In an opinion filed June 28, and later ordered modified and published on July 27, 2018, the Second District Court of Appeal (Div. 6) affirmed the trial court’s $21,160.46 cost award in favor of a prevailing party public agency for costs associated with preparing the administrative record in a CEQA case, despite petitioner’s election to prepare the record, where the petitioner had unreasonably delayed and the agency acted reasonably.  LandWatch San Luis Obispo County v. Cambria Community Services District (2018) ___ Cal.App.5th _____.

Continue Reading Second District Affirms Order Awarding CEQA Record Preparation Costs to Agency That Took Over Process After Unreasonable Delays, Notwithstanding Petitioner’s Election to Prepare Record

It’s always nice not to lose a hard-won prevailing party cost award due to a court’s imprecise use of party designations – which can get confusing where there are multiple appeals at issue.  On October 4, 2016, the Fifth Appellate District Court of Appeal issued a two-page Order entitled “Order Modifying Opinion and Denying Rehearing [Includes Change In Judgment]” in the recently decided consolidated appeals in the Citizens for Ceres v. City of Ceres litigation.  The minor change made in the last sentence of the opinion’s disposition clarified that: (1) Respondents (City of Ceres and Real Party Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., et al.) were awarded costs as prevailing parties in the merits appeal, which affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying the writ petition challenging the EIR, statement of overriding considerations, and approval of Wal-Mart’s controversial Ceres project; and (2) Appellants (Wal-Mart, et al.) were awarded costs as prevailing parties in the separate costs appeal, which resulted in the published portion of the opinion reversing the trial court’s order taxing costs of $44,889.71 claimed by Wal-Mart for amounts it had to reimburse the City for administrative record preparation.  My post on the Court’s partially published September 12, 2016 opinion in the case can be found here.

Continue Reading Fifth District Denies Rehearing, Corrects Published Opinion And Judgment In Consolidated City of Ceres Appeals To Reflect Wal-Mart’s Cost Award As Prevailing Party On Costs Appeal

In the published portion of an opinion filed September 12, 2016, the Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s order taxing costs in the amount of $44,889.71 which were claimed by prevailing real party in interest Wal-Mart in connection with preparation of the administrative record.  The costs were incurred by respondent and lead agency City of Ceres when it directed its outside counsel to prepare the record in a CEQA action challenging a Wal‑Mart Supercenter project, and were reimbursed by real party Wal-Mart pursuant to an agreement with the City that required the project applicant to reimburse it for all expenses arising from legal challenges to the project.  Citizens For Ceres v. City of Ceres (Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2016) 3 Cal.App.5th 237.

Continue Reading Neither CEQA Administrative Record Preparation Statute nor Case Law Precludes Award of Costs to Prevailing Real Party who Reimburses Lead Agency Its Costs of Record Preparation

About one year after being placed in the California Legislature’s “Inactive File,” SB 122 (concerning concurrent preparation of the CEQA administrative record and OPR electronic database) is back “off the shelf.”  The bill passed in the State Assembly yesterday, and will next be considered by the Senate for concurrence in the Assembly’s amendments.  It must be passed by both houses between now and the end of the month (if it is to be sent to Governor Brown for signature).

As originally proposed in early 2015, SB 122 contained only one detailed statutory provision – the addition of Public Resources Code § 21167.6.2 – which would create a detailed new alternative method for expedited preparation of the record of proceedings (i.e., the “administrative record”) in CEQA cases, at the election and expense of the applicant and with the consent of the public agency.  It also contained two “placeholder” sections declaring the Legislature’s intent to establish an electronic database clearinghouse of CEQA documents maintained by the State Office of Planning and Research (OPR) and to establish a public review period for Final EIRs.

Continue Reading Statutory CEQA Reform Proposal (SB 122) Reemerges With Optional Expedited Record Preparation Provisions Unchanged; Fleshes Out OPR Electronic Database Placeholder; And Drops Controversial Effort To Provide Public Review Period for Final EIRs

In a published opinion filed January 26, 2016, the Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District (Division 2) reversed a trial court’s order denying CEQA plaintiffs’ motion to amend judgments entered four (4) years earlier to add a previously unnamed corporate entity so that it would be liable on award of over $1 million in attorneys’ fees entered under CCP § 1021.5. Highland Springs Conference And Training Center v. City of Banning (SCC Acquisitions, Inc., et al., Real Parties in Interest) (4th Dist., Div. 2, 2016) 244 Cal.App.4th 267.

