In a published opinion filed on January 17, 2024, the Second District Court of Appeal (Div. 5) reversed a trial court judgment overturning a mitigated negative declaration (MND) and requiring an EIR for a 42-single family home project; instead, the Court of Appeal held the petitioners’ action should have been dismissed as time-barred and that the trial court erred in overruling the demurrers of respondent City of Los Angeles and the real party developers on statute of limitations grounds.  Delia Guerrero et al. v. City of Los Angeles (TTLE Los Angeles – El Sereno LLC et al, Real Parties in Interest) (2024) 98 Cal.App.5th 1087.

Continue Reading Reversal of Misfortune: Second District Holds CEQA Action Challenging Los Angeles Housing Development Project Barred By Statute of Limitations, Reverses Trial Court Judgment Rejecting MND and Requiring EIR

In a 51-page published opinion filed January 5, 2024, and resolving consolidated appeals, the Third District Court of Appeal rejected baseline, piecemealing/segmentation, impact analysis, project description, alternatives analysis, and failure-to-recirculate challenges to the EIR for the Department of Water Resources’ (“DWR”) approval of amendments to long-term water supply contracts with local government agencies receiving water through the State Water Project (“SWP”).  The amendments extended the contracts, which were originally entered into in the 1960s for 75-year terms, so as to end in the year 2085, and made other amendments to their financial provisions.  In the course of affirming the trial court’s judgment upholding the EIR and contract amendments against CEQA, Delta Reform Act, public trust doctrine, and other challenges, the Court of Appeal applied numerous well-established CEQA principles in the enormously significant and complex context of continuing long-term SWP contracts.  Planning and Conservation League, et al v. Department of Water Resources, et al, etc. (2024) 98 Cal.App.5th 726 (Ct. App. Nos. C096304, C096316, C096384).

Continue Reading Third District Rejects CEQA and Other Challenges to Department of Water Resources’ EIR for Amendments Extending Long-Term State Water Project Supply Contracts Through 2085

In a published opinion filed November 13, 2023, disposing of consolidated appeals, the Second District Court of Appeal (Div. 6) affirmed judgments denying writ petitions that sought to invalidate a Ventura County ordinance. The ordinance at issue created wildlife migration corridor overlay zones covering approximately 163,000 less-developed acres of the County, including 10,000 acres of classified mineral resources.  California Construction and Industrial Materials Association/Ventura County Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business v. County of Ventura (Los Padres Forestwatch, et al., Interveners and Respondents) (2023) 97 Cal.App.5th 1. As did the trial court, the Court of Appeal rejected the arguments of appellants – which were coalition groups representing construction, industry, labor, agriculture and business interests – that County’s adoption of the ordinance violated requirements of the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act of 1975 (“SMARA”) and CEQA.

Continue Reading Second District Holds Ventura County’s Adoption of Ordinance Creating Wildlife Migration Corridor Overlay Zones In County’s Rural Areas Did Not Violate SMARA And Was Properly Determined Categorically Exempt From CEQA

On October 20, 223, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 3) filed an “Order Modifying Opinion; and Denying Petitions for Rehearing and Publication [No Change in Judgment]” in Yerba Buena Neighborhood Consortium, LLC, et al. v. The Regents of the University of California (2023) 95 Cal.App.5th 779, litigation that I analyzed in my 10/10/23 post here.  The Order denied petitions for rehearing, denied the California Building Industry Association’s request to publish unpublished portions of the Opinion, and slightly modified the lengthy opinion to add a single footnote and revise one sentence.  The Court of Appeal’s docket also reflects that petitions for review have been filed in the case and those may not be acted on by the Supreme Court until around the end of the year.

Continue Reading First District Denies Rehearing and Publication Requests, Slightly Modifies Opinion With No Change in Judgment in CEQA Case Upholding U.C. Regents’ EIR for Parnassus Heights Campus Long-Range Development Plan; Petitions For Review Filed

In an opinion originally filed on September 8, and subsequently modified and certified for partial publication on October 4, 2023, the Sixth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment granting a writ setting aside Monterey County’s issuance of a permit to investor-owned public utility/water supplier California-American Water Company (“Cal-Am”) to construct a desalination plant and related facilities needed as one component of Cal-Am’s Water Supply Project.  Marina Coast Water District v. County of Monterey (California-American Water Company, Real Party in Interest) (2023) 96 Cal.App.5th 46.  On Cal-Am’s appeal, the Court held the trial court erred in finding the County’s statement of overriding considerations prejudicially inadequate for not addressing the uncertainty created by the City of Marina’s (“City”) denial of a coastal development permit (“CDP”) – later granted with conditions by the Coastal Commission on appeal – for the drilling of intake wells in coastal zone aquifers to supply the plant.  On project opponent Marina Coast Water District’s (“MCWD”) cross-appeal, the Court held that County’s decision not to require a subsequent EIR and its statement of overriding considerations were both supported by substantial evidence and (in an unpublished portion of its opinion not further discussed here) that County’s approval did not violate its own general plan.

