On August 10, 2023 the Sixth District Court of Appeal filed its published opinion in Santa Rita Union School District v. City of Salinas (2023) 94 Cal.App.5th 298.  On September 7, 2023, it filed an Order slightly modifying its opinion without modifying the judgment and denying rehearing.  The case concerns the certification of an EIR for the “West Area Specific Plan” in and by the City of Salinas, and claims by two school districts in the City that asserted perennial underfunding meant that the EIR failed to adequately address school-related impacts.  While the trial court agreed in part, granting narrow writ relief enjoining future entitlements while leaving the specific plan approval in place, the Sixth District did not, holding that the districts’ expressed concerns were speculative in nature and need not have been evaluated in the EIR.Continue Reading Sixth District Reverses Judgment Finding Specific Plan FEIR Inadequate For Failure To Adequately Analyze And Respond To Comments Regarding School Facilities-Related Impacts; Court Of Appeal Holds FEIR Was Adequate In All Respects And Was Not Required To Speculate Regarding Possible Environmental Impacts From Uncertain Future School District Decisions Made To Accommodate Increased Enrollment Should Funds Prove Unavailable To Construct New Schools Contemplated In Plan

“I fought the law and the law won” – The Crickets

In an opinion filed July 19, and later ordered published on August 16, 2023, the Second District Court of Appeal (Div. 6) reversed the trial court’s grant of a preliminary injunction in a CEQA action enjoining the Santa Barbara County Road Commissioner from enforcing public laws by removing unpermitted encroachments from a public right-of-way.  Christopher Anderson, et al. v. County of Santa Barbara, et al. (2023) 94 Cal.App.5th 554. The public officer’s law enforcement actions were held to be exempt from CEQA; to have independent utility apart from any alleged larger, “piecemealed” project evading CEQA review; and not to be subject to the “unusual circumstances” exception to applicable categorical exemptions.  While the Court was careful to fully analyze all of petitioners’ CEQA arguments, its opinion also offered numerous other reasons why the trial court erred and exceeded its lawful authority under applicable legal principles in issuing the preliminary injunction.Continue Reading Second District Reverses Preliminary Injunction, Holds CEQA Cannot Trump Santa Barbara County’s Authority To Remove Unpermitted Encroachments Placed In Public Right-Of-Way By Adjacent Landowners

On July 7, 2023, following a request for publication made on behalf of the California Building Industry Association, the Building Industry Association of the Bay Area, and the California Business Properties Association, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ordered published its decision originally filed on June 8, 2023, affirming the trial court’s judgment upholding a Newport Beach multifamily project approval against various CEQA challenges.  Olen Properties Corp. v. City of Newport Beach (2023) 93 Cal.App.5th 270.Continue Reading Fourth District Belatedly Publishes CEQA Opinion Upholding City of Newport Beach’s Approval of Multifamily-Housing Development Pursuant To Addendum To 2006 EIR For Larger Mixed-Use Development

In an opinion filed June 28, 2023, and later ordered published on July 25, 2023, the Second District Court of Appeal (Div. 5) affirmed a judgment granting a writ of mandate setting aside (1) the City of Los Angeles’ (City) approval of a 10-story hotel project (with three levels of subterranean parking) to be located on a half-acre site in the Hollywood Community Plan area, and (2) the City’s accompanying determination that the hotel project was exempt under CEQA’s Class 32 categorical exemption for infill projects.  Because the hotel project would result in the demolition of 40 apartments subject to the City’s rent stabilization ordinance (RSO), and the City failed to consider whether it was consistent with “all applicable general plan policies” – including Housing Element policies to preserve affordable housing – the record failed to contain substantial evidence supporting City’s use of the exemption.  United Neighborhoods for Los Angeles v. City of Los Angeles (Fariborz Moshfegh, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2023) 93 Cal.App.5th 1074.Continue Reading Second District Affirms Judgment Voiding CEQA Infill Exemption For Hollywood Hotel Project That Would Demolish Affordable Housing Units Because City Deemed Inapplicable And Never Considered Project’s Consistency With General Plan Housing Element Policies To Preserve Affordable Housing

In a published opinion filed June 23, 2023, the Fourth District Court of Appeal (Div. 1) affirmed a judgment granting a writ of mandate directing the City of San Diego (City) to set aside its approvals of an ordinance submitting to the voters a ballot measure that would exclude the Midway-Pacific Highway Community Plan Area from the City’s 30-foot height limit on construction of buildings in the Coastal Zone.  The Court held the City could not rely on a 2018 program EIR (PEIR) certified for an update of the area’s community plan as CEQA compliance because the PEIR did not contemplate or analyze the environmental impacts of removing the height limit and substantial evidence supported a fair argument that its removal may have significant unexamined impacts on views.  Save Our Access v. City of San Diego (2023) 92 Cal.App.5th 819.Continue Reading Ocean Views Matter: Fourth District Holds Program EIR For Community Plan Update Didn’t Consider Potentially Significant View Impacts of City of San Diego’s Subsequent Approval of Ballot Measure Excluding Entire Area From City’s 30-Foot Coastal Zone Height Limit

