In a lengthy published decision filed February 10, 2015, and addressing consolidated appeals in three related actions, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment rejecting petitioner and appellant Center for Biological Diversity’s (CBD) CEQA challenge to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) Program EIR (PEIR) reviewing on a statewide basis environmental impacts of its statutorily mandated fish hatchery and stocking enterprise – an operation that has been ongoing for more than 100 years. Center for Biological Diversity v. Department of Fish and Wildlife (3d Dist. 2015) 234 Cal.App.4th 214.  The case addresses a number of important CEQA issues, including the rules governing use of PEIRs, baseline setting, deferral of mitigation, and alternatives analysis. (The non-CEQA portions of the opinion, which are not summarized in detail herein, held three mitigation measures CDFW imposed on an urban fishing program and private stocking permits – and which detrimentally affected private fish farmers and vendors beyond CDFW’s internal management – were “underground regulations” improperly adopted without formal compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act.)
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On January 6, 2015, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) filed a petition asking the California Supreme Court to review the decision in Cleveland National Forest Foundation, et al. v. San Diego Association at Governments, et al. (4th Dist. 2014) __ Cal.App.4th __, Case No. D063288, Supreme Court Case No. S223603.  (For a discussion of the Court of Appeal’s decision, see “Analysis Of GHGs Under CEQA Just Got More Complex:  Fourth District’s Split Decision Invalidates Program EIR For SANDAG’s 2050 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy” by Arthur F. Coon, posted December 1, 2014.)
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In a decision filed December 2, and later ordered published on December 30, 2014, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the Mendocino County Superior Court’s judgment denying a petition for writ of mandate challenging a Nonindustrial Timber Management Plan (NTMP) for 615 acres adjacent to Gualala.  Center for Biological Diversity v. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (North Gualala Water Company, John and Margaret Bower, Bower Limited Partnership, Real Parties In Interest) (1st Dist., Div. 5, 2014) 232 Cal.App.4th 931, Case No. A138914.  The NTMP – which functions as the equivalent of an EIR for purposes of CEQA under the certified regulatory program of the Forest Practice Act (Pub. Resources Code, § 4511 et seq.; “FPA”) and Forest Practice Rules (14 Cal. Code Regs., § 895 et seq.; “FPR”) – was approved by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) on application of the above-named real parties in interest (Bower).
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In a 2-1 published opinion filed November 24, 2014, the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division 1, affirmed and modified the trial court’s judgment granting writ petitions by plaintiff groups challenging the EIR for the San Diego Association of Governments’ (SANDAG) 2050 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy (2050 RTP/SCS). Cleveland National Forest Foundation, et al. v. San Diego Association of Governments, et al. (2014) ___ Cal.App.4th ___, 2014 WL 6614394.  SANDAG’s RTP was the first of its kind approved under SB 375, and it sought to better align transportation, land use, and housing so as to achieve regional GHG emissions reductions targets set by the California Air Resources Board (CARB).  SANDAG’s assigned targets are to reduce per capita CO2 emissions 7% below 2005 levels by 2020, and 13% below 2005 levels by 2035.
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In a lengthy, mostly-unpublished opinion filed on August 14, 2014, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the superior court’s judgment denying a writ petition challenging the Parkmerced Development Project.  San Francisco Tomorrow, et al. v. City and County of San Francisco, et al. (Parkmerced Investors Properties, LLC, Real Parties in Interest) (1st Dist., Div. 2, 2014) 229 Cal.App.4th 498.  A 50-page portion of the 75-page opinion, which contained the court’s detailed analysis and rejection of appellant San Francisco Tomorrow’s (“SFT”) numerous general plan inconsistency and CEQA claims, was not certified for publication.  The court did certify for publication those portions of its decision:  (1) analyzing and rejecting SFT’s direct challenges to the legal adequacy of City’s general plan; (2) holding the trial court did not err in sustaining a demurrer to SFT’s procedural due process cause of action challenging the project’s development agreement; and (3) holding the trial court did not err in including in the administrative record hearing transcripts of public meetings of the Board’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee (“LUEDC”) at which the project was considered and discussed.
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While CEQA actions are statutorily designed as special proceedings with priority over other civil actions, and thus mandated to be heard and resolved expeditiously, when complex or controversial projects with dedicated opposition are involved this salutary statutory scheme sometimes goes off track.  A prominent example is the ongoing CEQA challenge to the environmental review for the Central Valley to San Francisco route of the High-Speed Rail Project, which involves lawsuits that have stretched over parts of 7 years and are not yet concluded — although a recent appellate decision appears to have brought them a step closer to the driving of the final CEQA litigation spike.
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In a decision filed April 29, and ordered published on May 28, 2014, the First District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment granting a writ petition and upheld the decision of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (“BCDC”) permitting expansion of the Potrero Hills Landfill within the Secondary Management Area of the Suisun Marsh.  SPRAWLDEF v. San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (Waste Connections, Inc., RPI) (1st Dist., Div. 1, 2014) 226 Cal.App. 4th 905.
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In a lengthy opinion filed February 28, 2014, and ordered partially published on April 1, 2014, the Third District Court of Appeal reversed the Yolo County Superior Court’s judgment denying a CEQA writ petition challenging the City of Woodland’s EIR and related approvals of a 234-acre regional shopping center development – requiring an annexation application, pre-zoning, and a general plan amendment – on undeveloped agricultural land at the City’s periphery.  California Clean Energy Committee v. City of Woodland, 225 Cal.App.4th 173, 2014, Case No. C072033 (3d Dist. 2/28/14; part. pub. order 4/1/14).  In reversing and remanding to the trial court to grant plaintiff California Clean Energy Committee’s requested writ, the opinion didn’t break any significant new legal ground.  However, it did serve up a few reminders to local agencies and project developers of some CEQA basics, and also to be careful in framing your CEQA findings.
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In a partially-published opinion filed January 30, 2014, the First District Court of Appeal, Division 3, reversed the trial court’s judgment denying a writ petition, and held that Caltrans must correct certain deficiencies in its EIR for a highway construction project to realign a 1-mile stretch of US Route 101 through Richardson Grove State Park (Park).  (Lotus v. Department of Transportation, et al. (1st Dist., Div. 3, 1/30/14) 223 Cal.App.4th 645.)  While rejecting many of appellants’ challenges, the Court of Appeal in the published portion of its opinion held the EIR “failed to properly evaluate the significance of impacts on the root systems of old growth redwood trees adjacent to the highway.”
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The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) will undertake a comprehensive review of the CEQA Guidelines (14 Cal.Code Regs., §15000 et seq) this year and is currently soliciting public input – to be provided not later than COB on February 14, 2014 – on specific possible topics it has developed as a result of stakeholder suggestions and published on its website.  OPR’s 7-page document, dated December 30, 2013, and entitled “Possible Topics to be Addressed in the 2014 CEQA Guidelines Update,” can be found at http://www.opr.ca.gov/docs/PossibleTopics2014CEQAGuidelinesUpdate.pdf.
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