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
In an opinion filed June 28, 2023, and later ordered published on July 25, 2023, the Second District Court of Appeal (Div. 5) affirmed a judgment granting a writ of mandate setting aside (1) the City of Los Angeles’ (City) approval of a 10-story hotel project (with three levels of subterranean parking) to be located on a half-acre site in the Hollywood Community Plan area, and (2) the City’s accompanying determination that the hotel project was exempt under CEQA’s Class 32 categorical exemption for infill projects. Because the hotel project would result in the demolition of 40 apartments subject to the City’s rent stabilization ordinance (RSO), and the City failed to consider whether it was consistent with “all applicable general plan policies” – including Housing Element policies to preserve affordable housing – the record failed to contain substantial evidence supporting City’s use of the exemption. United Neighborhoods for Los Angeles v. City of Los Angeles (Fariborz Moshfegh, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2023) 93 Cal.App.5th 1074.Continue Reading Second District Affirms Judgment Voiding CEQA Infill Exemption For Hollywood Hotel Project That Would Demolish Affordable Housing Units Because City Deemed Inapplicable And Never Considered Project’s Consistency With General Plan Housing Element Policies To Preserve Affordable Housing
On May 17, 2020, the California Supreme Court granted review of the First District Court of Appeal’s controversial and much criticized published decision in Make UC a Good Neighbor v. Regents of University of California (2023) 88 Cal.App.5th 656, which held the University’s long-range campus development plan (LRDP) EIR inadequate, throwing a monkey wrench into its efforts to redevelop and build much-needed student and homeless housing at the historic People’s Park site. (My March 3, 2023 post on the Court of Appeal’s decision can be found here.)Continue Reading California Supreme Court Grants Review In Controversial “People’s Park”/Student Housing CEQA Case
In a published opinion filed February 24, 2023, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 5) reversed a judgment upholding the adequacy of the EIR for the University of California, Berkeley’s long range campus development plan (“LRDP”) and a controversial housing development project at the historic People’s Park. Make UC a Good Neighbor v. Regents of University of California (Resources for Community Development, Real Party in Interest) (2023 88 Cal.App.5th 656. The opinion comes in a case that has been much publicized in popular news media as involving both development of an iconic historic site, currently plagued with crime and homelessness, and treatment of housed college students as presumptive purveyors of “party noise” environmental impacts; it has also (justifiably) resulted in renewed calls for CEQA reform, including from Governor Newsom.Continue Reading First District Reverses Judgment In Controversial “People’s Park” CEQA Case, Holds UC Regents’ Program/Project EIR For Long Range Development Plan And Site-Specific Student Housing Project At The Park Failed To Adequately Analyze Alternative Housing Sites, And Student Noise Impacts
On February 15, 2023, the California Supreme Court denied the petitions for review and issued an order decertifying the Second District Court of Appeal’s controversial (and previously published) opinion in G.I. Industries v. City of Thousand Oaks (2022) 84 Cal.App.5th 814, rev. den. and depub’d. 2/15/23 (Supreme Ct. Case No. S277439). (My prior posts on this decision and its subsequent procedural history can be accessed by clicking on their following dates: 10/31/22; 12/5/22; and 1/30/23.) Continue Reading Supreme Court Denies Review And Depublishes Troublesome Brown Act/CEQA Exemption Decision
In an opinion in a much-publicized case, filed December 28, 2022, and later ordered published on January 26, 2023, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 3), upheld the City of Livermore’s (“City”) approval of a 130-unit affordable housing project on a downtown infill site and its accompanying determination that the project was CEQA-exempt under Government Code section 65457 (“Section 65457”). (Save Livermore Downtown v. City of Livermore (2023) 87 Cal.App.5th 1116 (“SLD”).) The important opinion was ordered published based on requests submitted by City, Attorney General Rob Bonta, YIMBY, and the California Building Industry Association.Continue Reading First District Upholds Use of Government Code Section 65457 CEQA Exemption For Downtown Livermore Affordable Housing Project, Roundly Rejects Meritless Arguments of NIMBY Opposition
