Like the fable of the blind men and the elephant, CEQA’s prohibition on “piecemealing” of environmental review is animated by a basic recognition that the “whole” of an action under review is greater than its individual parts viewed separately.  (The same important insight also underlies CEQA’s requirement to analyze a project’s cumulative impacts.)  But CEQA’s expansive and rather amorphous definition of what constitutes a “project” ensures that its piecemealing rule shares another similarity with the famous fable:  what conduct constitutes improper piecemealing often appears to be in the “eye of the beholder” and individual perceptions can differ greatly based on more-or-less subjective factors.  Appellate courts have long wrestled with application of the relevant legal principles, which essentially attempt to prohibit a lead agency’s “chopping up” of a project into smaller components so that it can turn a “blind eye” to reasonably foreseeable environmental impacts of the “whole” action.

On March 30, 2017, the Sixth District Court of Appeal issued a published opinion that rejected piecemealing and other CEQA challenges raised by the plaintiff/appellant group Aptos Council to several zoning ordinance amendments separately adopted and reviewed for CEQA purposes by the County of Santa Cruz; the enactments addressed discrete topics, but were all initiated by County as part of its general “regulatory reform” effort to “modernize, clarify, streamline and/or provide [clear] standards” for its land use regulations.  Aptos Council v. County of Santa Cruz (2017) ____ Cal.App.5th ____.

Continue Reading Sixth District Rejects “Piecemealing” and Other CEQA Challenges to Ordinances Enacted Pursuant to Santa Cruz County’s Zoning Modernization Effort

On February 15, 2017, the California Supreme Court denied numerous requests for depublication and declined to review on its own motion the decision in East Sacramento Partnership for a Livable City v. City of Sacramento (3d Dist. 2016) 5 Cal.App. 5th 281.  In relevant (and controversial) part, that decision held that the EIR for a large residential infill project violated CEQA by basing its less-than-significant traffic impact finding on the project’s compliance with an applicable traffic level of service (LOS) standard in the City’s general plan; my blog post analyzing the Court of Appeal’s published opinion in detail can be found here.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Denies Depublication Requests in CEQA Traffic LOS Impact Case

On December 14, 2016, the California Supreme Court denied review and ordered depublished the Sixth District Court of Appeal’s opinion in Bay Area Clean Environment, Inc. v. Santa Clara County, which was previously filed on August 31, 2016 and published at 2 Cal.App.5th 1197.  (See, Supreme Court’s Orders of 12/14 and 12/21/16 in Case No. S237709.)  Accordingly, the result in the case remains the same and is final and binding on the parties, but the Court of Appeal’s opinion is no longer published or citable as precedent in other cases.

Continue Reading Another One Bites the Dust: Supreme Court Denies Review and Depublishes Sixth District’s SMARA/CEQA Opinion Upholding Permanente Quarry Reclamation Plan Amendment and Related EIR

On January 17, 2017, the California Supreme Court denied the losing appellants’ petition for writ of supersedeas, stay request, and petition for review of the First District Court of Appeal’s decision in Mission Bay Alliance v. Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure, et al. (GSW Arena LLC, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2016) 6 Cal.App.5th 160; Supreme Court Case No. S239371.  This action effectively ends the CEQA challenge to the Golden State Warriors San Francisco Arena project brought by a coalition of its opponents and removes the major legal hurdle to its construction.  Consistent with the required “fast track” CEQA review of and litigation over this Governor-certified “environmental leadership development project,” the high court’s action came relatively quickly – just a month and a half after the filing of the Court of Appeal’s decision.  My detailed post on the Court of Appeal’s published decision in the case, which now stands undisturbed as legal precedent, can be found here.

Continue Reading California Supreme Court Denies Review in Expedited CEQA Litigation over Golden State Warriors Arena Project Approval

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

In an opinion filed December 7, and later ordered published on December 16, 2016, the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment denying a writ petition on the “single legal issue” whether plaintiffs were entitled under Public Resources Code § 21151(c) (and a municipal code section with essentially the same content) to an appeal of a planning commission’s “substantial conformance review” (SCR) determination to the city council.  (San Diegans for Open Government et al v. City of San Diego (Sunroad Enterprises et al, Real Parties in Interest) (4th Dist., Div. 1, 2016 ) __ Cal.App.5th__, 2016 WL ______.)  The SCR decision found that changes in an already CEQA-reviewed and approved mixed-use development project were consistent with previous CEQA documents and did not require a new environmental document.  Because such a determination was not one of the decisions expressly listed in Section 21151(c) as appealable of right to the lead agency’s elected decision making body, and there was no independent right to such an appeal order the City’s municipal code, the City properly refused to process plaintiffs’ attempted administrative appeal of the planning commission’s decision.

