In a published opinion filed May 20, 2015, the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment granting mandate relief based on a general plan violation, affirmed its denial of relief under CEQA, and thereby upheld the City of Newport Beach’s approval of a mixed-use development within the coastal zone on the 400-acre Banning Ranch property. Banning Ranch Conservancy v. City of Newport Beach (Newport Banning Ranch LLC, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (4th Dist., Div. 3, 2015) ___ Cal.App.4th ___, 2015 WL 2399347.
On May 7, 2015, the Sixth District Court of Appeal filed a published opinion addressing numerous issues of interest under CEQA’s “fair argument” test for preparing an Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”). Keep Our Mountains Quiet v. County of Santa Clara (Candice Clark Wozniak, as Trustee, Real Party in Interest) (6th Dist. 2015) __ Cal.App.4th __, 2015 WL 2152905.
I recall that Mike Zischke, co-author of CEB’s excellent CEQA treatise, used to be fond of saying the “normal” or “usual rules” for analyzing cumulative impacts should apply to analysis of a project’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions under CEQA. As underscored most recently by Governor Brown’s April 29, 2015 Executive Order B-30-15, the law, policy and science related to GHGs and climate change are evolving rapidly. In the face of such rapid change, is it possible that the “usual rules” are in flux or no longer apply? At the very least, Governor Brown’s much-publicized recent executive order highlights that CEQA analysis of GHG impacts under the “usual rules” has “evolved” into a state of considerable uncertainty and confusion.
In an opinion filed March 18 and belatedly ordered published on April 13, 2015, the Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld a trial court’s discretion to award only $19,176 in attorneys’ fees under Code of Civil Procedure § 1021.5 to a successful CEQA plaintiff (SOURCE) who sought $221,198 based on a $110,599 “lodestar” with a multiplier of two. Save Our Uniquely Rural Community Environment v. County of San Bernardino (Al-Nur Islamic Center, Real Party in Interest) (4th Dist., Div. 2, 2015) – Cal.App.4th ___, 2015 WL 1259781. SOURCE, an organization of individuals, had successfully challenged San Bernardino County’s mitigated negative declaration (MND) and conditional use permit (CUP) for real party in interest Al-Nur Islamic Center’s proposed 7,512-square foot Islamic community center and mosque to be located on a 1.54-acre parcel in a residential part of the unincorporated county. Rejecting 5 of its 6 CEQA arguments, the trial court granted SOURCE’s writ petition on the sole ground that county failed to properly analyze the project’s environmental impacts from wastewater disposal, and ordered county to adequately analyze such impacts under CEQA.
In a short published opinion, the Second District Court of Appeal rejected federal Clean Water Act, state Porter Cologne Water Quality Control Act, and CEQA challenges to a regional board’s Basin Plan Amendment establishing a total maximum daily load (TMDL) for lake bed sediment in a polluted terminal lake (McGrath Lake). Conway v. State Water Resources Control Board (3/30/15 2d Dist., Div. 6) ____ Cal.App.4th _____, 2015 WL 1417283, 2d Civil No. B252688.
On March 11, 2015, the California Supreme Court granted the San Diego Association of Governments’ (SANDAG) petition for review of the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s decision in Cleveland National Forest Foundation v. San Diego Association of Governments (Case No. S223603). As reflected on the Supreme Court’s docket, the Order granting review limited the issues to be briefed and argued to the following: “Must the environmental impact report for a regional transportation plan include an analysis of the plan’s consistency with the greenhouse gas emission reduction goals reflected in Executive Order No. 5-3-05 to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act …?” All seven justices voted to review this issue.
In a 46-page majority opinion written by Justice Chin and joined by four other justices, punctuated by an 18-page concurring opinion (by Justice Liu, joined by Justice Werdegar) which reads like a dissent, the California Supreme Court reversed the First District Court of Appeal’s judgment in Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley (Case Nos. S201116, A131254) and remanded for further proceedings.
In a decision filed January 29, and belatedly ordered published on February 18, 2015, the Fourth District Court of Appeal rejected numerous CEQA (and other) challenges to the City of San Diego’s regular, after-the-fact coastal and site development permits authorizing already-completed emergency storm drainage repair work as well as site revegetation at a hillside site in La Jolla. CREED-21 v. City of San Diego (4th Dist., Div. 1, 2015) ___ Cal. App. 4th __, 2015 WL 682777.) In so doing, it reversed the trial court’s decision granting a writ of mandate setting aside the City’s approvals, and made crystal-clear that work performed and completed under CEQA’s emergency exemption becomes part of the “existing conditions” environmental baseline for purposes of a subsequent CEQA challenge to the permanent permits when the exemption itself is not timely challenged.
In a published opinion filed February 18, 2015, the Third District Court of Appeal rejected all legal challenges to the City of Sacramento’s EIR and CEQA compliance for approval of its new downtown entertainment and sports center (ESC) which will serve as the Sacramento King’s new home arena. Saltonstall v. City of Sacramento (3d Dist. 2015) ___ Cal.App.4th __, 2015 WL 708608. Key points of the Court’s decision, which affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying the writ sought by project opponents, include:
Numerous CEQA-related developments have recently been in the news. Some of possible interest include: