Regulatory Information

Regulatory Information

State/Federal Compliance

In California, cultural resource studies are typically done in compliance with CEQA; however, if a project is proposed by a federal agency or is a federally assisted undertaking, studies are done under the regulations implementing Section 106 of the NHPA. 

California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

CEQA requires that potential impacts to the environment by a proposed project be identified and assessed prior to commencement of any project that has the potential to effect the environment. Cultural resources are aspects of the environment that require identification and assessment for potential significance (14 CCR 15064.5 and PRC 21084.1). There are five classes of cultural resources defined by California’s Office of Historic Preservation (OHP). These are:  

Building: A structure created principally to shelter or assist in carrying out any form of human activity. A “building” may also be used to refer to a historically and functionally related unit, such as a courthouse and jail or a house and barn.

Structure: A construction made for a functional purpose rather than creating human shelter. Examples include mines, bridges, and tunnels.

Object: Construction primarily artist in nature or relatively small in scale and simply constructed. It may be movable by nature or design or made for a specific setting or environment. Objects should be in a setting appropriate to their significant historic use or character. Examples include fountains, monuments, maritime resources, sculptures and boundary markers. 

Site: The location of a significant event. A prehistoric or historic occupation or activity, or a building or structure, whether standing, ruined, or vanished, where the location itself possesses historic, cultural, or archaeological value regardless of the value of any existing building, structure, or object. A site need not be marked by physical remains if it is the location of a prehistoric or historic event and if no buildings, structures, or objects marked it at that time. Examples include trails, designed landscapes, battlefields, habitation sites, Native American ceremonial areas, petroglyphs, and pictographs.

District: Unified geographic entities which contain a concentration of historic buildings, structures, or sites united historically, culturally, or architecturally. 

Historical Resources

Cultural resources are determined to be historically significant if they qualify for listing in the California Register of Historical Resources (CRHR). In order to qualify for the CRHR a resource must retain integrity and meet any of the following criteria:

  1. Associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of local or regional history or the cultural heritage of California or the United States;
  2. Associated with the lives of persons important to local, California or national history;
  3. Embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, region or method of construction or represents the work of a master or possesses high artistic values; or
  4. Has yielded, or has the potential to yield, information important to the prehistory or history of the local area, California or the nation.

Buildings, sites, structures, objects, and districts representative of California and United States history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture convey significance when they also possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. A resource has integrity if it retains the characteristics that were present during the resource’s period of significance.  Enough of these characteristics must remain to convey the reasons for its significance.  

The fact that a resource is not listed in, or determined to be eligible for listing in the CRHR, or included in a local register of historical resources (pursuant to Section 5020.1(k) of the PRC), or identified in an historical resources survey (meeting the criteria in Section 5024.1(g) of the PRC) does not preclude a lead agency from determining that the resource may be an historical resources as defined in PRC sections 5020.1(j) or 5024.1.

Unique Archaeological Resources

CEQA (PRC 21083.2) distinguishes between resources that meet the definition of a historical resource, as explained above, and those that qualify as a “unique archaeological resource”. A “unique archaeological resource” is an artifact, object, or site about which it can be clearly demonstrated that, without merely adding to the current body of knowledge, there is a high probability that it meets any of the following criteria:

  • Contains information needed to answer important scientific research questions and that there is a demonstrable public interest in that information,
  • Has a special and particular quality such as being the oldest of its type or the best available example of its type, or
  • Is directly associated with a scientifically recognized important prehistoric or historic event or person.
Historical Significance

California Code of Regulations Section 15064.5 states that cultural resources are significant if they are:

  • Listed in, or eligible for listing in the California Register of Historical Resources (CRHR) (Public Resources Code 5024.1, Title 14 CCR, Section 4850 et. seq.);
  • Listed in, or eligible for listing in, the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP);
  • Included in a local register of historical resources, as defined in an historical resource survey meeting the requirements of Section 5024.1(g) of the Public Resource Code; or
  • Any object, building, structure, site, area, place, record, or manuscript which a lead agency determines to be historically significant or significant in the architectural, engineering, scientific, economic, agricultural, educational, social, political, military, or cultural annals of California, provided the lead agency’s determination is supported by substantial evidence in light of the whole record.


National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA)

Section 106 of the NHPA and its implementing regulations 36 CFR Part 800 pertain to potential affects to historic properties by Federal “undertakings.” A Federal undertaking is defined as a project, activity or program funded in whole or part under the direct or indirect jurisdiction of a Federal agency, including those carried out by or on behalf of a Federal agency; those carried out with Federal financial assistance; and those requiring a Federal permit, license or approval (36 CFR 800.16(y). The NHPA directs federal agencies to take into account the effects of these undertakings on historic properties and allow the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) an opportunity to comment. Historic properties are properties that are included in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) or that meet the criteria for the National Register. 

In order to be included or qualify for the National Register a building, structure, object, site or district must possess significance in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering or culture, and must be associated with an important historic context and retain historic integrity of those features necessary to convey its significance. The resource should possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association, and meet any of the following criteria:

A.   Is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or
B.   Is associated with the lives of persons important in our past; or
C.   Embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or represent the work of a master, or possesses high artistic values, or represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
D.   Has yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.


Integrity is the authenticity of a historic property’s physical identity evidenced by the survival of characteristics that existed during the resource’s period of significance. Seven aspects of integrity are recognized: location, design, setting, materials, feeling, workmanship and association. The historic significance of a property is impaired when a project demolishes or materially alters in an adverse manner those physical characteristics that convey its historic significance and that justify its eligibility for a historic listing.