The 2021-2022 Legislative Session was light on CEQA amendments, and once again did not produce any significant reform.  We saw a continued focus on incentivizing affordable and infill developments on the condition that the project pay prevailing wages (AB 2011), reducing barriers for specified sustainable transit projects (SB 922), and amendments akin to “pet project exemptions” that are targeted to solving a narrower set of concerns (SB 118 and SB 886).  None of the amendments, however, more broadly limit CEQA’s reach.

Continue Reading Recap of 2023 CEQA Amendments Now In Effect

On January 25, 2023, the California Supreme Court extended to March 3, 2023 its time to grant or deny review of the Second District Court of Appeal’s published opinion in G.I. Industries v. City of Thousand Oaks (2022) 84 Cal.App.5th 814.  My October 31, 2022 post on the Court of Appeal’s opinion, and my follow-up December 5, 2022 post on its modified opinion on denial of rehearing can be found here and here.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Extends Time To Decide Petitions For Review In Brown Act/CEQA Exemption Case; Sonoma County Files Depublication Request And Cal Cities Files Amicus Letter Urging Review

While CEQA is a complicated area of law, often criticized as a “plaintiff’s sandbox,” CEQA litigation is not a “free-for-all” immune from malicious prosecution actions when it is unsuccessfully pursued with malice and without probable cause.  Such is the teaching of the First District Court of Appeal’s December 28, 2022 published opinion in Charles Jenkins et al v. Susan Brandt-Hawley et al (1st Dist., Div. 2, 2022) ___ Cal.App.5th ___, which affirmed the trial court’s order denying an anti-SLAPP motion and allowing a malicious prosecution action to proceed against a prominent CEQA attorney and her law firm.

Continue Reading When CEQA Litigation Turns Tortious: First District Affirms Order Denying Anti-SLAPP Motion, Allows Malicious Prosecution Action To Proceed Against Counsel Who Brought Unsuccessful CEQA Challenge To Single-Home Project

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” – Editorial by Francis Pharcellus Church first appearing in New York newspaper The Sun on September 21, 1897

In keeping with the spirit of the holiday season, it is entirely fitting that some cynical and unbelieving jurisdictions be gifted with a published judicial reminder that CEQA really does exist – and that its required procedures must be scrupulously followed.  In an opinion filed November 18, and later ordered published on December 5, 2002, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 4) bestowed such a gift upon the City and County of San Francisco (“City”), although the “jury is out” on whether the latter lead agency will receive it in the proper spirit or view it as humbug and the proverbial lump of coal.  Saint Ignatius Neighborhood Association v. City and County of San Francisco (2022) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.

Continue Reading “Yes, San Francisco, There Is A CEQA”: First District Reverses Judgment Upholding City’s Categorical Exemption Determinations For Project To Add Four 90-Foot Tall Light Standards To High School Stadium In Residential Neighborhood

On December 5, 2022, the real party in interest (Arakelian Enterprises, Inc. dba Athens Services) and respondent City of Thousand Oaks both filed petitions for review in the California Supreme Court in G.I. Industries v. City of Thousand Oaks (2022) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.  (My recent post on the Second District Court of Appeal’s modified opinion order, which contains a link to my original post on the case, can be found here.)

Continue Reading Petitions for Review Filed In Brown Act/CEQA Exemption Case

The Second District Court of Appeal (Div. 6) has issued a November 22, 2022 Order modifying its opinion and denying rehearing in G.I. Industries v. City of Thousand Oaks (2022) ___ Cal.App.5th ___, without changing the judgment.  That case expanded existing law under the Brown Act and CEQA by holding, on an issue of first impression, that a public agency must agendize a staff determination that a project is CEQA-exempt as an item of business for the meeting on project approval.  (My October 31, 2022 post on the case can be found here.)

Continue Reading Second District Denies Rehearing and Modifies Opinion In Brown Act/CEQA Exemption Case; CSAC and Solano County Seek Depublication In Supreme Court

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

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) 13 Cal.5th 612, 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

In an opinion filed on December 29, 2021, and later ordered published on January 25, 2022, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 4) affirmed a judgment upholding the City of Newark’s (City) use of Government Code § 65457’s CEQA exemption for a 469-lot residential subdivision on land adjacent to San Francisco Bay.  Plaintiffs unsuccessfully challenged the City’s 2019 subdivision map approval based on the claim that a subsequent EIR was required due to changes in the project and circumstances allegedly showing it would have new significant impacts on the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse (“harvest mouse”) and its wetlands habitat.  Citizens’ Committee to Complete the Refuge, et al. v. City of Newark et al., (SI XVII, LLC, et al, Real Parties in Interest) (2021) 74 Cal.App.5th 460.

Continue Reading First District Affirms Judgment Upholding Statutory CEQA Exemption For Housing Project Consistent With EIR-Reviewed Specific Plan, Rejects Claims That Changes In Project Or Circumstances Required Subsequent EIR

In a published opinion filed December 15, 2021, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 5) affirmed a trial court’s judgment entered after sustaining a demurrer to a writ petition in a CEQA action without leave to amend.  Mission Peak Conservancy, et al. v. State Water Resources Control Board (Christopher George, et al, Real Parties in Interest) (2021) 72 Cal.App.5th 873.

Continue Reading First District Holds SWRCB Small Domestic Water Use Registration Is CEQA-Exempt Ministerial Act: “CEQA Does Not Regulate Ministerial Decisions – Full Stop.”