Approval/Pre-Commitment

In a partially published opinion filed March 29, 2024, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 4) rejected contentions that the pre-judgment completion of construction of a shooting range mooted a CEQA challenge to the project; it held an effective remedy in the form of various mitigation measures alleged in the CEQA petition remained available and reversed the trial court’s judgment entered in favor of respondents and real party after sustaining their demurrers and granting their motions to strike and for judgment on the pleadings.  In addition to applying established mootness principles, the Court resolved a number of other issues in holding petitioner Vichy Springs Resort, Inc. (“Vichy”) had sufficiently alleged a CEQA claim at the pleadings stage against both the City of Ukiah (“City”) and the County of Mendocino (“County”) in a unique factual and legal context presenting novel issues of land use regulatory authority and intergovernmental immunity.  Vichy Springs Resort, Inc. v. City of Ukiah, et al. (Ukiah Rifle and Pistol Club, Inc., Real Party in Interest) (2024) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.Continue Reading First District Holds CEQA Challenge To Shooting Range Project On City-Owned Land In Unincorporated County Was Not Mooted By Project’s Construction During Trial Court Proceedings Despite Petitioner’s Failure To Seek Preliminary Injunction

In a published opinion filed on January 17, 2024, the Second District Court of Appeal (Div. 5) reversed a trial court judgment overturning a mitigated negative declaration (MND) and requiring an EIR for a 42-single family home project; instead, the Court of Appeal held the petitioners’ action should have been dismissed as time-barred and that the trial court erred in overruling the demurrers of respondent City of Los Angeles and the real party developers on statute of limitations grounds.  Delia Guerrero et al. v. City of Los Angeles (TTLE Los Angeles – El Sereno LLC et al, Real Parties in Interest) (2024) 98 Cal.App.5th 1087.Continue Reading Reversal of Misfortune: Second District Holds CEQA Action Challenging Los Angeles Housing Development Project Barred By Statute of Limitations, Reverses Trial Court Judgment Rejecting MND and Requiring EIR

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) 81 Cal.App.5th 657.  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

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

“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.Continue Reading Must CEQA Compliance Precede Project Approval? When State Water Board Water Quality Certifications Are Involved, The Answer Is As “Clear as Mud”

In a published opinion filed January 31, 2018, the Fifth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial Court’s judgment issuing a writ of mandate voiding the California State Air Resources Board’s (“CARB”) 2014 amendments to its 2008 Truck and Bus Regulation and its related environmental review documents, which were the functional equivalent of a negative declaration under CARB’s certified regulatory program.  John R. Lawson Rock & Oil, Inc. v. State Air Resources Board (2018) 20 Cal.App.5th 77.  The 2008 regulations required retrofitting and upgrading of large diesel vehicles to the equivalent of 2010 or newer model engines to reduce emissions of diesel particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and greenhouse gases (GHGs).
Continue Reading Fifth District Holds CARB Violated CEQA And APA In Approving Modifications To Truck And Bus Regulation

In a published decision filed August 8, 2017, the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial Court’s judgment dismissing a CEQA action brought by two individuals (“Appellants”) against the Mt. San Jacinto Community College District (“District”).  Bridges v. Mt. San Jacinto Community College District (Riverside County Regional Park & Open- Space District, Real Party in Interest) (4th Dist. 2017) 14 Cal.App.5th 104.  Appellants challenged the District’s entry into a purchase agreement to buy from a regional park district a plot of vacant land for potential future use as a new campus, alleging this action violated CEQA because the District had not yet prepared an EIR for the potential new campus project.  (The District was in the process of preparing an EIR, during the pendency of other litigation over an earlier option agreement on the property, but it “paused” that process due to the other litigation while determining it would complete the EIR before entering into escrow on the property.)  Appellants also claimed the District violated CEQA by failing to adopt local CEQA implementing guidelines.

The Court of Appeal held Appellants failed to exhaust their administrative remedies prior to filing suit or to demonstrate any excuse for not doing so; alternatively, it held that their claims lacked substantive merit.Continue Reading Fourth District Rejects CEQA Challenge to College District’s Entry into Land Acquisition Agreement Prior to Preparing EIR Due to Plaintiffs’ Failure to Exhaust and Based on Merits

In a 29-page published opinion filed October 14, 2016, the Fourth District Court of Appeal dispensed some good news to municipalities desiring to reasonably regulate retail medical marijuana facilities within their jurisdictional boundaries.  In Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, Inc. v. City of San Diego (4th Dist., Div. 1, 2016) 4 Cal.App.5th 103, Case No. D068185, the Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying a writ petition on the basis that the City of San Diego’s ordinance regulating the establishment and location of medical marijuana consumer cooperatives was not a “project” subject to CEQA.
Continue Reading Blowing Smoke About Impacts? Fourth District Rejects Speculative CEQA Challenge to San Diego’s Medical Marijuana Consumer Cooperative Ordinance, Holds Zoning Ordinances Are Not Necessarily CEQA “Projects”

In two opinions filed May 10, 2016 (one partially and the other fully published), the Fourth District Court of Appeal rejected a number of CEQA and other challenges to a project proposing to pump 50,000 acre-feet of groundwater per year for a 50-year period from a Mojave Desert aquifer in the County of San Bernardino (“Project”).  The Project – proposed by a “public-private partnership” between lead agency Santa Margarita Water District (“SMWG”) and the overlying landowner, Cadiz, Inc. (“Cadiz”) – seeks to beneficially use and prevent the loss of groundwater, some portion of which would otherwise drain to two dry lakes where it would evaporate or become unpotable brine.  The fresh water pumped from the aquifer would be conveyed through 43 miles of underground pipeline to the Colorado River Aqueduct, which would then transport it to supply a number of Southern California Water agencies and users.
Continue Reading Fourth District Rejects CEQA Challenges To Large Mojave Desert Groundwater Pumping Project In Separate Published Opinions

In a 65-page opinion certified for publication and filed October 22, 2015, the Second Appellate District Court of Appeal affirmed the Los Angeles County Superior Court’s judgment denying writ petitions by the City of Beverly Hills (“City”) and the Beverly Hills Unified School District (“District”). Petitioners and Appellants’ actions challenged respondent Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (“LA Metro”) EIS/EIR and related approval of the Westside Subway Extension Project (the “Project”). The Project involves the extension of Metro’s Purple Line heavy rail transit (HRT) subway system to the Westside of Los Angeles through the addition of 7 stations and 9 miles of subway line, and includes a new Century City station (the “Constellation station”) to be reached through a tunnel to be constructed underneath Beverly Hills High School. The City of Beverly Hills v. Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Case No. B256753) (2d Dist., Div. 4, 2015) 241 Cal.App.4th 627.
Continue Reading Second District Rejects CEQA And Fair Transit Hearing Challenges To LA Metro’s Westside Subway Extension Project In Lengthy Published Opinion