In a lengthy published decision filed September 9, 2014, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed in part and reversed in part the trial court’s judgment denying a writ petition challenging Colusa County’s adoption of a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND). The project approved was a subdivision of four adjacent parcels, comprising 159 acres of industrially-zoned land near I-5, into 16 parcels ranging from just over one to 31 acres each. Rominger v. County of Colusa (Adams Group Inc., Real Party in Interest) (3d Dist. 2014) ____ Cal.App.4th ____, Case No. C073815. Key holdings and “takeaways” from the 48-page opinion, which was authored by noted CEQA jurist Justice Ronald Robie, included:
In a published opinion filed August 29, 2014, the Fifth District Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment granting a writ of mandate and finding that the City of Fresno erred in approving a mitigated negative declaration (MND) for an infill project involving the demolition of two houses and construction of 14 duplexes on a 1.29-acre lot in downtown Fresno. Citizens for the Restoration of L Street v. City of Fresno (FFDA Properties, LLC, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (5th Dist. 2014) __ Cal.App.4th ___, Case No. F066498. In resolving the cross-appeals before it, the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court in holding that: (1) the City violated CEQA’s procedural requirements by allowing – as required by its Municipal Code – its Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) to act as its decisionmaking body in approving the demolition permit for the project while not concurrently delegating CEQA review authority to that body; and (2) the City properly applied the “substantial evidence” – rather than the “fair argument” – standard of review in determining that the demolished houses were not “historical resources” and therefore not part of the “environment” protected by CEQA.
In a lengthy, mostly-unpublished opinion filed on August 14, 2014, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the superior court’s judgment denying a writ petition challenging the Parkmerced Development Project. San Francisco Tomorrow, et al. v. City and County of San Francisco, et al. (Parkmerced Investors Properties, LLC, Real Parties in Interest) (1st Dist., Div. 2, 2014) ____ Cal.App.4th ___, 2014 WL3973033. A 50-page portion of the 75-page opinion, which contained the court’s detailed analysis and rejection of appellant San Francisco Tomorrow’s (“SFT”) numerous general plan inconsistency and CEQA claims, was not certified for publication. The court did certify for publication those portions of its decision: (1) analyzing and rejecting SFT’s direct challenges to the legal adequacy of City’s general plan; (2) holding the trial court did not err in sustaining a demurrer to SFT’s procedural due process cause of action challenging the project’s development agreement; and (3) holding the trial court did not err in including in the administrative record hearing transcripts of public meetings of the Board’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee (“LUEDC”) at which the project was considered and discussed. Continue Reading
On August 15, 2014, the Contra Costa Times reported on a wide-ranging interview of California Governor Jerry Brown conducted by the Mercury News opinion and editorial board on that same date. While largely devoted to other topics (such as the CPUC scandal, Brown’s twin-tunnel Delta plan, and the state budget), the article interpreted Brown’s responses to questions asked about CEQA as “suggest[ing] that comprehensive reform of the California Environmental Quality Act, long one of his top priorities, is all but dead.”
In a concise 15-page opinion filed August 7, 2014, the California Supreme Court reversed the Fifth District Court of Appeal’s judgment which had held that a city may not adopt a voter-sponsored initiative with potential environmental impacts unless it conducts a CEQA analysis. Tuolumne Jobs & Small Business Alliance v. The Superior Court of Tuolumne County (Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., et al., Real Parties In Interest (2014) ___ Cal.4th ___, Case No. S207173. (For relevant case background, my initial post analyzing, criticizing, and predicting that the Supreme Court would grant review of the Fifth District’s decision can be accessed at the following link: “Impossible and Useless CEQA Review Is Required If City Opts Under Elections Code to Adopt Legislative Project Approvals Proposed by Qualified Citizen Initiative Petition – Fifth District’s Holding In Walmart Rejects Fourth District Precedent And Creates Split In Authority,” by Arthur F. Coon, posted November 8, 2012.)
Alleged land use conflicts between newly proposed land uses and existing nearby airports are nothing new, and can produce heated CEQA battles as project opponents often raise “life safety” issues as potential project impacts. This scenario was exemplified in a recent Fifth District Court of Appeal decision, which it ordered certified for partial publication after it was initially filed on June 30, 2014 as an unpublished opinion. Citizens Opposing a Dangerous Environment v. County of Kern, et al. (North Sky River Energy, LLC, Jawbone Wind Energy, LLC, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (5th Dist. 2014), __________ Cal.App.4th ___________, 2014 WL 3696543. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying a petition for writ of mandate and upholding the adequacy of Kern County’s EIR and its project approvals (rezoning and a CUP) for a 339-megawatt, 116 wind turbine generator (“WTG”) wind farm project (the “Project”) to be constructed near a private (and apparently unpermitted) airport (the Kelso Valley Airport, or “KVA”) in the Tehachapi Wind Resource Area.
In a decision ordered published on June 17, 2014, nearly a month after it was originally filed, the Fourth District Court of Appeal addressed a key element of the related doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel – the concept of “privity.” (Roberson v. City of Rialto (Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust, et al., Real Parties In Interest) (4th Dist. 2014) 226 Cal.App.4th 1499.) The Court did so in a manner that could prove very useful to public agencies and project proponents defending actions brought by ostensibly distinct CEQA/land use plaintiffs who are actually seeking to serially re-litigate claims or issues brought in the “public interest” that have previously been finally adjudicated.
While CEQA actions are statutorily designed as special proceedings with priority over other civil actions, and thus mandated to be heard and resolved expeditiously, when complex or controversial projects with dedicated opposition are involved this salutary statutory scheme sometimes goes off track. A prominent example is the ongoing CEQA challenge to the environmental review for the Central Valley to San Francisco route of the High-Speed Rail Project, which involves lawsuits that have stretched over parts of 7 years and are not yet concluded — although a recent appellate decision appears to have brought them a step closer to the driving of the final CEQA litigation spike.
In a decision filed June 6, but not certified for publication until July 2, 2014, the Sixth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment upholding the City of San Jose’s eighth addendum to its Airport Master Plan against plaintiff Citizens Against Airport Pollution’s (CAAP) CEQA challenge. Citizens Against Airport Pollution v. City of San Jose, et al., __ Cal.App.4th __, 2014 WL 2987959 (6th Dist. 2014).
On July 7, 2014, the First District Court of Appeal filed its published opinion affirming the trial court’s judgment upholding the EIR for the Treasure Island/Yerba Buena Island Project. Citizens for a Sustainable Treasure Island v. City and County of San Francisco, et al. (Treasure Island Community Development LLC, RPI), __ Cal. App. 4th __, 2014 WL 3057986 (1st Dist. 2014).