On April 7, 2023, the Third District Court of Appeal filed a lengthy published opinion – the latest installment in one of the longer ongoing CEQA battles in recent memory – affirming a judgment finding an EIR for the Federal relicensing of Oroville Dam and related hydropower facilities legally adequate.  County of Butte and County of Plumas, et al v. Dept. of Water Resources  (2023) 90 Cal.App.5th 147.Continue Reading That Dam Case (Again):  Third District Upholds Oroville Hydropower Facilities Relicensing EIR Against Numerous CEQA Challenges

In a 72-page published opinion filed March 30, 2023, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 4) affirmed in full the trial court’s judgment, which upheld the EIR for the Oakland Waterfront Ballpark District Project (project) with the sole exception of its wind mitigation measure.  East Oakland Stadium Alliance, et al v. City of Oakland, et al (Athletics Investment Group, et al, Real Parties in Interest) (2023) 89 Cal.App.5th 1226.  In doing so, the Court’s lengthy opinion touched on and analyzed numerous interesting and important CEQA topics.Continue Reading First District Affirms Judgment Rejecting All CEQA Challenges To Oakland A’s Ballpark Development EIR Except Improper Deferral of Wind Impacts Mitigation

In a published opinion filed February 24, 2023, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 5) reversed a judgment upholding the adequacy of the EIR for the University of California, Berkeley’s long range campus development plan (“LRDP”) and a controversial housing development project at the historic People’s Park.  Make UC a Good Neighbor v. Regents of University of California (Resources for Community Development, Real Party in Interest) (2023 88 Cal.App.5th 656.  The opinion comes in a case that has been much publicized in popular news media as involving both development of an iconic historic site, currently plagued with crime and homelessness, and treatment of housed college students as presumptive purveyors of “party noise” environmental impacts; it has also (justifiably) resulted in renewed calls for CEQA reform, including from Governor Newsom.Continue Reading First District Reverses Judgment In Controversial “People’s Park” CEQA Case, Holds UC Regents’ Program/Project EIR For Long Range Development Plan And Site-Specific Student Housing Project At The Park Failed To Adequately Analyze Alternative Housing Sites, And Student Noise Impacts

In a published opinion filed February 6, 2023, the Fourth District Court of Appeal (Div. 3) affirmed a judgment setting aside an addendum to a 2010 program EIR (PEIR) and accompanying approvals for a 275,000-square foot office complex on a 4.95-acre parcel (the “Gemdale project” or “project”) within the 2,800-acre Irvine Business Complex (IBC).  IBC Business Owners for Sensible Development v. City of Irvine (Gemdale 2400 Barranca Holdings, LLC, Real Party in Interest) (2023) 88 Cal.App.5th 100.  The Court held that the City’s approval of the Addendum was improper because substantial evidence did not support the conclusion that the project’s GHG emissions were within the scope of the PEIR and would have less than significant impacts; further, the project was unusually large and dense due to its utilization of transfers of development rights (TDRs) of over 220,000 square feet – by far the largest ever approved in the IBC’s history – and thus could not qualify for the Class 32 infill exemption due to the unusual circumstances exception.Continue Reading Fourth District Holds Addendum To 2010 Program EIR For Irvine Business Complex Vision Plan Violated CEQA Because Conclusion That Large Infill Project’s GHG Emissions Would Be Less Than Significant Lacked Substantial Evidence And Project Was Not Exempt

On April 20, 2022, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (“BAAQMD”) adopted updated CEQA thresholds of significance that it recommends for public agencies’ use in evaluating the impacts of land use projects and plans on climate change.  The thresholds and substantial evidence supporting them are contained in a “Justification Report” that can be reviewed on BAAQMD’s website here.
Continue Reading BAAQMD Adopts “Fair Share” Based CEQA Thresholds of Significance For Evaluating Climate Change Impacts of Land Use Projects And Plans

In an opinion filed on December 16, 2021, and belatedly ordered published on January 13, 2022, the Fourth District Court of Appeal rejected a CEQA challenge to a small multifamily project in the City of Santa Cruz.  Ocean Street Extension Neighborhood Assn. v. City of Santa Cruz (2021) 73 Cal.App.5th 985 (“OSENA”).  The case contains valuable guidance regarding mitigation for biological resources impacts, lays out some common sense principles that may help condense the EIR preparation process, and also provides useful guidance to developers and agencies dealing with water supply issues during the current drought.
Continue Reading Fourth District Rejects CEQA And Municipal Code Challenges To City Of Santa Cruz’s Project Approvals And EIR For Small Multifamily Housing Project

