In an opinion filed April 23, and later certified for publication on May 13, 2021, the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed in part an order denying an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) motion, and held that a malicious prosecution action could proceed against losing CEQA plaintiffs who had unsuccessfully challenged a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND), but not against their attorneys. Jan Dunning, et al. v. Kevin K. Johnson, APLC, et al. (4th Dist. 2021) ___ Cal. App. 5th ___. While the merits of the malicious prosecution action have yet to be determined, the Court of Appeal’s ruling that the action could even proceed is itself significant given the daunting hurdle posed by the anti-SLAPP statute, and should give pause to project opponents who think that meritless CEQA litigation lacking probable cause and brought with malice can be pursued without potential consequence.
In a lengthy opinion filed April 8, and ordered published on May 7, 2021, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment rejecting a number of CEQA challenges to the California State Land Commission’s (Lands Commission) supplemental EIR for and related approval of a lease modification to facilitate a desalination plant in Huntington Beach. California Coastkeeper Alliance v. State Lands Commission (Poseidon Resources (Surfside) LLC, Real Party in Interest) (2021) ___ Cal.App.5th ___. In holding that the Commission properly elected to prepare a supplemental (rather than subsequent) EIR, did not err in refusing to assume lead agency status, and did not unlawfully piecemeal environmental review, the Court provided guidance on a number of significant CEQA issues.
Continue Reading Third District Affirms Judgment Upholding State Lands Commission’s Supplemental EIR For Desalination Plant Lease Modification, Rejects CEQA Claims That Commission Piecemealed Review And Should Have Assumed Lead Agency Status And Prepared A Subsequent EIR
In an 85-page opinion filed March 25, and modified and certified for partial publication on April 23, 2021, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the Napa County Superior Court’s judgment denying a writ petition challenging the County’s EIR and approvals for an expansion of Syar Industries, Inc.’s (Syar) aggregate mining operations at a quarry that has existed since the 1800s. Stop Syar Expansion v. County of Napa (1st Dist. 2021) ____ Cal.App.5th ____. The Court belatedly published about 25 pages of its lengthy opinion, which portions addressed basic CEQA principles, including standard of review and exhaustion principles, and the interplay of CEQA and general plan consistency issues.
Continue Reading First District Affirms Judgment Rejecting CEQA and General Plan Consistency Challenges to Napa County’s EIR for Syar Quarry Expansion Project, Addresses Significant Exhaustion and Land Use Issues
Falling more into the category of “spring cleaning” than “breaking news,” readers should note that a Second District decision, published last spring and covered in this blog, was ordered depublished by the California Supreme Court late last summer.
In a published opinion filed on February 1, 2021, in an action arising from plaintiffs/appellants’ (“plaintiffs”) “potpourri” of unsuccessful legal challenges to the City of San Francisco’s decision to remove a controversial public monument celebrating California’s pioneer era, the First District Court of Appeal upheld dismissal of a CEQA claim for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Schmid v. City and County of San Francisco (2021) 60 Cal.App.5th 470.
I’m very pleased to report that my colleague Travis Brooks will be speaking on CEQA issues and recent developments online at the 35th annual California Water Law & Policy Conference, which is presented by Argent Communications and will take place in virtual format on April 19 and 21, 2021. Miller Starr Regalia is a sponsor of the conference “California Water Rights, Policies Regulation, and the Future Under the New Administration,” and Travis’s topic, “CEQA Update: Yes, Water Practitioners Need to Know This,” will be presented on April 19, 2021, at 1:15 p.m. The Conference webpage and brochure can be found here and here, and registration information and materials can be accessed here.
“The more I know, the less I understand/All the things I thought I’d figured out, I have to learn again” – Don Henley, “The Heart of the Matter”
One of CEQA’s bedrock principles is that environmental review must precede project approval. (E.g., POET, LLC v. California Air Resources Board (2013) 217 Cal.App.4th 1214; CEQA Guidelines, § 15004(a).) To reverse the order and “put the cart before the horse” would be anathema, i.e., to sanction uninformed and undemocratic lead agency decision making, and to encourage irretrievable commitments of resources and post-hoc rationalizations that foreclose mitigations and alternatives and sweep environmental considerations under the rug. Right? Well … maybe not. In the area of State Water Resources Control Board (“SWRCB” or the “State Board”) water quality certifications (“WQCs”) under the Federal Clean Water Act (“CWA”; 33 U.S.C § 1251 et seq), this bedrock principle appears to have been watered down, and it may be significantly eroding under pressure from a preemptive federal law deadline.
As readers of this blog know, my endeavor since its inception with regard to judicial developments has, in general, been to cover only published CEQA cases. I have two simple reasons for this, which essentially boil down to importance and practicality. With regard to my first reason, published cases are more important because they are legal precedents that state holdings and rules binding on everyone, not just the parties to the action. With respect to my second reason, CEQA is generally an active area of law in terms of appellate cases, new legislation, and other significant developments; keeping track of the published – i.e., most important – cases is a big enough task without worrying about the even greater number of non-precedential unpublished ones. Since this blog’s beginning in September 2011, it has produced a total of 347 CEQA-related posts (not counting this one), demonstrating there is generally no shortage of subject matter, even with my self-imposed limitation excluding unpublished decisions.
While the COVID-19 pandemic made 2020 a year most would prefer to keep in the rear view mirror, the courts kept fairly busy handing down precedents that hopefully provided us all with a better road map for navigating CEQA. What follows is not a comprehensive review, but more of a brief trip down memory lane to review a “baker’s dozen” of last year’s case law highlights.
In a published opinion filed December 29, 2020, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment denying a petition for writ of mandate filed by the Santa Clara Valley Water District (District) challenging waste discharge requirements (WDRs) belatedly imposed by a responsible agency, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (Board), on lead agency District’s flood control project. Santa Clara Valley Water District v. San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (2020) 59 Cal.App.5th 199. The case involved highly unique facts, and a number of interesting legal issues concerning the Board’s authority under the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA), the state Porter-Cologne Act, and CEQA.
Continue Reading Can a Responsible Agency Get A Second Bite At The CEQA Apple? First District Says “Sometimes, Yes,” Upholds Regional Water Board’s Imposition of Additional Mitigation On Flood Control Project Through “Independent” Porter-Cologne Act Authority Exercised Subsequent To Grant Of CWA § 401 Water Quality Certification Based On Lead Agency’s Unchallenged Final EIR