The First District Court of Appeal filed on June 30, and later ordered published on July 26, 2022, its opinion in County of Mono v. City of Los Angeles (1st Dist. No. A162590) __ Cal.App.5th __.  The case involves another round in the long-running controversies surrounding Los Angeles’s efforts to secure water for its populace.  As the City now owns substantial acreage in the Sierra Nevada from which it takes much of its water, it serves both as landlord and water user in that region.  The overlap of those two roles gave rise to the County of Mono case, in which the County sought to use CEQA litigation as leverage over the City’s water allocations to agricultural users who lease property from the City.  The case holds that the City’s water allocations to the City’s agricultural lessees were authorized under its existing 2010 leases and thus did not constitute a new project subject to CEQA review before they could be lawfully implemented. The case provides guidance to practitioners on when and how CEQA applies to  public contracts, and also regarding the appropriate contents of the administrative record in CEQA litigation challenging staff level actions implementing existing leases.  Entitlement and litigation attorneys should accordingly both find it a useful case to review.

Continue Reading First District Holds LA’s Water Allocations To Agricultural Lessees Were Authorized Under Existing Leases And Did Not Constitute Or Implement A Separate “Project” Subject to CEQA Review

In an opinion filed November 15, and later ordered published on December 14, 2021, the Sixth District Court of Appeal reaffirmed the basic CEQA principle that required environmental review and analysis must precede project approval, and it applied that principle to invalidate the California Coastal Commission’s (Commission) approval of a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) for a residential subdivision project in Monterey County. Friends, Artists and Neighbors of Elkhorn Slough v. California Coastal Commission (Heritage/Western Communities, Ltd., et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2021) 72 Cal.App.5th 666. While the dispositive rule is a simple one, the case’s more complex facts and procedural history make it interesting – and somewhat disturbing – on a number of levels.

Continue Reading Sixth District Holds Coastal Commission’s Post-Approval Analysis of Coastal Development Permit’s Environmental Impacts Violates CEQA

Of all the major sports, baseball is the only one that is not played “on the clock.”  So it’s only fitting that the First District recently held the special legislation (AB 734; Pub. Resources Code, § 21168.6.7) enacted to provide fast-track judicial review benefits to the Oakland A’s baseball park/mixed use development project (Howard Terminal Project) likewise had no terminal time limit.  In a published decision filed August 10, 2021, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment rejecting petitioners’ claim that the clock ran out on January 1, 2020 on Governor Newsom’s authority to certify the project as meeting the statute’s qualifying criteria.  Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, et al. v. Gavin C. Newsom, etc., et al. (Oakland Athletics Investment Group, LLC, Real Party in Interest) (2021) 67 Cal.App.5th 711.  The Court held that because AB 734 itself contains no deadline for certification, and the Legislature did not intend to incorporate the January 1, 2020 deadline from the Governor’s AB 900 Guidelines, Governor Newsom’s authority did not expire prior to his exercise of it, meaning that his subsequent February 11, 2021 certification (made shortly after the trial court’s favorable decision) was valid and effective.

Continue Reading First District Holds CEQA Special Legislation For Oakland Howard Terminal Project (AB 734) Did Not Incorporate AB 900 Guidelines’ Deadline For Governor Certification; Governor Newsom’s Certification of Project As Qualifying For Expedited Judicial Review Was Timely

On May 20, 2021, Governor Newsom signed into law Senate Bill No. 7, the “Jobs and Economic Improvement Through Environmental Leadership Act of 20216” (the “Act”), which repealed and added Chapter 6.5 to Division 13 of the Public Resources Code (sections 21178 through 21189.3).  The new Act, which was immediately effective as an “urgency” statute, essentially modifies and reenacts former 2011 legislation that was repealed by its own terms on January 1, 2021.  Like the former leadership act, the new legislation authorizes the Governor, until January 1, 2024, to certify certain “environmental leadership development projects” (“leadership projects”) that meet specified requirements for streamlining benefits related to CEQA.  (Pub. Resources Code, §§ 21180, 21181.)  To qualify for CEQA streamlining benefits under the new Act, the Governor must certify a project as a leadership project before January 1, 2024.  (§ 21181.)

Continue Reading CEQA Urgency Legislation Reenacts Modified Version of Environmental Leadership Act, Adds Certain Housing Development Projects As Eligible For Governor Certification And Streamlining Benefits

On November 10, 2020, the California Supreme Court – after briefly raising Petitioners’ hopes by extending the time to consider granting review – finally slammed the door shut on further litigation over a recent Fourth District Court of Appeal decision, issuing an order denying the three petitions for review filed by the parties, as well as a request for depublication filed by non-party City of Los Angeles.  Golden Door Properties v. S.C (County of San Diego) Case No. S264324.  The Court of Appeal’s Golden Door decision, which held lead agencies must retain and not destroy writings within the scope of CEQA’s mandatory and broadly inclusive administrative record statute (Pub. Resources Code, § 21167.6), notwithstanding assertedly contrary record-retention policies, will thus remain intact as published precedent.

