In a 29-page published opinion filed October 14, 2016, the Fourth District Court of Appeal dispensed some good news to municipalities desiring to reasonably regulate retail medical marijuana facilities within their jurisdictional boundaries.  In Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, Inc. v. City of San Diego (4th Dist., Div. 1, 2016) ___ Cal.App.5th ___, Case No. D068185, the Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying a writ petition on the basis that the City of San Diego’s ordinance regulating the establishment and location of medical marijuana consumer cooperatives was not a “project” subject to CEQA.

Continue Reading Blowing Smoke About Impacts? Fourth District Rejects Speculative CEQA Challenge to San Diego’s Medical Marijuana Consumer Cooperative Ordinance, Holds Zoning Ordinances Are Not Necessarily CEQA “Projects”

The Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”; 25 U.S.C. § 2701 et seq.) allows gaming on Indian lands acquired by the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) in trust for a tribe’s benefit after October 17, 1988, if, among other things, the Secretary determines it would be in the tribe’s best interest and not detrimental to the surrounding community, and the governor of the state where the land is located concurs with the determination.  (25 U.S.C., § 2719(b)(1)(A).)  Further, casino-style gaming may be conducted if authorized by a tribal-state compact, and California Constitutional and statutory law designates the Governor as the state officer authorized to negotiate and execute such compacts.  (Cal. Const., art. IV, § 19(f); Gov. Code, § 12012.5(d).)

Continue Reading Governor (Still) Not A Public Agency Subject To CEQA, Holds Third District In Indian Gaming Case

It’s always nice not to lose a hard-won prevailing party cost award due to a court’s imprecise use of party designations – which can get confusing where there are multiple appeals at issue.  On October 4, 2016, the Fifth Appellate District Court of Appeal issued a two-page Order entitled “Order Modifying Opinion and Denying Rehearing [Includes Change In Judgment]” in the recently decided consolidated appeals in the Citizens for Ceres v. City of Ceres litigation.  The minor change made in the last sentence of the opinion’s disposition clarified that: (1) Respondents (City of Ceres and Real Party Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., et al.) were awarded costs as prevailing parties in the merits appeal, which affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying the writ petition challenging the EIR, statement of overriding considerations, and approval of Wal-Mart’s controversial Ceres project; and (2) Appellants (Wal-Mart, et al.) were awarded costs as prevailing parties in the separate costs appeal, which resulted in the published portion of the opinion reversing the trial court’s order taxing costs of $44,889.71 claimed by Wal-Mart for amounts it had to reimburse the City for administrative record preparation.  My post on the Court’s partially published September 12, 2016 opinion in the case can be found here.

Continue Reading Fifth District Denies Rehearing, Corrects Published Opinion And Judgment In Consolidated City of Ceres Appeals To Reflect Wal-Mart’s Cost Award As Prevailing Party On Costs Appeal

“… like all things in life, project plans are subject to change.”
(Slip Opn. of Kruger, J., p. 4.)

The California Supreme Court provided needed clarification to some aspects of the operation of CEQA’s “subsequent review” rules (Pub. Resources Code, § 21166; CEQA Guidelines, § 15162) in its highly anticipated opinion, filed on September 19, 2016, in Friends of the College of San Mateo Gardens v. San Mateo County Community College District (2016) ___ Cal.5th ___, 2016 WL 4978435.   CEQA’s subsequent review rules embody CEQA’s concerns for finality and efficiency, and implement a presumption against requiring a subsequent EIR for a modified project that has previously undergone CEQA review – i.e., they  govern whether an EIR will be required, or another type of CEQA document (or no further documentation) will suffice, when changes are proposed in a project for which an initial CEQA review has been completed.  (Slip Opn., p. 12.)  I won’t reiterate this case’s facts and relevant background history (including oral argument and post-argument briefing in the Supreme Court) which can be found (in reverse chronological order) in my prior blog posts of July 8, May 12, May 4, April 26, 2016, and March 25, 2014.  This post focuses on the legal rules and standards announced by the Court and their potentially significant implications for lead agencies and project proponents who consider approval of changes to a development project that has already undergone and survived a full CEQA review.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Addresses CEQA Subsequent Review Rules in San Mateo Gardens Case

In the published portion of an opinion filed September 12, 2016, the Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s order taxing costs in the amount of $44,889.71 which were claimed by prevailing real party in interest Wal-Mart in connection with preparation of the administrative record.  The costs were incurred by respondent and lead agency City of Ceres when it directed its outside counsel to prepare the record in a CEQA action challenging a Wal‑Mart Supercenter project, and were reimbursed by real party Wal-Mart pursuant to an agreement with the City that required the project applicant to reimburse it for all expenses arising from legal challenges to the project.  Citizens For Ceres v. City of Ceres (Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2016) ___ Cal.App.5th ___, 2016 WL 4733253.

