II. Permit Streamlining Act

Reviewing the Permit Streamlining Act and its requirements will help to place the more specific requirements for public notice, circulation, and review into proper context. The Permit Streamlining Act (§65920 et. seq) requires public agencies (including charter cities per §65921) to follow standardized time limits and procedures for specified types of land use decisions. For the purposes of the Act, "development projects" applies only to adjudicatory approvals such as tentative maps, conditional use permits, and variances (Landi v. County of Monterey (1983) 139 Cal.App. 3d 934). Ministerial projects such as building permits, lot line adjustments, and certificates of compliance are not subject to the time limits established under the Act (Findleton v. El Dorado Co. Board of Supervisors (1993) 12 Cal. App. 4th 709).

The Permit Streamlining Act is reminiscent of a flashing light. It turns on when an application is submitted, off when accepted as complete and the environmental review (CEQA) process begins, and on again after the CEQA determination has been made (§65950).

Procedural Requirements:

All public agencies must establish one or more lists specifying, in detail, the information required from applicants for a development project (§65940). Upon receipt of a project application containing a statement identifying the application as being for a "development permit," an agency has 30 calendar days to notify the applicant, in writing, of whether or not the project application is complete enough for processing. When rejected as incomplete, the agency must identify where deficiencies exist and how they can be remedied. The resubmittal of the application begins a new 30-day review period. If the agency fails to notify the applicant of completeness within either of the 30-day periods, the application is deemed to be complete (§65943; Orsi v. City Council (1990) 219 Cal. App. 3d 1576). If rejected as incomplete a second time, the applicant may appeal the decision to jurisdiction's hearing body who must make a final written determination within 60 calendar days. Again, failure to meet this time period constitutes acceptance of the application as complete.

Once complete and accepted, the agency then proceeds with the CEQA process, and the approval or denial of the project.

The Permit Streamlining Act includes time limit provisions for taking action on a project after the environmental determination is made. When an EIR is certified for a project, the public agency shall approve or deny the project within 180 days from the date of certification. When a project is found to be exempt from CEQA or a negative declaration is adopted for a project, the public agency shall approve or deny the project within 60 days from the date of the determination or adoption (§65950 and Public Resources Code §21151.5). If no action is taken within the allotted time, the project may be deemed approved by action of the Act.

An application can only be deemed approved as a result of failure to act if the requirements for public notice and review have been satisfied (§65965). Two options are available to an applicant to ensure that these requirements are met (§65956(a) and §65956(b)): (a) the applicant may file an action pursuant to Section 1085 of the Code of Civil Procedure (civil mandamus) to force the agency to provide notice or hold a hearing, or both; (b) if the applicant has provided seven (7) days advance notice to the permitting agency of intent to provide public notice, an applicant may provide public notice using the distribution information provided pursuant to §65941.5 no earlier than 60 days from the expiration of the time limits. The notice must include the required contents as provided for by §65956(b) and a statement that the project will be deemed approved if the permitting agency has not acted within 60 days. Notice by the applicant extends the time limit for action by the permitting agency to 60 days after the public notice is sent out.

Next: California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

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