“You may say I’m a dreamer.”  – John Lennon, “Imagine

“Son she said / Have I got a little story for you…”

Pearl Jam, “Alive

CEQA, our state’s landmark environmental protection act, is a venerable law with an illustrious history now spanning over 45 years.  But it’s also being abused every day, distorted for non-environmental ends not worthy of it – and our legislature refuses to sit up and take note.  It’s as if Lady Justice had grown warts, been disrobed and had her scales smashed by vandals – yet those who could help, sit idly by and don’t seem to care.

CEQA reform has been a hot topic, on and off, over the years.  Governor Brown has called it “the Lord’s work.”  Calls for it wax and wane with the economy and perceived need to get development projects approved and built.  While many CEQA practitioners, politicians, and members of the regulated community have acknowledged the need for reform, many others have denied it; some insist CEQA works “just fine” as it is, or even advocate further expansion of its reach.  Proposals for meaningful legislative reform have been largely unsuccessful and have been criticized by opponents as proposals to “weaken” the state’s “signature” environmental law.  It’s often said that the first step to recovery is acknowledging a problem exists.  It’s difficult to build consensus for CEQA reform when there is not even consensus about the existence of CEQA abuses requiring reform.

Continue Reading Standing Against Environmental Injustice: Some Thoughts On Facing The Need For CEQA Litigation Reform

On July 13, 2017, the California Supreme Court rendered a 6-1 decision holding that the San Diego Association of Governments’ (SANDAG) 2011 EIR for its Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy (RTP/SCS) issued pursuant to SB 375 did not violate CEQA “by declining to explicitly engage in an analysis of the consistency of projected 2050 greenhouse gas emissions with the goals in [a 2005] executive order [the “2005 EO”].” (Cleveland National Forest Foundation, et al v. San Diego Association of Governments (2017) ___ Cal. 5th __, Supreme Court Case No. 5223603.) This conclusion is not surprising, and it is undoubtedly correct. But it is disappointing that the majority’s opinion lacks significant practical or legal guidance for conducting CEQA-compliant GHG analysis for long term regional plans.

Maybe I expect too much. Maybe the nature of the opinion is just a result of the narrowly-framed issue on which the Court chose to grant review. Maybe the interrelationship between CEQA and SB 375 is so complex that hope for greater clarity and simplicity in this area is unrealistic. Perhaps, by its very nature, CEQA is inherently ill-suited to “analyzing” the global-scale environmental impacts of GHG emissions on a project-by-project basis. Or perhaps the case’s narrow holding flows from the strong flavor of mootness that permeates it. In this last vein, it seems somewhat odd for our Supreme Court to decide the legal validity of one discrete aspect of SANDAG’s 2011 EIR despite the facts that (1) the 2011 RTP/SCS which that EIR analyzed has now long been superseded by an updated 2015 RTP/SCS (“San Diego Forward: The Regional Plan”); (2) SANDAG did conduct a 2005 EO consistency analysis in connection with the updated plan; and (3) no one has challenged the updated plan or its EIR.

Continue Reading Supreme Disappointment: High Court’s Narrow Opinion In SANDAG RTP/SCS EIR Case Offers Little Guidance On CEQA GHG Analysis

When all was said and done, it was a case of “same wine, different bottle” for Defendant and Appellant San Mateo Community College District (“District”) after the First District Court of Appeal’s published May 5, 2017 decision, following remand from the California Supreme Court, in Friends of the College of San Mateo Gardens v. San Mateo Community College District, et al. (1st Dist., Div. 1, 2017) 11 Cal.App.5th 596.  While the District’s project changes to demolish its San Mateo College Building 20 complex, which was formerly slated for renovation, were held not to result in an “entirely new” project for CEQA review purposes because the original MND retained informational relevance, the District’s Addendum to that MND was again held by the Court of Appeal to constitute an inadequate environmental review document for the modified project under CEQA “because there is substantial evidence to support a fair argument that the project changes might have a significant effect on the environment.”

As this is my seventh blog post on this important litigation, I won’t reiterate the case’s facts.  My post on the Supreme Court’s opinion ((2016) 1 Cal.5th 937) can be found here.  The facts and other relevant information concerning the case can be found in my posts dated July 8, May 12, May 4 and April 26, 2016, and March 25, 2014.