Continue Reading CEQA Does Not Require Local Lead Agency To Provide For Administrative Appeal To Elected Body of Nonelected Body’s Decision That Project Changes Require No Subsequent Review

In a lengthy published opinion filed November 29, 2016, the First District Court of Appeal rejected all legal challenges to the City of San Francisco’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (FSEIR) and related land use approvals for a 488,000-square-foot multipurpose event center project on 11 acres in the City’s Mission Bay South redevelopment plan area (the “Project”).  Mission Bay Alliance, et al. v. Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure, et al. (GSW Arena LLC, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2016 1st Dist., Div. 3) _____ Cal.App.5th ____, 2016 WL 6962504.  The event center would host home games of the Golden State Warriors NBA basketball team, concerts, conferences, conventions and other sporting and cultural events, and the overall Project would also include “a variety of mixed-use structures, including two 11-story office and retail buildings, parking facilities, and 3.2 acres of open space.”

Continue Reading Slam Dunked! First District Rejects All CEQA And Land Use Challenges To Golden State Warriors Event Center Project And EIR In Expedited Litigation

On November 22, 2016, the California Supreme Court issued a significant Order granting review in Coastal Hills Rural Preservation v. County of Sonoma (2016) 2 Cal.App.5th 1234, and also transferring the matter back to the Court of Appeal (First Appellate District, Div. 1) for reconsideration in light of Friends of the College of San Mateo Gardens v. San Mateo County Community College District (2016) 1 Cal.5th 937, 957-959, fn. 6, and CEQA Guidelines § 15384.  The high court further ordered the First District’s opinion to be depublished, and it is therefore no longer citable as binding legal precedent.  Both orders were unanimous.

Continue Reading Wither Subsequent Review? Supreme Court Again Weighs In On CEQA Subsequent Review Standards Following Negative Declarations – Grants, Retransfers, and Depublishes First District’s Coastal Hills Rural Preservation Decision

On November 7, 2016, the Third District Court of Appeal filed a published opinion mostly upholding the EIR for a 48.75-acre, 328-unit residential infill project (known as McKinley Village) against various CEQA challenges, and finding the Project to be consistent with the City of Sacramento’s general plan.  East Sacramento Partnership for a Livable City v. City of Sacramento (Encore McKinley Village, LLC, Real Party in Interest) (3d Dist. 2016) 5 Cal.App.5th 281, 2016 WL 6581170.  In a pointed reminder that a perfectly CEQA-compliant EIR for a large infill project is difficult to prepare, however, the Court found merit in a single argument of the petitioner and appellant neighborhood group, ESPLC – its argument that “the EIR ignored [certain] significant traffic impacts.”  Specifically, the EIR failed to adequately support its less-than-significant (LTS) impact conclusion concerning such impacts, in light of a substantial project-caused degradation in level of service (LOS) at affected intersections and streets that was nonetheless compliant with the General Plan’s policy that LOS F was acceptable for the area.  Accordingly, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment upholding the EIR, and ordered it to issue a writ directing the City to set aside its certification and correct this lone deficiency prior to considering recertification.

Continue Reading Sacramento Residential Infill Project EIR Violated CEQA By Basing Less-Than-Significant Traffic Impact Finding Solely On Compliance With General Plan Policy Allowing LOS F

In a 29-page published opinion filed October 14, 2016, the Fourth District Court of Appeal dispensed some good news to municipalities desiring to reasonably regulate retail medical marijuana facilities within their jurisdictional boundaries.  In Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, Inc. v. City of San Diego (4th Dist., Div. 1, 2016) 4 Cal.App.5th 103, Case No. D068185, the Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying a writ petition on the basis that the City of San Diego’s ordinance regulating the establishment and location of medical marijuana consumer cooperatives was not a “project” subject to CEQA.

Continue Reading Blowing Smoke About Impacts? Fourth District Rejects Speculative CEQA Challenge to San Diego’s Medical Marijuana Consumer Cooperative Ordinance, Holds Zoning Ordinances Are Not Necessarily CEQA “Projects”