Continue Reading Sixth District Reverses Writ, Upholds Responsible Agency Monterey County’s Approval of Desalination Plant In Reliance on CPUC’s EIR For Multi-Component, Cross-Jurisdictional Water Supply Project; Court Rejects CEQA Challenges Based On County’s Decision Not to Prepare Subsequent EIR and Allegedly Inadequate Statement of Overriding Considerations

In an opinion filed September 13, and modified and certified for publication on October 6, 2023, the Fourth District Court of Appeal (Div. 3) affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying a CEQA writ petition challenging the City of Laguna Beach’s determination that the Guidelines’ Class 31 categorical exemption applied to its approval of a project to remodel a historic single family home.  Historic Architecture Alliance, et al v. City of Laguna Beach, et al (Ian and Cherlin Kirby, Real Parties in Interest) (2023) 96 Cal.App.5th 186.    The decision refines the established CEQA principle that a project that may cause a change in the significance of a historical resource is also one that may have a significant environmental effect (and thus require an EIR or MND) in the unique context of CEQA’s categorical exemption for projects found to be consistent with the “Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties” (the “Secretary’s Standards”).  (CEQA Guidelines, § 15331.)  It also clarifies that the “fair argument” test does not apply to a project opponent’s attempt to establish the historical resource exception (Guidelines § 15300.2(f)) to this categorical exemption; because both the exemption and the exception require the lead agency to make the same factual determination – i.e., the project’s consistency with the Secretary’s Standards – applying the fair argument test to the exception would render the exemption meaningless.

Continue Reading Fourth District Affirms Judgment Upholding City’s Use of CEQA Guidelines’ Historical Resource (Class 31) Exemption To Approve Historic Single Family Home Rehabilitation Project; Holds “Fair Argument” Test Doesn’t Apply To Exception Requiring Same Factual Determination As Exemption

In a partially published opinion filed September 20, 2023, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 3) affirmed the Alameda County Superior Court’s judgments denying writ petitions in three partially consolidated CEQA actions challenging the 2021 project/program EIR for the Comprehensive Parnassus Heights Plan.  Yerba Buena Neighborhood Consortium, LLC, et al v. Regents of the University of California/San Franciscans for Balanced and Livable Communities v. Regents of the University of California (2023) 95 Cal.App.5th 779. 

Continue Reading First District Affirms Judgment Upholding UCSF’s EIR for Long-Range Development Plan Substantially Increasing Parnassus Heights Campus Development Against Numerous CEQA Challenges

In a partially published opinion filed on September 7, 2023, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment denying a CEQA challenge to Sacramento County’s approval of a mixed-use development project known as the Mather South Community Master Plan (the “project“); if implemented, the project would result in, inter alia, up to 3,522 residential dwelling units; 225,000 square feet of retail space; 49 acres of environmental education campus and research and development park uses; two elementary schools; and about 200 acres of parkland and open space areas on an 848-acre site. The issues on appeal were limited to the adequacy of certain aspects of the project EIR’s analyses of GHGs and criteria air pollutants. Tsakopoulos Investments, LLC v. County of Sacramento, et al. (Mather South, LLC, et al, Real Parties) (2023) 95 Cal.App.5th 280. (The unpublished portion of the opinion: (1) upheld the EIR’s qualitative analysis concluding that, with compliance with the State’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard and other air quality mitigation measures, construction-related GHG impacts would not be significant; and (2) concluded the EIR adequately explained, in compliance with the Supreme Court’s decision in Sierra Club v. County of Fresno (2018) 6 Cal.8th 502, why it was not feasible to correlate the level of the project’s air emissions to specific human health impacts from the project. In keeping with this blog’s practice, this post will not further discuss these unpublished portions of the Court’s opinion, except to note that they appear worthy of publication, and that the Court’s docket reflects that a request to publish was filed by Remy Moose Manley LLP on September 18, 2023. So stay tuned on that front…)

Continue Reading Third District Affirms Judgment Denying CEQA Writ Petition Challenging Sacramento County’s Approval of Mather South Community Master Plan, Issues Narrow Holding Rejecting Challenges to County’s GHG Thresholds Methodology In Partially Published Opinion

On August 10, 2023 the Sixth District Court of Appeal filed its published opinion in Santa Rita Union School District v. City of Salinas (2023) 94 Cal.App.5th 298.  On September 7, 2023, it filed an Order slightly modifying its opinion without modifying the judgment and denying rehearing.  The case concerns the certification of an EIR for the “West Area Specific Plan” in and by the City of Salinas, and claims by two school districts in the City that asserted perennial underfunding meant that the EIR failed to adequately address school-related impacts.  While the trial court agreed in part, granting narrow writ relief enjoining future entitlements while leaving the specific plan approval in place, the Sixth District did not, holding that the districts’ expressed concerns were speculative in nature and need not have been evaluated in the EIR.

Continue Reading Sixth District Reverses Judgment Finding Specific Plan FEIR Inadequate For Failure To Adequately Analyze And Respond To Comments Regarding School Facilities-Related Impacts; Court Of Appeal Holds FEIR Was Adequate In All Respects And Was Not Required To Speculate Regarding Possible Environmental Impacts From Uncertain Future School District Decisions Made To Accommodate Increased Enrollment Should Funds Prove Unavailable To Construct New Schools Contemplated In Plan

On September 7, 2023, Governor Newsom signed into law AB 1307, urgency legislation which took effect immediately and added to the Public Resources Code a new Section 21085, which reads: “For purposes of this division, for residential projects, the effects of noise generated by project occupants and their guests on human beings is not a significant effect on the environment.”

Continue Reading Recent Legislation Brings Incremental CEQA Reform