Continue Reading Neither CEQA Administrative Record Preparation Statute nor Case Law Precludes Award of Costs to Prevailing Real Party who Reimburses Lead Agency Its Costs of Record Preparation

On September 9, 2016, the First District Court of Appeal (Division 5) filed an “Order Modifying Opinion and Denying Rehearing [No Change In Judgment]” in California Building Industry Association v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Case. Nos. A135335 & A136212.  My post on the Court of Appeal’s published opinion in the case, which was filed on August 12, 2015 following remand from a landmark Supreme Court decision holding that “CEQA does not generally require an agency to consider the effects of existing environmental conditions on a proposed project’s future users or residents” (California Building Industry Assn. v. Bay Area Air Quality Management Dist. (2015) 62 Cal.4th 369, 392), can be found here. 

Continue Reading First District Modifies “Reverse CEQA” Case Opinion, Denies BAAQMD’s Petition For Rehearing With No Change In Judgment

In a published opinion filed August 31, 2016, the Sixth Appellate District Court of Appeal rejected claims under CEQA and the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (“SMARA”; Pub. Resources Code, §§ 2700, et seq.), and affirmed the denial of a writ petition challenging Santa Clara County’s 2012 EIR and related approval of a reclamation plan amendment for the Permanente Quarry. Bay Area Clean Environment, Inc. v. Santa Clara County (Lehigh Southwest Cement Company, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2016) ___ Cal.App.5th ___, 2016 WL 9540085.  The plan amendment governs (over a 20-year period) the closing and reclaiming of the Quarry, which has conducted limestone and aggregate surface mining operations since 1903 in the unincorporated County.  The Quarry has expanded from about 1,300 acres when the Permanente Corporation purchased it in 1939 to its current 3,510 acres.  It includes a central rock/limestone mining pit, a rock crushing area, and administrative offices all located within the upper portion of the Permanente Creek watershed; the creek flows east and borders the Quarry pit’s south side before leaving the Quarry property and running to the bay.

Continue Reading Sixth District Rejects SMARA And CEQA Challenges To Permanente Quarry Reclamation Plan Amendment And Related EIR

The First District Court of Appeal has issued another published decision applying the “substantial evidence” standard of review to a local agency’s decision not to prepare an EIR for approval of revisions to a project for which a Mitigated Negative Declaration was initially prepared. Coastal Hills Rural Preservation v. County of Sonoma (Jack Petranker, et al., Real Parties In Interest) (1st Dist., Div. One, 8/31/16) ___Cal.App.5th___, 2016 WL 4538384. The project at issue was “the third in a series of master use permits (MUPs) for … the Tibeten Nyingma Meditation Center[’s] (TNMC)” Buddhist retreat center (Ratna Ling) located on a 120-acre property, designated as Resources and Rural Development (RRD) in County’s general plan, in a rural area of western Sonoma County. A citizens group opposed to retreat expansion, Coastal Hills Rural Preservation (CHRP), sued under CEQA claiming an EIR was required because the project greatly expanded an existing “industrial” printing press operation on the property (used by retreatants to print sacred Buddhist texts for free distribution in Asia to Buddhists whose libraries have been destroyed by Chinese authorities). The most recent MUP application sought to:  authorize as permanent four (4) previously temporary steel-frame, fire-retardant membrane storage tents totaling approximately 40,000 square feet (equipped with automatic sprinklers and used to store the texts); add to the property’s extensive existing facilities a six-bedroom residence and eight tent cabins for volunteers; and increase the retreat’s total occupancy limit to 98 persons with 24 additional persons allowed on a seasonal basis (apparently fluctuating with the intensity of the volunteer printing activities).

Continue Reading First District Applies CEQA’s “Subsequent Review” Rules, Substantial Evidence Standard of Review; Upholds Subsequent Mitigated Negative Declaration and Modified Master Use Permit for Remote Buddhist Retreat

On August 17, 2016, the California Supreme Court ordered the Fourth District’s opinion in People for Proper Planning v. City of Palm Springs (2016) 247 Cal.App.4th 640 to be depublished, rendering it unciteable and of no precedential effect.  I posted two previous blog entries on the Court of Appeal’s original decision and its subsequent modificationContinue Reading Supreme Court Depublishes Quirky Fourth District CEQA/General Plan Decision

About one year after being placed in the California Legislature’s “Inactive File,” SB 122 (concerning concurrent preparation of the CEQA administrative record and OPR electronic database) is back “off the shelf.”  The bill passed in the State Assembly yesterday, and will next be considered by the Senate for concurrence in the Assembly’s amendments.  It must be passed by both houses between now and the end of the month (if it is to be sent to Governor Brown for signature).

As originally proposed in early 2015, SB 122 contained only one detailed statutory provision – the addition of Public Resources Code § 21167.6.2 – which would create a detailed new alternative method for expedited preparation of the record of proceedings (i.e., the “administrative record”) in CEQA cases, at the election and expense of the applicant and with the consent of the public agency.  It also contained two “placeholder” sections declaring the Legislature’s intent to establish an electronic database clearinghouse of CEQA documents maintained by the State Office of Planning and Research (OPR) and to establish a public review period for Final EIRs.

Continue Reading Statutory CEQA Reform Proposal (SB 122) Reemerges With Optional Expedited Record Preparation Provisions Unchanged; Fleshes Out OPR Electronic Database Placeholder; And Drops Controversial Effort To Provide Public Review Period for Final EIRs