Continue Reading No Surprises Here: First District Applies CEQA Subsequent Review Standards Mandated by Supreme Court on Remand, Again Affirms Judgment for Petitioner in Friends of the College of San Mateo Gardens Litigation

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

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) 6 Cal.App.5th 160, 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

The Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”; 25 U.S.C. § 2701 et seq.) allows gaming on Indian lands acquired by the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) in trust for a tribe’s benefit after October 17, 1988, if, among other things, the Secretary determines it would be in the tribe’s best interest and not detrimental to the surrounding community, and the governor of the state where the land is located concurs with the determination.  (25 U.S.C., § 2719(b)(1)(A).)  Further, casino-style gaming may be conducted if authorized by a tribal-state compact, and California Constitutional and statutory law designates the Governor as the state officer authorized to negotiate and execute such compacts.  (Cal. Const., art. IV, § 19(f); Gov. Code, § 12012.5(d).)

Continue Reading Governor (Still) Not A Public Agency Subject To CEQA, Holds Third District In Indian Gaming Case

“… like all things in life, project plans are subject to change.”
(Slip Opn. of Kruger, J., p. 4.)

The California Supreme Court provided needed clarification to some aspects of the operation of CEQA’s “subsequent review” rules (Pub. Resources Code, § 21166; CEQA Guidelines, § 15162) in its highly anticipated opinion, filed on September 19, 2016, in Friends of the College of San Mateo Gardens v. San Mateo County Community College District (2016) 1 Cal.5th 937.   CEQA’s subsequent review rules embody CEQA’s concerns for finality and efficiency, and implement a presumption against requiring a subsequent EIR for a modified project that has previously undergone CEQA review – i.e., they  govern whether an EIR will be required, or another type of CEQA document (or no further documentation) will suffice, when changes are proposed in a project for which an initial CEQA review has been completed.  (Slip Opn., p. 12.)  I won’t reiterate this case’s facts and relevant background history (including oral argument and post-argument briefing in the Supreme Court) which can be found (in reverse chronological order) in my prior blog posts of July 8, May 12, May 4, April 26, 2016, and March 25, 2014.  This post focuses on the legal rules and standards announced by the Court and their potentially significant implications for lead agencies and project proponents who consider approval of changes to a development project that has already undergone and survived a full CEQA review.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Addresses CEQA Subsequent Review Rules in San Mateo Gardens Case

On September 9, 2016, the First District Court of Appeal (Division 5) filed an “Order Modifying Opinion and Denying Rehearing [No Change In Judgment]” in California Building Industry Association v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Case. Nos. A135335 & A136212.  My post on the Court of Appeal’s published opinion in the case, which was filed on August 12, 2015 following remand from a landmark Supreme Court decision holding that “CEQA does not generally require an agency to consider the effects of existing environmental conditions on a proposed project’s future users or residents” (California Building Industry Assn. v. Bay Area Air Quality Management Dist. (2015) 62 Cal.4th 369, 392), can be found here. 

Continue Reading First District Modifies “Reverse CEQA” Case Opinion, Denies BAAQMD’s Petition For Rehearing With No Change In Judgment

About one year after being placed in the California Legislature’s “Inactive File,” SB 122 (concerning concurrent preparation of the CEQA administrative record and OPR electronic database) is back “off the shelf.”  The bill passed in the State Assembly yesterday, and will next be considered by the Senate for concurrence in the Assembly’s amendments.  It must be passed by both houses between now and the end of the month (if it is to be sent to Governor Brown for signature).

As originally proposed in early 2015, SB 122 contained only one detailed statutory provision – the addition of Public Resources Code § 21167.6.2 – which would create a detailed new alternative method for expedited preparation of the record of proceedings (i.e., the “administrative record”) in CEQA cases, at the election and expense of the applicant and with the consent of the public agency.  It also contained two “placeholder” sections declaring the Legislature’s intent to establish an electronic database clearinghouse of CEQA documents maintained by the State Office of Planning and Research (OPR) and to establish a public review period for Final EIRs.

Continue Reading Statutory CEQA Reform Proposal (SB 122) Reemerges With Optional Expedited Record Preparation Provisions Unchanged; Fleshes Out OPR Electronic Database Placeholder; And Drops Controversial Effort To Provide Public Review Period for Final EIRs