In a detailed 66-page published opinion filed April 10, 2017, the Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s order discharging a writ of mandate that was issued to compel the California Air Resources Board (“CARB”) to correct CEQA violations in connection with its 2009 adoption of low carbon fuel standards (“LCFS”) regulations.  POET, LLC v. State Air Resources Board (National Resources Defense Council, Inc., Intervenor and Respondent) (2017) 10 Cal.App.5th 764, Case No. F073340  (“POET II”).  The CEQA violations resulting in the writ were discussed in the Court of Appeal’s earlier published opinion, POET, LLC. V. State Air Resources Bd. (2013) 218 Cal.App.4th 68 (“POET I”), which was summarized in my blog post here.

Continue Reading CARB Violated CEQA and Writ in LCFS Litigation, Holds Fifth District, While Leaving New 2015 Regs in Effect

On January 11, 2017, the California Supreme Court by unanimous order granted review in yet another CEQA case, Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, Inc. v. City of San Diego (2016) 4 Cal.App.5th 103, Supreme Court Case No. S238563.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Grants Review in Medical Marijuana Case Presenting CEQA “Project” Definition Issues

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

In a 58-page published opinion filed June 30, 2016, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the Alameda County Superior Court’s judgment upholding the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s (MTC) and Association of Bay Area Government’s (ABAG) EIR for and approval of “Plan Bay Area,” the agencies’ first Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) prepared pursuant to California’s landmark “Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008” (SB 375).  Bay Area Citizens v. Association of Bay Area Governments, et al (2016) 248 Cal.App.4th 966.

Continue Reading First District Rejects CEQA Challenge To “Plan Bay Area” Sustainable Communities Strategy EIR As Premised On Fundamental Misinterpretation of SB 375

In the published part of a partially published opinion filed July 11, 2016, the Second Appellate District Court of Appeal held that Public Resources Code § 21168.9 does not authorize an appellate court to issue and supervise compliance with a writ of mandate on direct appeal, but, rather, such a matter must be remitted to the trial court with appropriate directions. Center for Biological Diversity v. Department of Fish and Wildlife (The Newhall Land and Farming Company, Real Party in Interest) (5th Dist., Div. 5, 2016) 1 Cal.App.5th 452, Case No. B245131.  The Court thus rejected the real party developer’s motion (on remand of the case from the Supreme Court) arguing that CEQA’s “general principle” of expediting litigation and specific language in its remedies statute (Pub. Resources Code, § 21168.9) authorized such action.

Continue Reading CEQA Remedies Statute Does Not Authorize Appellate Court To Issue Writ And Supervise Compliance On Direct Appeal, Holds Second District In Partially Published Decision On Remand In Newhall Ranch Case

In an order filed June 17, 2016, the Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District (Division 2) modified its opinion filed April 22, and ordered partially published May 20, 2016, in People for Proper Planning v. City of Palm Springs (2016) ___ Cal.App.4th ___, 2016 WL 1633062.  The modification, which did not affect the judgment, substituted at page 8 of the prior slip opinion a paragraph discussing the operation of categorical exemptions and the “unusual circumstances” exception thereto, and cited to the relevant standards enunciated by the Supreme Court’s decision in Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley (2015) 60 Cal.4th 1086, 1105, 1114.  It also added a footnote to page 9 stating:  “The City does not dispute that this case presents “unusual circumstances.””

Continue Reading Fourth District Modifies CEQA Categorical Exemption Opinion Involving Palm Springs General Plan Amendment Without Altering Judgment

In a brief – and somewhat odd – opinion filed April 22, and belatedly ordered partially published on May 20, 2016, the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed a trial court judgment denying a petition for writ of mandate challenging a General Plan Amendment (GPA) adopted by the City of Palm Springs as categorically exempt from CEQA.  People for Proper Planning v. City of Palm Springs (4th Dist., Div. 2, 2016) 247 Cal.App.4th 640, Case No. E062725.  The Court held the trial court erred in upholding the City’s positions that the GPA, which eliminated minimum density requirements for all residential land use categories, was exempt from CEQA review under the Class 5 categorical exemption and because it allegedly did not change the environmental “baseline,” i.e., the City’s alleged preexisting practice of ignoring the General Plan’s minimum density provisions (and, hence, its allowable density ranges) when acting on residential development applications. In light of its CEQA ruling requiring reversal and further environmental (and necessarily General Plan consistency) analyses by the City, the Court held that it need not reach appellant PFPP’s other arguments that the GPA rendered the General Plan internally inconsistent, and violated statutory requirements that City accommodate its fair share of regional housing needs for all income levels.

Continue Reading Home(s) In The “Range”: Fourth District Overturns CEQA Exemption For City of Palm Springs’ General Plan Amendment Removing Minimum Residential Density Requirements

The California Supreme Court held a lively oral argument session this morning (May 4, 2016), at 9:00 a.m. in its San Francisco courtroom in the case of Friends of the College of San Mateo Gardens v. San Mateo Community College District (Case No. S214061), which was live streamed for “real time” viewing on the Court’s website.  This post attempts to convey a general sense of the Court’s questioning and counsel’s argument in the hour-long session; any mistakes in “translation” are mine, and I apologize for any such errors in advance.  (For my prior post briefly describing the case’s facts, legal issues and significance, see “Supreme Court Set to Hear Important CEQA Subsequent Review Case,” by Arthur F. Coon, posted April 26, 2016.) Continue Reading “Hot Bench” For Advocates In Supreme Court CEQA Subsequent Review Case

On May 4, 2016, at 9 a.m. in its San Francisco courtroom, the California Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in yet another of the many significant CEQA cases it has tackled in recent years, this one presenting critically important issues involving the application of CEQA’s “subsequent review” rules.  The case – Friends of the College of San Mateo Gardens v. San Mateo Community College District (Case No. S214061) – raises issues regarding the appropriate standard of judicial review and degree of deference CEQA requires to be accorded to a lead agency’s environmental determinations when it approves changes to an already approved project that underwent full (and presumptively adequate) CEQA review in its original form.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Set To Hear Important CEQA Subsequent Review Case