40 CFR Section 1506.11 states:
Where emergency circumstances make it necessary to take an action with significant environmental impact without observing the provisions of these regulations, the Federal agency taking the action should consult with the Council about alternative arrangements. Agencies and the Council will limit such arrangements to actions necessary to control the immediate impacts of the emergency. Other actions remain subject to NEPA review.
For more information, see the Council on Environmental Quality Guidance Emergencies and the National Environmental Policy Act (PDF).
CEQA § 21060.3 defines an emergency as:
…a sudden, unexpected occurrence, involving a clear and imminent danger, demanding immediate action to prevent or mitigate loss of, or damage to, life, health, property, or essential public services. “Emergency” includes such occurrences as fire, flood, earthquake, or other soil or geologic movements, as well as such occurrences as riot, accident, or sabotage
The following actions are considered statutorily exempt from CEQA (Guidelines §15269):
- Projects to maintain, repair, restore, demolish, or replace property or facilities damaged or destroyed as a result of a disaster in a disaster stricken area in which a state of emergency has been proclaimed by the Governor pursuant to the California Emergency Services Act, commencing with Section 8550 of the Government Code. This includes projects that will remove, destroy, or significantly alter an historical resource when that resource represents an imminent threat to the public of bodily harm or of damage to adjacent property or when the project has received a determination by the State Office of Historic Preservation pursuant to Section 5028(b) of Public Resources Code.
- Emergency repairs to publicly or privately owned service facilities necessary to maintain service essential to the public health, safety or welfare. Emergency repairs include those that require a reasonable amount of planning to address an anticipated emergency.
- Specific actions necessary to prevent or mitigate an emergency. This does not include long-term projects undertaken for the purpose of preventing or mitigating a situation that has a low probability of occurrence in the short-term, but this exclusion does not apply (i) if the anticipated period of time to conduct an environmental review of such a long-term project would create a risk to public health, safety or welfare, or (ii) if activities (such as fire or catastrophic risk mitigation or modifications to improve facility integrity) are proposed for existing facilities in response to an emergency at a similar existing facility.
- Projects undertaken, carried out, or approved by a public agency to maintain, repair, or restore an existing highway damaged by fire, flood, storm, earthquake, land subsidence, gradual earth movement, or landslide, provided that the project is within the existing right of way of that highway and is initiated within one year of the damage occurring. This exemption does not apply to highways designated as official state scenic highways, nor any project undertaken, carried out, or approved by a public agency to expand or widen a highway damaged by fire, flood, storm, earthquake, land subsidence, gradual earth movement, or landslide.
- Seismic work on highways and bridges pursuant to Section 180.2 of the Streets and Highways Code, Section 180 et seq.
Federal Emergency Declaration
On March 13, 2020, the President declared the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic of sufficient severity and magnitude to warrant an emergency declaration for all states, tribes, territories, and the District of Columbia pursuant to section 501 (b) of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. 5121-5207 (the “Stafford Act”).
State Emergency Proclamation
On March 4, 2020, Governor Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency to exist in California due to COVID-19.
State Executive Orders (EO)
EO N-06-19: This EO was issued on January 15th, 2019 to address California’s affordable housing crisis. It directed the Department of General Services (DGS) to create a digitized inventory of all state-owned excess parcels for the purpose of prioritizing affordable housing on state-owned excess land.
EO N-23-20: This EO was issued on January 8th, 2020 to address California’s homelessness crisis. It specifically ordered DGS to identify properties from the inventory of excess land identified by EO N-06-19 that can be used by local agencies on a short-term emergency basis to provide shelter for individuals that are homeless. It specifically directed Caltrans to develop a “model lease template” to allow local agencies to use Caltrans property adjacent to highways or state roads on a short-term emergency basis to provide shelters for individuals who are homeless.
EO N-32-20: This EO was issued on March 18th, 2020 to expedite emergency procedures during the COVID-19 emergency. The purpose of the EO is to bring unsheltered Californians safely indoors, expand shelter capacity, maintain health and sanitation standards and institute medically indicated interventions, and add new isolation and quarantine capacity to California’s shelter and housing inventory to slow the spread of the pandemic. This EO specifically exempts from CEQA and its implementing regulations any project using Homeless Emergency Aid Program funds, Homeless Housing, Assistance, and Prevention Program funds, or funds appropriated in Senate Bill 89, signed March 17, 2020.