Continue Reading Motion to Amend CEQA Action Judgments to Make Additional Judgment Debtor Liable For Million Dollar Fee Award Not Barred By Plaintiffs’ Unreasonable Four-Year Delay Or Laches Absent New Party’s Showing Of Prejudice, Holds Fourth District

In an opinion filed September 10, and later ordered partially published on October 9, 2015, the Court of Appeal affirmed the substance of a judgment upholding an EIR for a regional shopping center renovation project in Carlsbad, California, reversing only with respect to certain cost award issues treated in an unpublished portion of the opinion. North County Advocates v. City of Carlsbad (Plaza Camino Real, LP, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (4th Dist., Div. 1, 2015) 241 Cal.App.4th 94. The published portions of the opinion address the case’s facts, applicable CEQA rules and standards of review, and traffic baseline issues; the unpublished portions address issues concerning traffic mitigation measures, the adequacy of the City of Carlsbad’s (“City”) responses to comments, and the propriety of the various aspects of the trial court’s record preparation cost awards that were made to the City and real parties (“Westfield”) as prevailing parties.

Continue Reading Fourth District Addresses CEQA Baseline Issues In Partially Published Opinion Upholding EIR For Carlsbad Shopping Mall Renovation

In an opinion filed June 8, and ordered published on July 6, 2015, the Fourth Appellate District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying a CEQA plaintiff’s motion for attorneys’ fees under CCP § 1021.5, California’s private attorney general statute. Coalition for a Sustainable Future In Yucaipa v. City of Yucaipa (Target Stores, Inc., Real Party In Interest) (4th Dist., Div. 2, 2015) 238 Cal.App.4th 513.  The Court’s opinion explicates in detail and applies the rules governing such motions when brought on a catalyst theory, and does so in a rather unique procedural context – one in which the moving party was an unsuccessful CEQA plaintiff whose appeal of an adverse judgment became moot as a result of the developer’s abandonment of the challenged project for reasons wholly unrelated to plaintiff’s action. Continue Reading Fourth District Holds Losing CEQA Plaintiff’s Mooted Appeal Was Not “Catalyst” To City’s Revocation Of Project Entitlements After Developer Abandoned Project; Trial Court’s Denial Of Private Attorney General Fee Motion Affirmed

On May 7, 2015, the Sixth District Court of Appeal filed a published opinion addressing numerous issues of interest under CEQA’s “fair argument” test for preparing an Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”). Keep Our Mountains Quiet v. County of Santa Clara (Candice Clark Wozniak, as Trustee, Real Party in Interest) (6th Dist. 2015) 236 Cal.App.4th 714.

Continue Reading Sixth District Applies CEQA’s “Fair Argument” Standard, Holds That Despite Project’s Compliance With Local Noise Ordinance, EIR Rather Than Mitigated Negative Declaration Is Required Based On Factual, Non-Expert Evidence Of Noise And Traffic Safety Impacts

In an opinion filed March 18 and belatedly ordered published on April 13, 2015, the Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld a trial court’s discretion to award only $19,176 in attorneys’ fees under Code of Civil Procedure § 1021.5 to a successful CEQA plaintiff (SOURCE) who sought $221,198 based on a $110,599 “lodestar” with a multiplier of two. Save Our Uniquely Rural Community Environment v. County of San Bernardino (Al-Nur Islamic Center, Real Party in Interest) (4th Dist., Div. 2, 2015) 235 Cal.App.4th 1179.  SOURCE, an organization of individuals, had successfully challenged San Bernardino County’s mitigated negative declaration (MND) and conditional use permit (CUP) for real party in interest Al-Nur Islamic Center’s proposed 7,512-square foot Islamic community center and mosque to be located on a 1.54-acre parcel in a residential part of the unincorporated county. Rejecting 5 of its 6 CEQA arguments, the trial court granted SOURCE’s writ petition on the sole ground that county failed to properly analyze the project’s environmental impacts from wastewater disposal, and ordered county to adequately analyze such impacts under CEQA.

Continue Reading Winners Beware – Fourth District Upholds Trial Court’s Discretion To Drastically Reduce Successful CEQA Plaintiff’s Fees In Granting CCP §1021.5 “Private Attorney General” Award

In a decision filed January 29, and belatedly ordered published on February 18, 2015, the Fourth District Court of Appeal rejected numerous CEQA (and other) challenges to the City of San Diego’s regular, after-the-fact coastal and site development permits authorizing already-completed emergency storm drainage repair work as well as site revegetation at a hillside site in La Jolla. CREED-21 v. City of San Diego (4th Dist., Div. 1, 2015) 234 Cal. App. 4th 488.) In so doing, it reversed the trial court’s decision granting a writ of mandate setting aside the City’s approvals, and made crystal-clear that work performed and completed under CEQA’s emergency exemption becomes part of the “existing conditions” environmental baseline for purposes of a subsequent CEQA challenge to the permanent permits when the exemption itself is not timely challenged.

Continue Reading Work Done Under Unchallenged CEQA Emergency Exemption Held Part Of Existing Environment Baseline In Subsequent CEQA Challenge To Permanent Permits