Photo of Arthur F. Coon

Arthur F. Coon is Chair Emeritus of Miller Starr Regalia’s Land Use Practice Group and Chair of its Appellate Practice Group. Art has distinguished himself over a more than 30-year career as a top CEQA and land use law litigator at the trial and appellate levels of both federal and state courts, including an appearance as counsel of record before the U.S. Supreme Court. His areas of expertise include land use, environmental law, the law of public agencies, extraordinary writs, and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

“We didn’t start the fire….”

-Billy Joel

Wildfires are an unfortunate reality of life in California and have become of increasing concern over the past several years.  Eight of the ten largest wildfires in the state since 1932 have occurred in the last decade (five of which took place in 2020 alone).

Continue Reading Attorney General’s Guidance On “Best Practices” For CEQA Analysis Of And Mitigation For Wildfire-Related Impacts Is Long On Litigation And Policy Advocacy, Short On Neutral Legal Analysis

In a published opinion filed October 26, 2022, the Second District Court of Appeal (Div. 6) appears to have significantly expanded the reach of both the Brown Act and the procedural requirements of CEQA in holding, on an issue of first impression, that a public agency must list its staff’s determination that a project is exempt from CEQA as an item of business on the agenda for the meeting at which it considers the project approval. G.I. Industries v. City of Thousand Oaks, et al (Arakelian Enterprises, Inc., Real Party In Interest) (2022) __ Cal.App.5th __. The opinion thus extends San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center v. County of Merced (2013) 216 Cal.App.4th 1167 (“San Joaquin Raptor”), which held that a public agency’s decision to adopt a CEQA document, such as an EIR or negative declaration, must be described as a distinct item of business under the Brown Act when it is to be considered at a public hearing, to the distinct context of CEQA-exempt projects.

Continue Reading Second District Holds Brown Act Requires Lead Agency To List CEQA Exemption As Item of Business On Agenda For Public Meeting When Project Already Found Exempt By Staff Is Considered For Approval

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

At its weekly conference held on August 24, 2022, the California Supreme Court acted to modify its recent majority opinion in County of Butte v. Department of Water Resources (State Water Contractors) (2022) ___ Cal.5th ___, Case No. S258574.  In granting the request, made in a letter signed by a number of leading CEQA practitioners, for modification to correct an erroneous statement in its opinion about required topics of EIR discussion (see my 8/19/22 post on counsel’s letter here), the Supreme Court issued an “Order Modifying Opinion” stating:

Continue Reading Supreme Court Corrects Butte County Opinion’s CEQA Misstatement In Response To Counsel’s Letter

An August 12, 2022 letter to the Supreme Court – signed onto by more than a dozen leading CEQA attorneys not representing parties to the action or other clients – has requested the Court to modify its August 1, 2022 majority opinion in County of Butte v. Dept. of Water Resources, Supreme Court Case No. S258574 to correct an error in one of the opinion’s background statements concerning a basic principle of CEQA law.  (The error was pointed out in my August 7, 2022 post on the case, which can be found here.)

Continue Reading Leading CEQA Counsel File Letter Requesting California Supreme Court To Correct Basic Error In Recent Majority Opinion

In a 5-2 opinion filed August 1, 2022, a divided California Supreme Court held the Federal Power Act (“FPA”; 16 U.S.C. § 791a et seq.) does not “occupy the field” and entirely preempt CEQA’s application to the state’s participation, as applicant and hydroelectric facility owner/operator, in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) licensing process the FPA requires to operate such facilities.  County of Butte v. Department of Water Resources (2022) ___ Cal.5th ___, Case No. S258574.  Acknowledging the result would likely be different if a private party were the license applicant, the Court applied a narrower type of direct conflict preemption, based on a state entity being the facility owner/operator/applicant.  The majority did agree with the Third District Court of Appeal that the Counties challenging the State Department of Water Resources’ (“DWR”) EIR, prepared in connection with its application to renew a 50-year license to operate its Butte County Oroville dam and related hydroelectric facilities, could not seek to unwind a settlement agreement prepared as part of FERC’s application process and proceedings; nor could they seek to enjoin DWR from operating under the proposed (but not yet issued) license – a request for relief the Counties initially pursued, but apparently abandoned at oral argument before the Supreme Court.  The Court’s majority acknowledged such actions would contravene FERC’s “sole jurisdiction” over licensing process disputes and be preempted under longstanding federal law.  (18 C.F.R. § 4.34 (i)(6)(vii); First Iowa Coop. v. Federal Power Comm’n (1946) 328 U.S. 152, 164 (“First Iowa”).)

Continue Reading California Supreme Court Holds In 5-2 Decision, Over Chief Justice’s Strong Dissent, That Federal Power Act Does Not Fully Preempt CEQA’s Application to FERC’s Licensing Process for State-Owned and Operated Hydroelectric Projects

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

On July 13, 2022, the California Supreme Court denied numerous depublication requests with respect to, and declined to review on its own motion, the First District Court of Appeal’s decision in Save the Hill Group v. City of Livermore (2022) 76 Cal.App.5th 1092, S. Ct. Case No. S274754; Ct. App. Case No. A161573.  My May 26, 2022 post on the League of Cities’ and CSAC’s depublication requests, which were shortly thereafter followed by further depublication requests by Respondent City of Livermore and the California Building Industry Association, can be found here, and my April 4, 2022 post analyzing the Court of Appeal’s opinion which can be found here.

Continue Reading California Supreme Court Denies Depublication Requests In Livermore CEQA Case Addressing “No Project” Alternative

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