Continue Reading Closing the “Golden Door”: California Supreme Court Denies Petitions for Review and Depublication Request in CEQA Administrative Record Case

On October 23, 2020, the California Supreme Court issued an order extending until December 7, 2020, or the date upon which review is either granted or denied, the time for granting or denying review in Golden Door Properties, LLC, et. al. v. Superior Court (County of San Diego et. al., Real Parties in Interest) (4th Dist. 2020) 52 Cal.App.5th 837.  The Court of Appeal’s decision, originally published on July 30, and modified upon denial of rehearing on August 25, 2020, held that a lead agency is required to retain, and may not  destroy, writings within the scope of CEQA’s mandatory and broadly-inclusive administrative record statute, Public Resources Code § 21167.6.

Continue Reading Keeping the “Golden Door” Cracked Open: California Supreme Court Extends Period to Consider Review of CEQA Administrative Record Case

In a detailed 6-page order, issued by Presiding Justice McConnell and filed on August 25, 2020, the Fourth District Court of Appeal denied three petitions for rehearing, and “polished up” its lengthy published opinion filed at the end of last month in Golden Door Properties, LLC et al v. Superior Court of San Diego (County of San Diego, et al, Real Parties in Interest) (4th Dist. 2010) 52 Cal.App.5th 837.  (My August 5, 2020 post on the case can be found here.)  Most of the Court’s changes were minor and technical in nature, pertaining more to issues of concern to the parties on remand, rather than its major precedential holdings, but a few were noteworthy.

Continue Reading Burnishing the “Golden Door”: Fourth District Modifies Recent Opinion Requiring Lead Agency Preservation of CEQA Administrative Record Documents, Denies Petitions for Rehearing and Leaves Judgment Unchanged

In a 77-page published opinion filed on July 30, 2020, the Fourth District Court of Appeal (Div. One) issued a writ of mandate largely overturning San Diego Superior Court rulings denying plaintiffs’ motions to compel discovery and to augment the administrative record in a CEQA case; the disputes arose from Real Party San Diego County’s admitted deletion of email documents as “non-official records” pursuant to its records retention policies.  Golden Door Properties, LLC et al. v. Superior Court of San Diego (County of San Diego, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (4th Dist. 2020) 52 Cal.App.5th 837.

Continue Reading “For the Record”: Fourth District Holds CEQA’s “Mandatory” And “Broadly Inclusive” Administrative Record Statute Requires Lead Agency To Retain Documents Within Its Scope And Not Destroy Them Prior To Record Preparation

In a 74-page opinion filed February 24, and later ordered published on March 17, 2020, the Second District Court of Appeal (Division 7) affirmed judgments (granting the writ petition and awarding fees) in coordinated appeals stemming from a CEQA action successfully challenging the City of Agoura Hills’ (City) project approvals and mitigated negative declaration (MND) for a mixed use development project on an undeveloped 8.2 acre parcel.  Save the Agoura Cornell Knoll v. City of Agoura Hills (Doron Gelfand, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2020) 46 Cal.App.5th 665.  The Court rejected the City’s and Real Parties’ procedural arguments that Petitioners and Respondents Save the Agoura Cornell Knoll (STACK) and California Native Plant Society (CNPS) had failed to exhaust administrative remedies, and that their claims were barred by lack of standing and the statute of limitations; on the merits of the CEQA claim, it held that substantial evidence in the record supported a fair argument that even as mitigated the project may have significant impacts on cultural resources (i.e., a Chumash Native American archaeological site), three sensitive plant species, native oak trees, and aesthetic resources, and that an EIR was therefore required; and it further held the trial court properly granted writ relief based on the City’s violation of its own Oak Tree Ordinance by approving a project that would concededly remove 35 to 36 percent of the site’s oak tree canopy when the Ordinance prohibited removal of more than 10 percent.  Finally, the Court held that the trial court properly awarded Petitioners STACK and CNPS $142,148 in attorneys’ fees under Code of Civil Procedure § 1021.5, made payable 50% by City and 50% by Real Parties, notwithstanding that Petitioners furnished their first amended petition to the Attorney General (AG) beyond the 10-day statutory period for doing so.

Continue Reading Second District Affirms Judgment Invalidating City of Agoura Hills’ Mixed-Use Project Approvals and Related MND Based On CEQA and Local Oak Tree Ordinance Violations

In an opinion filed September 6, and later ordered published on October 7, 2019, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 4) affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying plaintiff groups’ writ petition challenging Sonoma County’s use permit and related mitigated negative declaration (MND) for a winery project in the County’s rural Knights Valley area.  Maacama Watershed Alliance, et al v. County of Sonoma, et al. (James Bailey, Knights Bridge Vineyards, LLC, Real Parties in Interest) (2019) 40 Cal.App.5th 1007.

Continue Reading First District Affirms Judgment Upholding MND for Rural Sonoma County Winery Project, Holds Unsubstantiated Expert Opinion Fails to Support Fair Argument of Geologic, Erosion Or Groundwater Impacts