The 2021-2022 Legislative Session was light on CEQA amendments, and once again did not produce any significant reform. We saw a continued focus on incentivizing affordable and infill developments on the condition that the project pay prevailing wages (AB 2011), reducing barriers for specified sustainable transit projects (SB 922), and amendments akin to “pet project exemptions” that are targeted to solving a narrower set of concerns (SB 118 and SB 886). None of the amendments, however, more broadly limit CEQA’s reach.Continue Reading Recap of 2023 CEQA Amendments Now In Effect
A 10-page article by Holland & Knight’s Jennifer Hernandez, published this month by the Center for Jobs & the Economy/California Business Roundtable, documents that CEQA litigation targeted nearly 50,000 housing units – approximately half the state’s total annual housing production – in 2020 alone. While Holland & Knight’s analysis of 2019-2021 CEQA lawsuit data is ongoing, the article’s “interim report”, which can be read here, states there is no expectation of change in the magnitude of anti-housing CEQA actions, which most frequently allege violations relating to analysis of climate change related impacts, i.e., GHGs and VMT.
Continue Reading CEQA vs. Housing: A Very Wrong Picture
On March 7, 2022, the Second District Court of Appeal (Div. 4) filed its published opinion in Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, et al. v. City of Los Angeles, et al (The Icon at Panorama, LLC, Real Party in Interest) (2022) 76 Cal.App.5th 1154. In reversing the trial court’s judgment and writ setting aside the approvals and EIR for a mixed-use commercial and residential infill development project, the Court held the Project EIR did not violate CEQA’s requirement of an accurate, stable, and finite project description even though the project itself was revised and ultimately approved with components not matching those of any individual alternative studied in the EIR. The Court further held that the City’s addition of a fifth alternative to the Final EIR (FEIR) that was not significantly different from its other previously analyzed alternatives did not require recirculation for additional public comment, and that the City’s response to the sanitation department’s comment about local sewer line and sewage treatment plant capacity was adequate.
Continue Reading CEQA Mixed-Use “Mix and Match” Upheld: Second District Holds Stable Project Description Requirement Does Not Mean Ultimately Approved Version of Revised Mixed Use Project Must Match An Alternative Analyzed In EIR, And New Project Alternative Added to FEIR Does Not Require Recirculation
On May 12, 2022, the First District Court of Appeal filed a 108-page published opinion affirming a judgment denying a CEQA writ petition that challenged Marin County’s approval of a 43-lot single-family residential subdivision on a 110-acre parcel atop a mountain overlooking the Town of Tiburon and San Francisco Bay. Tiburon Open Space Committee v. County of Marin (The Martha Company, Real Party in Interest, and Town of Tiburon, Intervenor and Appellant) (2022) 78 Cal.App.5th 700. Apart from its factual background of nearly a half-century of intense legal battles over (and effectively blocking) the property’s development – which the Court described as “this woeful record before us” – the decision is notable for its legal analysis of how CEQA applies when a lead agency’s discretion in considering a project for approval is constrained by legal obligations. While in this case the legal obligations stemmed from stipulated federal court judgments mandating that the County approve a minimum level of development on the property, the Court’s reasoning and holdings that the scope of CEQA adjusts and is limited commensurate with legal limitations on an agency’s discretionary authority will clearly apply to other contexts. Most obviously, and topically, they plainly will apply to housing development projects when state housing laws impose legal obligations that limit local agencies’ legal authority to disapprove or reduce the density of those projects. (See, e.g., Gov. Code, § 65589.5 (the “Housing Accountability Act”).)
Continue Reading “This Woeful Record”: First District Affirms Judgment Rejecting CEQA Challenges To Marin County’s Approval of 43-Home Mountaintop Subdivision Opposed For Nearly Five Decades By Neighbors And Town of Tiburon