In a partially published unanimous opinion filed June 16, 2021, authored by a jurist who is also a noted CEQA expert (Acting Presiding Justice Ronald Robie), the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying a writ petition challenging El Dorado County’s mitigated negative declaration (MND) for and approval of the Newtown Road Bridge at South Fork Weber Creek Replacement Project.  Newtown Preservation Society, et al. v. County of El Dorado, et al. (3d Dist. 2021) ____ Cal.App.5th ____.  In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal held that petitioners/appellants erroneously framed the “fair argument” test in terms of the project having “potentially significant impacts on resident safety and emergency evacuation,” whereas the correct test is “whether the record contains substantial evidence that the project may have a significant effect on the environment or may exacerbate existing environmental hazards.”  It held appellants “failed to carry their burden of showing substantial evidence supports a fair argument of significant environmental impact in that regard.”  (In the unpublished portion of its opinion, which won’t be analyzed in further detail in this post, the Court held the County did not impermissibly defer mitigation, and it declined to consider two other arguments because they added nothing to the fair argument analysis and/or constituted new theories or arguments raised for the first time on appeal.)

Continue Reading Flunking CEQA’s “Fair Argument” Test: Third District Affirms Judgment Upholding MND for El Dorado County Bridge Replacement Project, Rejects Arguments Based on Alleged Significant Impacts on Fire Evacuation Routes During Construction As Insufficient To Require EIR

Pursuant to Governor Newsom’s June 11, 2021 Executive Order N-08-21, the conditional suspension of certain public agency requirements related to the filing and posting of CEQA notices (i.e., NOEs, NODs, and notices of intent and availability) will end on September 30, 2021.  The COVID-related suspension had previously been ordered in April 2020 by Executive Order N-54-20; it was later indefinitely extended by Executive Order N-80-20, as discussed in a prior October 12, 2020 post by Arielle Harris and me that can be accessed here.  The Governor’s new EO means that, as of September 30, the conditionally authorized alternative procedures for publicizing the relevant CEQA documents will no longer be authorized or available to public agencies, and the normal filing, noticing and posting requirements will resume and again apply with full force.

Continue Reading COVID-Related Conditional Suspension of CEQA Public Filing, Posting, Notice, and Other Requirements To Sunset On September 30, 2021 Under New Executive Order

In a lengthy opinion filed April 8, and ordered published on May 7, 2021, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment rejecting a number of CEQA challenges to the California State Land Commission’s (Lands Commission) supplemental EIR for and related approval of a lease modification to facilitate a desalination plant in Huntington Beach.  California Coastkeeper Alliance v. State Lands Commission (Poseidon Resources (Surfside) LLC, Real Party in Interest) (2021) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.  In holding that the Commission properly elected to prepare a supplemental (rather than subsequent) EIR, did not err in refusing to assume lead agency status, and did not unlawfully piecemeal environmental review, the Court provided guidance on a number of significant CEQA issues.

Continue Reading Third District Affirms Judgment Upholding State Lands Commission’s Supplemental EIR For Desalination Plant Lease Modification, Rejects CEQA Claims That Commission Piecemealed Review And Should Have Assumed Lead Agency Status And Prepared A Subsequent EIR

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) ____ Cal.App.5th ____.  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

“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 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

On November 10, 2020, the California Supreme Court – after briefly raising Petitioners’ hopes by extending the time to consider granting review – finally slammed the door shut on further litigation over a recent Fourth District Court of Appeal decision, issuing an order denying the three petitions for review filed by the parties, as well as a request for depublication filed by non-party City of Los Angeles.  Golden Door Properties v. S.C (County of San Diego) Case No. S264324.  The Court of Appeal’s Golden Door decision, which held lead agencies must retain and not destroy writings within the scope of CEQA’s mandatory and broadly inclusive administrative record statute (Pub. Resources Code, § 21167.6), notwithstanding assertedly contrary record-retention policies, will thus remain intact as published precedent.

Continue Reading Closing the “Golden Door”: California Supreme Court Denies Petitions for Review and Depublication Request in CEQA Administrative Record Case

On October 23, 2020, the California Supreme Court issued an order extending until December 7, 2020, or the date upon which review is either granted or denied, the time for granting or denying review in Golden Door Properties, LLC, et. al. v. Superior Court (County of San Diego et. al., Real Parties in Interest) (4th Dist. 2020) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.  The Court of Appeal’s decision, originally published on July 30, and modified upon denial of rehearing on August 25, 2020, held that a lead agency is required to retain, and may not  destroy, writings within the scope of CEQA’s mandatory and broadly-inclusive administrative record statute, Public Resources Code § 21167.6.

Continue Reading Keeping the “Golden Door” Cracked Open: California Supreme Court Extends Period to Consider Review of CEQA Administrative Record Case

In late September, Governor Newsom signed Executive Order N-80-20 (“EO 80-20”), which, among other things, extends the protections of a handful of previously issued executive orders related to COVID-19.  As relevant to CEQA practitioners, EO 80-20 extends the previous suspension of CEQA’s requirements for filing of specified notices with the county clerk and the posting of such notices in the county clerk’s office.

Continue Reading Governor Extends Conditional Suspension of Requirements Related to Posting CEQA Notices with County Clerks