In an opinion filed January 28, and later certified for publication on February 16, 2022, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment denying a petition for writ of mandate that challenged on CEQA grounds the El Dorado Irrigation District’s (“EID”) decision to undertake its Upper Main Ditch piping project.  Save the El Dorado Canal v. El Dorado Irrigation District, et al. (2022) 75 Cal.App.5th 239. The challenged water conveyance project would replace about three miles of EID’s open and unlined earthen ditch system with a buried water transmission pipeline in order to conserve water and improve water quality.  Petitioner alleged the EIR’s project description was inadequate because it omitted the material fact that the ditch section to be abandoned as a water conveyance also served as the watershed’s only drainage system, and that the EIR insufficiently analyzed the abandonment’s impacts on hydrology, biological resources, and wildfires.
Continue Reading Third District Rejects CEQA Challenges To El Dorado Irrigation District Ditch Piping Project, Holds EIR’s Project Description And Analysis Of Potential Hydrology, Biological Resources, and Wildfire Impacts Were Adequate

In a sprawling, 123-page published opinion filed on February 14, 2022, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed in part, and reversed in part, judgments in consolidated CEQA actions challenging Placer County’s EIR for its approval of a specific plan and rezoning to permit residential and commercial development and preserve forest land in the Martis Valley near Truckee and Lake Tahoe.  League to Save Lake Tahoe, Mountain Area Preservation, et al./California Clean Energy Committee v. County of Placer, et al. (Sierra Pacific Industries, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2022) 75 Cal.App.5th 63.  Consistent with its impressive length, the opinion decides a number of significant issues, and contains a thorough exposition of established CEQA rules and principles, including, but not limited to, those governing:  applicable standards of review; baseline/environmental setting description; lead agency discretion regarding thresholds of significance, methodology for impact study, and significance determinations; cumulative impacts (including GHG) analysis; and requirements for adequate mitigation measures.
Continue Reading Third District Addresses Significant CEQA Issues In Mixed Decision On Placer County’s EIR For Specific Plan/Rezoning Allowing Development of Martis Valley Timberlands

In a 53-page published opinion filed October 8, 2021, the Fourth District Court of Appeal mostly affirmed, but reversed in part, a judgment in a CEQA action challenging two sets of projects of the City of San Diego to underground overhead utility wires in several neighborhoods.  McCann v. City of San Diego (2021) 70 Cal.App.5th 51.  The opinion addressed and resolved a number of significant and interesting CEQA claims and issues involving the exhaustion doctrine; procedures for administratively appealing CEQA exemption determinations (and related due process notice issues); piecemealing; project description; aesthetics; and proper methodology for determining the significance of GHG emissions impacts through assessing a project’s consistency with a local Climate Action Plan (CAP).
Continue Reading Fourth District Addresses Numerous Significant CEQA Issues In Action Challenging City of San Diego’s Utility Undergrounding Projects

In an opinion filed on August 24, and certified for partial publication on September 22, 2021, the Third District Court of Appeal reversed a judgment upholding Placer County’s EIR for a 94-acre resort development project in the Olympic (formerly Squaw) Valley area – site of the 1960 Winter Olympics near the iconic Lake Tahoe.  Sierra Watch v. County of Placer (Squaw Valley Real Estate, LLC, Real Party in Interest) (2021) 69 Cal.App.5th 1.  The published portions of the 51-page opinion found faults in the EIR’s description of the environmental setting and related water and air quality impact analyses, and errors in its analysis and mitigation of construction noise impacts.  Nearly half of the opinion remained unpublished; those portions of it (1) upheld the EIR’s climate change analysis (rejecting appellant Sierra Watch’s arguments challenging it as meritless, moot, or forfeited), (2) upheld most of the EIR’s wildfire impacts analysis (finding merit in one of appellant’s eight arguments, relating to underestimation of evacuation times), and (3) held the EIR’s traffic impacts analysis improperly relied on deferred mitigation.  (The unpublished portions of the opinion will not be discussed further in this post.)
Continue Reading Let’s Get Regional: Third District Holds Olympic Valley Resort Project EIR’s Environmental Setting Description and Analysis Violated CEQA’s Requirement To Place Special Emphasis On Unique Regional Environmental Resources By Failing To Sufficiently Consider Lake Tahoe