended to elicit early comments on the potential impacts of a project so that those impacts will be addressed in the EIR. The public and organizations such as CNPS, may also provide comments at this time regarding areas that should be analyzed for impacts during the development of the EIR. The NOP is released once the lead agency determines that an EIR is required. 

Comment and engagement period 

Following the release of an NOP there is a 30 day comment period. Although this comment period is directed to state and local agencies, organizations and the general public (i.e. individuals or organizations like CNPS) may also submit comments. This early consultation is be called “scoping,” and the comments submitted at this stage in the process are often referred to as “scoping comments.” (CEQA Guideline 15083). Scoping comments are more general in nature and aim to direct the agency to perform a thorough and successful environmental review, an EIR cannot be released as a public document until after the end of the NOP response period.  

Environmental Impact Report

When a project may cause adverse environmental impacts, the lead agency must prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), consisting of in-depth studies of potential impacts, measures to reduce or avoid those impacts, and an analysis of alternatives to the project. A key feature of the CEQA process is the opportunity for the public to review and provide input on Draft EIRs. 

Watch: Navigating the EIR for a short synopsis.


The lead agency must notify the public that the Draft EIR is available for review.  This is done in the form of a Notice of Completion. 

 A public hearing is not mandatory, and public comments can be restricted to written comments. 

 At the end of the DEIR comment period, the lead agency must respond in writing to all substitutive comments received during the comment period. The responses are provided in a final EIR which indicates who commented, what the comments are, what the responses are, and any changes made in the text of the DEIR. 

The lead agencies need only respond to significant environmental issues and do not need to provide all information requested by reviewers, as long as a good faith effort at full disclosure is made in the EIR. (CEQA § 15204) 

Comment and engagement period 

Once the Draft EIR is released for public circulation, the comment period is open. The public can comment on the EIR for the entire Draft EIR public review period, lasting from 30-90 days. The lead agency must respond to every comment submitted for the Draft EIR. Once the Final EIR is certified, there are no more public review periods or formal opportunities for comments. It is still possible to submit comments to those with discretionary authority to pressure them to alter the project or reject it outright. 

The public review period for a draft environmental impact report shall not be less than 30 days. If the draft environmental impact report is submitted to the State Clearinghouse for review, the review period shall be at least 45 days, and the lead agency shall provide a sufficient number of copies of the document, in either a hard-copy or electronic form as required by the Office of Planning and Research, to the State Clearinghouse for review and comment by state agencies. (§ 21091. (a)) Agencies, organizations, or the public may request that the comment period be extended if they do not feel that there is sufficient time to review the documents, or if the comment deadline falls on or near a holiday when many people may be away from work or travelling. The review period should not extend beyond 90 days, according to the CEQA Guidelines.   

There is no comment period on the Final EIR or Notice of Determination (NOD), although new circumstances or new information may require an additional review period or another review document to be prepared, such as a revised, supplemental or amended EIR. Although there is no formal comment period, comments can be submitted up until the Final EIR is certified, comments can address how the agency has not adequately responded to comments or made the necessary revisions. These comments will likely not be addressed by the agency, but they do preserve your standing on the project. 

The NOD is a brief notice filed by a public agency after it approves the final EIR or determines to carry out a project which is subject to the requirements of CEQA (CEQA Guidelines 15373). Once the NOD is filed, there is a 30-day period in which the determination can be legally challenged. If it is not challenged during that period, the CEQA process is then complete for that project. 

The lead agency shall file a Notice of Determination within five working days after deciding to carry out or approve the project. (CEQA Guidelines 15094). If no NOD is filed, the statute of limitations to file a legal challenge extends from 30 days to 180 days after project approval or commencement, whichever comes first. The project proponent may begin work once they have aquired all required permitting and do not need to wait for the statute of limitations to expire. For more information on statutes of limitations see § 15112 of the most recent CEQA Statutes and Guidelines.