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) ____ Cal.App.4th ____, 2015 WL 4077320. 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
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) ____ Cal.App.4th ____, 2015 WL 3564971. 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
In a 47-page published decision filed June 17, 2015, the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment denying a writ petition, and held that Respondent Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (“Agency”) must comply with CEQA before “refining” its Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (“MSHCP”) to exclude a 200-acre parcel of ranch land owned by Anheuser-Busch, LLC (“Busch”) from its protections against development. Albert Thomas Paulek v. Western Riverside County Regional Conservation Authority (Anheuser-Busch, LLC, Real Party in Interest) (4th Dist., Div. 2, 2015) ___ Cal.App.4th ___, 2015 WL 3765370. Continue Reading
In a published decision filed May 28, 2015, the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed that part of the trial court’s judgment granting a writ of mandate and otherwise affirmed the judgment, thus upholding the City of San Diego’s Balboa Park revitalization project (“Project”) against various land use law and CEQA challenges. Save Our Heritage Organization v. City of San Diego (The Plaza de Panama Committee, Real Party in Interest) (4th Dist.2015) ___ Cal.App.4th ____, 2015 WL 3587805. Continue Reading
In one of the most widely followed land use cases in recent years, the Supreme Court of California unanimously upheld the City of San Jose’s affordable housing ordinance because it was intended to advance the constitutionally permissible public purposes of increasing the amount of affordable housing in the community and promoting economically diverse developments. California Bldg. Industry Ass’n v. City of San Jose, __ Cal. 4th __ (June 15, 2015, Case No. S212072). According to the court, such ordinances should be evaluated under a municipality’s broad discretion to regulate the use of real property to serve the legitimate interests of the general public and the community at large, rather than as an exaction imposed to mitigate the adverse impacts of development. Continue Reading
Under CEQA, a “trustee agency” is a “state agency having jurisdiction by law over natural resources affected by a project which are held in trust for the people of the State of California” and “[t]he California Department of Fish and Game [now Wildlife (“DFW”)] [is such a trustee agency] with regard to the fish and wildlife of the state, to designated rare or endangered native plants, and to game refuges, ecological reserves, and other areas administered by the department.” (14 Cal. Code Regs., § 15386(a).) CEQA lead agencies are required to provide notice to and consult with DFW and other trustee agencies (among other public agencies and entities) with respect to CEQA documents being prepared by the lead agency for projects that may affect the relevant resources. (E.g., 14 Cal. Code Regs., § 15086(a)(2) [lead agency shall consult with and request comments on Draft EIR from trustee agencies].) Development projects requiring work to be done in and around rivers, streams and lakes commonly require the developer – as one of the many project approvals typically required – to enter into what has become popularly known as a “Streambed Alteration Agreement” (“SAA”) with DFW to protect fish and wildlife resources that may be affected by the project. (See Fish & Game Code, § 1603; Environmental Protection Information Center v. California Dept. of Forestry & Fire Protection (2008) 44 Cal.4th 459, 1518-1521 [discussing statutory provisions for so-called “streambed alteration agreements” and their interplay with CEQA].)
On May 27, 2015, the California Supreme Court filed a 4-page order modifying portions of the majority and concurring opinions previously filed March 2, 2015, in Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley (2015) 60 Cal.4th 1086. The modifications, made to the majority opinion at pages 1098-1099, 1102, and to the concurring opinion at page 1130, soften the majority’s comparison between (1) the unsuccessful appellants’ position on operation of the unusual circumstances exception to categorical exemptions, and (2) the operation of CEQA’s co-called “common sense” exemption embodied in Guidelines § 15061(b)(3).
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.