CEQA Developments

Proposed CEQA Guidelines Amendments: A Critique of OPR’s “Preliminary Discussion Draft” (Part II – Proposed “Substance” and Major “Technical Improvements”)

Posted in Baseline, Climate Change/GHG, Cumulative Effects, Legislation, Litigation, Mitigation, Reform, Responses to Comments, Subsequent Review, Water Supply

On September 18, 2015, I posted a “Part I” piece on the “efficiency improvements” category of OPR’s Preliminary Discussion Draft of its “Proposed Updates to the CEQA Guidelines” (the “Discussion Draft”). That post can be found here. This follow up post (Part II) covers OPR’s most significant proposals contained in the Discussion Draft’s remaining two categories, i.e., its two proposed “Substance” improvements and its first three proposed “Technical” improvements, but excludes the remaining dozen proposals that OPR classifies as only “minor technical improvements.”

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Supreme Court Depublishes Lengthy CEQA Categorical Exemption Case

Posted in Approval/Pre-Commitment, Exemptions, Exhaustion, Land Use, Legislation, Litigation, Mitigation, Standing, Uncategorized

On September 9, 2015, the California Supreme Court denied review and decertified the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s previously published opinion in Albert Thomas Paulek v. Western Riverside Regional Conservation Authority, which had appeared at 238 Cal.App.4th 583. A discussion of the issues presented by the case and my analyses of the Court of Appeal’s reasoning on them can be found in my post on the originally published opinion. (See “Fourth District Holds Agency’s Removal of Conservation Designation From Land Formerly Protected Under MSHCP Is ‘Project’ Subject to CEQA; Class 7 and 8 Categorical Exemptions for Environmentally Protective Regulatory Actions Do Not Apply,” by Arthur F. Coon, posted July 2, 2015.)

The Supreme Court’s depublication order means that while the decision remains binding on the parties to the case, it will not be citable as precedential authority under California law.

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First District Applies CEQA Exhaustion/Standing Rules, Upholds Judgment Rejecting Claim of Statutory Exemption for Controversial State Lands Commission Land Exchange Agreement

Posted in Exemptions, Exhaustion, Litigation, Standing

In a published decision filed September 17, 2015, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment granting a writ of mandate and finding that a proposed land exchange agreement was not statutorily exempt from CEQA review. Defend Our Waterfront v. California State Lands Commission, et al (San Francisco Waterfront Partners II, LLC, et al) (1st Dist., Div. 4, 2015) ___ Cal.App.4th ___, 2015 WL 5450294. The underlying facts are straightforward, as is the Court’s holding interpreting CEQA’s statutory exemption that applies to “settlements of title and boundary problems by the State Lands Commission and to exchanges or leases in connection with those settlements.” (Pub. Resources Code, § 21080.11.) Perhaps more interesting, however, is the Court’s treatment (partly in dicta) of CEQA’s statutory standing and exhaustion requirements as embodied in Public Resources Code § 21177. Continue Reading

Proposed CEQA Guidelines Amendments: A Critique Of OPR’s “Preliminary Discussion Draft” (Part I – Proposed “Efficiency Improvements”)

Posted in Baseline, CEQA-in-reverse, Climate Change/GHG, Cumulative Effects, Exemptions, Land Use, Legislation, Litigation, Mitigation, Recirculation, Reform, Remedies, Standard of Review, Subsequent Review

On August 11, 2015, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) released a 145-page “Preliminary Discussion Draft” of “Proposed Updates to the CEQA Guidelines” (the “Discussion Draft”). The Discussion Draft “contains [OPR’s] initial thoughts on possible amendments to the CEQA Guidelines” and proposes revisions to nearly thirty (30) sections that OPR classifies into three categories: (1) efficiency improvements; (2) substance improvements; and (3) technical improvements. If ultimately adopted in some form, the Discussion Draft’s proposals would constitute the most comprehensive update to the Guidelines since the late 1990s. The Discussion Draft’s Executive Summary describes it as “a balanced package that is intended to make the [CEQA] process easier and quicker to implement, and better protect natural and fiscal resources consistent with other state environmental policies.” Continue Reading

Back To The Chalk Board: School District’s Math Fails To Justify CEQA Categorical Exemption For School Closures

Posted in Administrative Record, Baseline, Cumulative Effects, Exemptions, Remedies, Standard of Review

In a published opinion filed September 2, 2015, the Fourth District Court of Appeal (Division 2) reversed the trial court’s judgment denying a writ petition challenging a school district’s determination that its closure of two schools and related student transfers were exempt from CEQA. Save Our Schools v. Barstow Unified School District Board of Education (2015) ____ Cal.App.4th ____, 2015 WL 5147347. In directing on remand the issuance of a writ that would, at a minimum, mandate that the District void its exemption determination and reconsider the matter, the Court also held that the District could in further proceedings consider additional evidence not before it at the time it made its initial exemption decision, and that any challengers would have the opportunity to present additional evidence as well. Continue Reading

