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Arthur F. Coon is the Co-Chair 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).

In an 85-page opinion filed March 25, and modified and certified for partial publication on April 23, 2021, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the Napa County Superior Court’s judgment denying a writ petition challenging the County’s EIR and approvals for an expansion of Syar Industries, Inc.’s (Syar) aggregate mining operations at a quarry that has existed since the 1800s.  Stop Syar Expansion v. County of Napa (1st Dist. 2021) 63 Cal.App.5th 444.  The Court belatedly published about 25 pages of its lengthy opinion, which portions addressed basic CEQA principles, including standard of review and exhaustion principles, and the interplay of CEQA and general plan consistency issues.

Continue Reading First District Affirms Judgment Rejecting CEQA and General Plan Consistency Challenges to Napa County’s EIR for Syar Quarry Expansion Project, Addresses Significant Exhaustion and Land Use Issues

Falling more into the category of “spring cleaning” than “breaking news,” readers should note that a Second District decision, published last spring and covered in this blog, was ordered depublished by the California Supreme Court late last summer.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Denies Review of And Depublishes Second District Refinery Project Case Addressing CEQA Baseline Issues

In a published opinion filed on February 1, 2021, in an action arising from plaintiffs/appellants’ (“plaintiffs”) “potpourri” of unsuccessful legal challenges to the City of San Francisco’s decision to remove a controversial public monument celebrating California’s pioneer era, the First District Court of Appeal upheld dismissal of a CEQA claim for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.  Schmid v. City and County of San Francisco (2021) 60 Cal.App.5th 470.

Continue Reading Failure to Pursue and Exhaust Administrative Appeal Remedy Results In Forfeiture of CEQA Challenge To Categorical Exemption Despite Lower Body’s Defective Hearing Notice

I’m very pleased to report that my colleague Travis Brooks will be speaking on CEQA issues and recent developments online at the 35th annual California Water Law & Policy Conference, which is presented by Argent Communications and will take place in virtual format on April 19 and 21, 2021.  Miller Starr Regalia is a sponsor of the conference “California Water Rights, Policies Regulation, and the Future Under the New Administration,” and Travis’s topic, “CEQA Update:  Yes, Water Practitioners Need to Know This,” will be presented on April 19, 2021, at 1:15 p.m.  The Conference webpage and brochure can be found here and here, and registration information and materials can be accessed here.

Continue Reading Miller Starr Attorney To Present On CEQA Developments At Upcoming Water Law Conference

“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”

As readers of this blog know, my endeavor since its inception with regard to judicial developments has, in general, been to cover only published CEQA cases.  I have two simple reasons for this, which essentially boil down to importance and practicality.  With regard to my first reason, published cases are more important because they are legal precedents that state holdings and rules binding on everyone, not just the parties to the action.  With respect to my second reason, CEQA is generally an active area of law in terms of appellate cases, new legislation, and other significant developments; keeping track of the published – i.e., most important – cases is a big enough task without worrying about the even greater number of non-precedential unpublished ones.  Since this blog’s beginning in September 2011, it has produced a total of 347 CEQA-related posts (not counting this one), demonstrating there is generally no shortage of subject matter, even with my self-imposed limitation excluding unpublished decisions.

Continue Reading Why Are CEQA Cases Published Or Not? Observations From A Look Back at 2020’s Decisions

While the COVID-19 pandemic made 2020 a year most would prefer to keep in the rear view mirror, the courts kept fairly busy handing down precedents that hopefully provided us all with a better road map for navigating CEQA.  What follows is not a comprehensive review, but more of a brief trip down memory lane to review a “baker’s dozen” of last year’s case law highlights.

Continue Reading 2020: A Look Back at the Year’s CEQA Case Law

In a published opinion filed December 29, 2020, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment denying a petition for writ of mandate filed by the Santa Clara Valley Water District (District) challenging waste discharge requirements (WDRs) belatedly imposed by a responsible agency, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (Board), on lead agency District’s flood control project.  Santa Clara Valley Water District v. San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (2020) 59 Cal.App.5th 199.  The case involved highly unique facts, and a number of interesting legal issues concerning the Board’s authority under the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA), the state Porter-Cologne Act, and CEQA.

Continue Reading Can a Responsible Agency Get A Second Bite At The CEQA Apple? First District Says “Sometimes, Yes,” Upholds Regional Water Board’s Imposition of Additional Mitigation On Flood Control Project Through “Independent” Porter-Cologne Act Authority Exercised Subsequent To Grant Of CWA § 401 Water Quality Certification Based On Lead Agency’s Unchallenged Final EIR

As we rapidly approach the end of a year of COVID-related challenges and uncertainties, CEQA practitioners may want to review the year’s key legislation impacting CEQA and its application, which was contained in the handful of bills summarized below.

  • AB 168 (Aguilar-Curry). This urgency legislation became effective with the Governor’s signature on September 25, 2020.  It amends Government Code §§ 65400, 65913.4 and 65941.1 to correct an “oversight” in SB 35 (Weiner), namely, that 2017 law’s failure to consider potential destruction of tribal cultural resources as a result of the streamlined, ministerial (and thus CEQA-exempt) approval process it authorized for multifamily housing development projects satisfying specified objective planning standards.  (SB 35 is summarized in detail in my 12/7/17 blog post, which can be found here.)


Continue Reading 2020 CEQA Legislative Developments

“The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., The Common Law (1881)

“CEQA discourse has become increasingly abstract, almost medieval in its scholasticism.” – former California Governor Edmund G. (“Jerry”) Brown, Jr.

by Arthur F. Coon

On November 24, 2020, the Fifth District Court of Appeal filed its partially published opinion in the latest installment of the long-running CEQA litigation over Fresno County’s approval of the Friant Ranch project.  Sierra Club v. County of Fresno (Friant Ranch, L.P., Real Party in Interest) (2020) 57 Cal.App.5th 979.  The litigation involves a 942-acre mixed-use development project (2500 residential units, 250,000 square feet of commercial space, 460 acres of open space) for which the Notice of Preparation (NOP) of the EIR was issued in 2007; it has generated an earlier appellate opinion (see my 6/16/14 post here) and a Supreme Court opinion (see my 12/28/18 post here) addressing important standard of review issues centered on the adequacy of the project EIR’s air quality impacts discussion.


Continue Reading Remedial Legal Logic: Fifth District Doubles Down On Split with Other Districts in Holding CEQA Doesn’t Allow Limited Writ Remedy of Partial EIR Decertification – But Does It Really Matter?