In an opinion filed March 23, and belatedly modified and ordered published on May 25, 2017, the First District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s dismissal of a plaintiff environmental group’s (“Friends”) CEQA action against a local air quality district (“District”).  (Friends of Outlet Creek v. Mendocino County Air Quality Management District (Grist Creek Aggregates, LLC, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (1st Dist., Div. 1, 2017) 11 Cal.App.5th 1235.)  Friends’ action challenged District’s 2015 issuance of an “Authority to Construct” to Real Party Grist Creek for asphalt plant-operations on a site used, at various times since 1972, for aggregate and asphalt production.  The trial court had sustained District’s and Grist Creek’s demurrer on the ground that CEQA relief was unavailable against a local air district in this context and that Friends’ exclusive remedy was an action under Health and Safety Code § 40864.

Continue Reading First District Holds CEQA Action Can Be Brought Directly Against Local Air District to Challenge “Authority to Construct” Issued for Mendocino County Asphalt Production Operation

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 ) 6 Cal.App.5th 995.)  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

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

In a March 4, 2016 published opinion, the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment requiring an EIR for a small 12-home rural subdivision project based on the “psychological and social” impacts of the proponent’s related closure of a public horse boarding facility (the “Stock Farm”) which he had operated pursuant to a CUP for 20 years on the 11.6-acre property.  Preserve Poway v. City of Poway (Harry A. Rogers, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2016) 245 Cal.App.4th 560, 2016 WL 891405.  In addition to its primary holding that psychological, social and economic impacts are not cognizable under CEQA, the Court rendered a few other interesting rulings, including its application of the Supreme Court’s recent “CEQA-in-reverse” decision (California Building Industry Ass. v. Bay Area Air Quality Management Dist. (2015) 62 Cal.4th 369 (“CBIA”)) in holding that asserted impacts of an existing equestrian events facility (located across the street from the project) on future project residents were also beyond CEQA’s scope.

Continue Reading Horse Of A Different Color: CEQA Does Not Require EIR Due To Psychological And Social Impacts From Closure Of Beloved Equestrian Boarding Facility In Small “Country” City

With the February 13 passing of U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, American jurisprudence lost an intellectual giant. But Justice Scalia will not be forgotten; the legacy of his life’s work lives on.

While much has been and will be written about his landmark opinions and the originalist and textualist methods of constitutional and statutory interpretation he brought to bear in them, Justice Scalia’s significant legal contributions to CEQA, land use and environmental law merit special recognition.

Continue Reading Justice Scalia’s Enduring CEQA and Land Use Law Legacy

A new year often brings fresh perspective.  With 2016 still in its infancy, it is natural to reflect back on what has been and also to contemplate what is yet to come.  The California Supreme Court’s recent CEQA decisions, and its current docket of CEQA cases awaiting decision, provide ample opportunity for both of these basic human impulses.

Continue Reading Supreme Engagement: CEQA’s Continuing Saga In California’s High Court

On September 9, 2015, the California Supreme Court denied review and decertified the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s previously published opinion in Albert Thomas Paulek v. Western Riverside Regional Conservation Authority, which had appeared at 238 Cal.App.4th 583. A discussion of the issues presented by the case and my analyses of the Court of Appeal’s reasoning on them can be found in my post on the originally published opinion. (See “Fourth District Holds Agency’s Removal of Conservation Designation From Land Formerly Protected Under MSHCP Is ‘Project’ Subject to CEQA; Class 7 and 8 Categorical Exemptions for Environmentally Protective Regulatory Actions Do Not Apply,” by Arthur F. Coon, posted July 2, 2015.)

The Supreme Court’s depublication order means that while the decision remains binding on the parties to the case, it will not be citable as precedential authority under California law.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Depublishes Lengthy CEQA Categorical Exemption Case

In a published decision filed September 17, 2015, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment granting a writ of mandate and finding that a proposed land exchange agreement was not statutorily exempt from CEQA review. Defend Our Waterfront v. California State Lands Commission, et al (San Francisco Waterfront Partners II, LLC, et al) (1st Dist., Div. 4, 2015) 240 Cal.App.4th 570. The underlying facts are straightforward, as is the Court’s holding interpreting CEQA’s statutory exemption that applies to “settlements of title and boundary problems by the State Lands Commission and to exchanges or leases in connection with those settlements.” (Pub. Resources Code, § 21080.11.) Perhaps more interesting, however, is the Court’s treatment (partly in dicta) of CEQA’s statutory standing and exhaustion requirements as embodied in Public Resources Code § 21177. Continue Reading First District Applies CEQA Exhaustion/Standing Rules, Upholds Judgment Rejecting Claim of Statutory Exemption for Controversial State Lands Commission Land Exchange Agreement

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) 237 Cal.App.4th 1005. Continue Reading Fourth District Holds Agency’s Removal of Conservation Designation From Land Formerly Protected Under MSHCP Is “Project” Subject to CEQA; Class 7 and 8 Categorical Exemptions for Environmentally Protective Regulatory Actions Do Not Apply

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) 237 Cal.App.4th 163. Continue Reading Fourth District Upholds San Diego’s Balboa Park Revitalization Project Against Land Use Law And CEQA Challenges