On May 12, the Third District Court of Appeal belatedly ordered partially published an opinion it had filed on April 20, 2022, reversing the trial court’s judgment upholding the EIR for lead agency Siskiyou County’s approval of Crystal Geyser Water Company’s water bottling plant project.  We Advocate Through Environmental Review, et al. v. County of Siskiyou, et al. (Crystal Geyser Water Company, Real Party in Interest) (2022) ____ Cal.App.5th ______.  The decision followed close on the heels of the Court’s earlier decision in a related CEQA case brought by the same plaintiff and involving the same project in which it held that the City of Mount Shasta, acting as a responsible agency issuing a wastewater permit for the project, had violated CEQA by failing to make the required Public Resources Code § 21081 findings regarding potentially significant effects identified in the EIR.  (My May 16, 2022 post on that earlier case can be found here.)

Continue Reading The Other CEQA Shoe Drops: Third District Reverses Judgment Upholding Siskiyou County’s EIR For Crystal Geyser Bottling Plant Project, Holds (1) Project Objectives Were Too Narrowly Stated And (2) County Should Have Recirculated EIR’s Climate Discussion To Allow Comment On Substantially Higher GHG Emissions Estimate First Disclosed In FEIR

On May 25, 2022, the League of California Cities (“League”) and California State Association of Counties (“CSAC”) filed a 10-page letter with the California Supreme Court requesting it to depublish the First District Court of Appeal’s recent decision in Save the Hill Group v. City of Livermore, Case No. A161573 (my April 4, 2022 post on which can be found here).

Continue Reading League of California Cities and CSAC File Request for Depublication of First District Decision Addressing Sufficiency of CEQA-Mandated “No Project” Alternative In Housing Project EIR

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) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.  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

In a published decision filed March 30, 2022, the First District Court of Appeal (Division 5) reversed a trial court judgment upholding the reissued final environmental impact report (“RFEIR”) for a 44-single family residence project on a unique, species- and habitat- rich 32-acre site in the City of Livermore’s Garaventa Hills area.  Save the Hill Group v. City of Livermore (Lafferty Communities, Inc., Real Party in Interest) (2022) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.  Both the trial court and Court of Appeal agreed that the RFEIR’s analysis of the “no project” alternative was substantively inadequate, because it lacked information about the feasibility of purchase and preservation options that was necessary for the City Council to make an informed, reasoned decision, but the Court of Appeal disagreed with the trial court’s conclusion that Petitioner/Appellant Save the Hill’s failure to exhaust on this issue barred judicial consideration of it.  The Court of Appeal rejected Appellant’s remaining arguments that the RFEIR’s analysis and mitigation of the project’s vernal pool fairy shrimp (“VPFS”) and wetlands impacts were inadequate, and that its identified compensatory mitigation for permanent sensitive habitat loss was inadequate.  (In a brief concluding portion of the opinion that won’t be further discussed here, the Court also held Appellant had forfeited and lacked standing to raise the issue of City’s alleged mitigation obligations under two prior settlement agreements to which Appellant was not a party.)

Continue Reading First District Holds EIR’s Analysis of “No Project” Alternative To City of Livermore Residential Development Violated CEQA By Failing To Discuss Feasibility Of Purchasing And Preserving Habitat-Rich Garaventa Hills Project Site, Also Addresses Significant Issues Involving Exhaustion Doctrine And Adequacy of Mitigation

In an opinion filed on December 16, 2021, and belatedly ordered published on January 13, 2022, the Fourth District Court of Appeal rejected a CEQA challenge to a small multifamily project in the City of Santa Cruz.  Ocean Street Extension Neighborhood Assn. v. City of Santa Cruz (2021) 73 Cal.App.5th 985 (“OSENA”).  The case contains valuable guidance regarding mitigation for biological resources impacts, lays out some common sense principles that may help condense the EIR preparation process, and also provides useful guidance to developers and agencies dealing with water supply issues during the current drought.