In a published opinion filed June 13, 2023, the Second District Court of Appeal (Div. 8) affirmed the trial court’s judgment rejecting CEQA challenges to the City of Pomona’s (City) use of a statutory exemption – under Public Resources Code § 21083.3(a), (b) and CEQA Guidelines § 15183 – for its adoption of a zoning overlay district allowing commercial cannabis activities at specific locations within the City’s boundaries.  Gregory Lucas v. City of Pomona (2023) 92 Cal.App.5th 508.Continue Reading Second District Affirms Judgment Upholding City of Pomona’s Commercial Cannabis Permit Program Overlay District As CEQA-Exempt Under Statutory Exemption Provided In Guidelines Section 15183 For Projects Consistent With Development Density Established By Existing Zoning, General Plan, Or Community Plan for Which EIR Was Certified; Holds Substantial Evidence Standard of Review Applies To Lead Agency’s Finding of Exemption

In a published opinion filed June 9, 2023, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 3) reversed the trial court’s judgment granting a writ of mandate in consolidated CEQA actions and upheld the adequacy of the UC Regents’ EIR for vegetation removal actions planned to occur within about 800 acres of hilly, forested and fire-prone land on UC Berkeley’s Hill Campus.  The Claremont Canyon Conservancy v. The Regents of the University of California/Hills Conservation Network v. Carol T. Christ (2023) 92 Cal.App.5th 474. Continue Reading Missing the Forest For the Trees: First District Reverses Trial Court, Upholds Project Description And Impact Analysis In Regents’ EIR For Vegetation Removal Projects To Reduce Wildfire Risk At UC Berkeley Hills Campus

In a published opinion filed June 7, 2023, the Fifth District Court of Appeal held the trial court erred in applying California’s interrelated factors test to deny a preliminary injunction in a CEQA case.  The error consisted of failing to consider harm to the public interests in informed decisionmaking and public disclosure as relevant informational harm to be weighed in evaluating the relative balance of harms likely to result from the erroneous granting or denial of the preliminary injunction.  Tulare Lake Canal Company v. Stratford Public Utility District (Sandridge Partners, L.P., et al, Real Parties in Interest) (2023) 92 Cal.App.5th 380. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal reversed the order denying the preliminary injunction and remanded the matter to the trial court for reconsideration, while keeping in effect its writ of supersedeas continuing the trial court’s TRO in full force and effect.Continue Reading Fifth District Holds Harm To Public Interest In Informed Decisionmaking Must Be Considered By Court In Deciding Whether To Grant Preliminary Injunction In CEQA Case

In an opinion filed April 18, and belatedly ordered published on May 10, 2023, the Sixth District Court of Appeal upheld the City of San Jose’s (City) certification of a final Supplemental EIR (FSEIR) for development of three high-rise office towers (the “Project”) on an eight-acre downtown site containing several historic structures which the Project required to be demolished. Preservation Action Council of San Jose v. City of San Jose (SJ Cityview, LLC, Real Party in Interest) (2023) 91 Cal.App.5th 517. In affirming the trial court’s judgment denying Preservation Action Council of San Jose’s (Appellant) petition for writ of mandate, the Court rejected Appellant’s arguments that the FSEIR failed to adequately analyze and provide compensatory mitigation for the historic buildings and failed to adequately respond to comments on those issues.Continue Reading Sixth District Holds Downtown San Jose Office Project FSEIR’s Brief Discussion And Rejection of “Compensatory” Mitigation for Historic Buildings Razed By Project Was Informationally Adequate Under CEQA Based On City’s Unchallenged Factual Finding That No Similar Historic Buildings Existed Elsewhere In City’s Downtown

In a published opinion filed March 2, 2023, the Fifth District Court of Appeal held that where no governmental approvals were required, an investor-owned public utility was not required to comply with CEQA prior to exercising its eminent domain power by filing an action to condemn a maintenance/access easement in connection with its existing electrical power transmission facilities located on and traversing private property.  Robinson v. Superior Court of Kern County (5th Dist. 2023) 88 Cal.App.5th 1144.  While most of the opinion involved eminent domain issues irrelevant to this blog, the pertinent issue here is a simple definitional one:  CEQA applies only to “discretionary projects proposed to be carried out or approved by public agencies” (Pub. Resources Code, § 21080(a)), and CEQA’s definition of “public agency” includes only state agencies, boards and commissions, and local and regional agencies.  (Pub. Resources Code, § 21063; CEQA Guidelines, § 15379.)Continue Reading CEQA Does Not Apply To Investor-Owned Public Utility’s Exercise Of Power Of Eminent Domain To Acquire Electric Facilities Maintenance Easement