First District Holds Public Agency’s Inadvertent Disclosure of Privileged Documents In Response To PRA Request Does Not Waive Privilege; Decision Has Implications For Administrative Record Preparation Process In CEQA And Other Actions

Posted in Administrative Record, Land Use, Legislation, Litigation, Reform

On July 31, 2015, the Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District, Division One, filed a 23-page published opinion holding that the inadvertent disclosure of attorney-client privileged and work product protected documents by a public agency in response to a Public Records Act (“PRA”) request did not waive the privilege. Newark Unified School District v. The Superior Court of Alameda County (Elizabeth Brazil, Real Party in Interest) (2015) ___ Cal.App.4th ___, 2015 WL 4594095. While the PRA request and responses at issue were not made in the context of litigation by the requesting party against the responding public agency, the Court’s holding has implications for that scenario, which is a common occurrence in CEQA and other litigation against public agencies. Continue Reading

CEQA Litigation Abuses Documented By New Empirical Study Of Recent Case Filings

Posted in Climate Change/GHG, Land Use, Legislation, Litigation, Reform, Remedies, Standing, Uncategorized

A 138-page report, including 371 footnotes and a 30-page appendix listing all properly documented CEQA lawsuits filed in California over its 3-year study period (2010-2012), has been posted by its authors, Holland & Knight attorneys Jennifer Hernandez, David Friedman and Stephanie DeHerrera (the “authors”) on their firm’s website. The study is entitled “In the Name of the Environment” and subtitled “How Litigation Abuse Under the California Environmental Quality Act Undermines California’s Environmental, Social Equity and Economic Priorities – and Proposed Reforms to Protect the Environment From CEQA Litigation Abuse.” Based on my review, the study will be a valuable and interesting read for environmental and land use lawyers, consultants, and others regularly involved with or interested in the CEQA process. That said, its findings and conclusions will not come as any surprise to those on the front lines of CEQA litigation. Continue Reading

The “Old College Try” Flunks Out: California Supreme Court Holds CEQA Mitigation Obligation For CSU Campus Expansion Projects Extends Beyond Unsuccessful Effort To Obtain Earmarked Legislative Appropriation

Posted in Alternatives, Cumulative Effects, Exactions, Legislation, Mitigation, Standard of Review

In an August 3, 2015 decision that impacts the California State University’s (CSU) plans to expand its campuses across the state, the California Supreme Court has rejected CSU’s arguments that mitigation of its projects’ off-site impacts through the payment of “fair share” fees is legally infeasible unless the Legislature appropriates funding specifically earmarked for that purpose. City of San Diego, et al. v. Board of Trustees of the California State University (2015) ___ Cal.4th ___, 2015 WL 4605356 (Case No. S199557). The Supreme Court thus affirmed the court of appeal’s judgment decertifying CSU’s 2007 EIR and related findings of infeasibility and statement of overriding considerations for its San Diego State University (SDSU) campus expansion project. Continue Reading

Fourth District Expounds On CEQA’s Responses To Comments Rules – And Abuses of the Process – As Well As Other Issues In Upholding Supplemental EIR For Expanded Orange County Jail Facility

Posted in Baseline, Cumulative Effects, Litigation, Mitigation, Standard of Review, Subsequent Review

In an opinion filed June 12 and ordered published on July 6, 2015, the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment upholding a supplemental EIR (“SEIR 564”) for a long-planned expansion of the James A. Musick Jail Facility to accommodate 7,584 inmates. City of Irvine v. County of Orange (4th Dist., Div. 3, 2015) 238 Cal.App.4th 526. The appellate decision represents the culmination of roughly three decades of litigation efforts by the neighboring City of Irvine to stop the jail expansion. It focuses on issues including the propriety of a “supplemental” EIR, the adequacy of the SEIR’s analyses of the project’s impacts on traffic and loss of agricultural lands, and the adequacy of its responses to comments. Continue Reading

Fourth District Holds Losing CEQA Plaintiff’s Mooted Appeal Was Not “Catalyst” To City’s Revocation Of Project Entitlements After Developer Abandoned Project; Trial Court’s Denial Of Private Attorney General Fee Motion Affirmed

Posted in Administrative Record, Fees and Costs, Litigation, Remedies, Standard of Review

In an opinion filed June 8, and ordered published on July 6, 2015, the Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying a CEQA plaintiff’s motion for attorneys’ fees under CCP § 1021.5, California’s private attorney general statute. Coalition for a Sustainable Future In Yucaipa v. City of Yucaipa (Target Stores, Inc., Real Party In Interest) (4th Dist., Div. 2, 2015) 238 Cal.App.4th 513.  The Court’s opinion explicates in detail and applies the rules governing such motions when brought on a catalyst theory, and does so in a rather unique procedural context – one in which the moving party was an unsuccessful CEQA plaintiff whose appeal of an adverse judgment became moot as a result of the developer’s abandonment of the challenged project for reasons wholly unrelated to plaintiff’s action. Continue Reading