Continue Reading Fourth District Rejects CEQA And Municipal Code Challenges To City Of Santa Cruz’s Project Approvals And EIR For Small Multifamily Housing Project

In an opinion filed January 28, and later certified for publication on February 16, 2022, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment denying a petition for writ of mandate that challenged on CEQA grounds the El Dorado Irrigation District’s (“EID”) decision to undertake its Upper Main Ditch piping project.  Save the El Dorado Canal v. El Dorado Irrigation District, et al. (2022) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.  The challenged water conveyance project would replace about three miles of EID’s open and unlined earthen ditch system with a buried water transmission pipeline in order to conserve water and improve water quality.  Petitioner alleged the EIR’s project description was inadequate because it omitted the material fact that the ditch section to be abandoned as a water conveyance also served as the watershed’s only drainage system, and that the EIR insufficiently analyzed the abandonment’s impacts on hydrology, biological resources, and wildfires.

Continue Reading Third District Rejects CEQA Challenges To El Dorado Irrigation District Ditch Piping Project, Holds EIR’s Project Description And Analysis Of Potential Hydrology, Biological Resources, and Wildfire Impacts Were Adequate

In a lengthy, but mostly unpublished, opinion filed December 16, 2021, the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment rejecting a petitioner group’s CEQA, Planning and Zoning Law, and procedural due process/fair hearing challenges to the City of San Diego’s approval of a four-lane road connecting existing developments.  Save Civita Because Sudberry Won’t v. City of San Diego (2021) 72 Cal.App.5th 957.  In the opinion’s published portions, the Court held that (1) the City did not violate CEQA Guidelines § 15088.5(g) in failing to summarize revisions made to a recirculated draft EIR, and (2) petitioner’s procedural due process claim was foreclosed because the City Council acted in a quasi-legislative capacity in certifying the FEIR and approving the road project.  (In the opinion’s unpublished portions, which won’t be discussed in detail here, the Court also upheld the trial court’s rejection of Petitioner’s claims that the FEIR:  failed to analyze a project alternative of removing the road from a community plan; failed to adequately analyze traffic impacts and hazards; failed to disclose the VMT calculation’s margin of error; and failed to discuss impacts on General Plan consistency and pedestrian-friendly communities.)

Continue Reading Fourth District Rejects CEQA Challenges To San Diego’s FEIR And General/Specific Plan Amendments For Connector Road Construction Project; Holds Procedural Due Process Protections Did Not Apply Because Underlying Approvals Were Quasi-Legislative, Not Quasi-Adjudicatory

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

Against the backdrop of another severe drought, water supply and impact issues continue to be points of contention for water agencies, water users, conservation groups, and the state.  And, of course, litigation over water is not limited to water rights and usage, but extends to related environmental review under CEQA.  On September 22, 2021, the Third District Court of Appeal issued a published opinion in Central Delta Water Agency v. Department of Water Resources (2021) 69 Cal.App.5th 170, disposing of several consolidated cases and analyzing operation of the state’s massive State Water Project (SWP) through a CEQA lens.  While the case does not break any new legal ground, it applies well-recognized CEQA principles to a lengthy and complex fact pattern involving multiple rounds of lengthy litigation, settlement, and EIR preparation.

Continue Reading Third District Affirms CEQA And Attorneys’ Fees Judgments In Favor Of Department Of Water Resources In Monterey Agreement And Amendment Litigation

In a published opinion filed August 19, 2021, the Second District Court of Appeal reversed a judgment of the Los Angeles County Superior Court that found fault with the EIR for an improvement project within the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument portion of the Angeles National Forest.  Save Our Access–San Gabriel Mountains v. Watershed Conservation Authority (2021) 68 Cal.App.5th 8.  The trial court had rejected plaintiff’s claims that CEQA required the EIR to analyze alternatives beyond the “no project” alternative, and that the project was inconsistent with applicable land use and management plans, but issued a writ requiring additional analysis of the project’s parking reduction “impacts.”  In resolving the ensuing appeals of both parties, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment on the parking issue, finding that reduction in parking is a social not environmental, impact and that plaintiff had failed to identify any secondary adverse physical effects on the environment resulting from the reduction.  It affirmed the remainder of the judgment denying plaintiff’s other claims, and reversed the trial court’s fee award to plaintiff as compelled by its disposition of the merits.

Continue Reading Second District Confirms Parking Is (Still) Not A CEQA Impact, Reverses Judgment That Found EIR For San Gabriel Mountains Wilderness Recreation And Preservation Project Deficient For Not Sufficiently Analyzing “Impact” Of Reducing Recreational Parking