The Fourth District Court of Appeal (Div. 1) held in a published opinion filed October 24, 2018, that CEQA Guidelines § 15164 validly establishes an addendum process that is consistent with the CEQA statute, implementing and filling gaps in Public Resources Code § 21166. The Court also held that new findings under Public Resources Code § 21081 addressing a project’s significant impacts are not required when a lead agency approves an addendum to an EIR. Save Our Heritage Organisation v. City of San Diego (The Plaza de Panama Committee, Real Party in Interest) (2018) ____ Cal.App.5th ____.
In a published opinion filed September 18, 2018, the Fourth District Court of Appeal (Div. 1) affirmed a judgment granting a writ setting aside the City of San Diego’s (City) decision to subject a coastal development permit (CDP) application for construction of a single family home on a vacant La Jolla lot to CEQA review. Francis A. Bottini, Jr. v. City of San Diego (2018) 27 Cal.App.5th 281.
Continue Reading Fourth District Holds City Violated CEQA By Refusing To Recognize Exemption For Single Family Residence Project And Attempting To Subject Owner’s Already Authorized And Completed Demolition Action To Retroactive Environmental Review (Yet Absolves City From Liability For Regulatory Taking)
On September 7, 2018, Governor Brown signed two bills amending CEQA in relatively minor ways that will become effective January 1, 2019.
AB 2341 (Chapter 298) (Mathis) adds Public Resources Code § 21081.3 to provide that “a lead agency is not required to evaluate the aesthetic effects of a project and aesthetic effects shall not be considered significant effects on the environment if the project involves the refurbishment, conversion, repurposing, or replacement of an existing building that meets … [five specified] requirements[.]” To fall within this new partial statutory exemption, (1) the building must be abandoned, dilapidated (defined as “decayed, deteriorated, or fallen into such disrepair through neglect or misuse so as to require substantial repair for safe and proper use”), or have been vacant for over a year; (2) the site must be immediately adjacent to parcels developed with qualified urban uses or 75 percent of its perimeter must adjoin such parcels (with the remainder adjoining parcels previously so developed); (3) the project must include housing construction; (4) any new structure must “not substantially exceed the height of the existing structure”; and (5) the project must “not create a new source of substantial light or glare.”
In an opinion filed July 16, and belatedly ordered published on August 9, 2018, the First District Court of Appeal (Division 5) affirmed the trial court’s judgment setting aside the City of Fremont’s approvals of a mixed residential/retail project (“Project”) and related Mitigated Negative Declaration (“MND”), and ordering preparation of an EIR based on the Project’s potentially significant aesthetic and traffic impacts on the Niles historical district. Protect Niles v. City of Fremont (Doug Rich, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2018) 25 Cal.App.5th 1129. The opinion is a good reminder of the legal vulnerability of any species of negative declaration under CEQA’s applicable “fair argument” standard of review. It also provides guidance in the areas of mootness; analysis of aesthetic, historical resources, traffic level of service (“LOS”), and traffic safety impacts; the operation of traffic thresholds of significance; and the nature of substantial evidence sufficient to support a “fair argument,” both generally and in the unique “historical district” context presented by this particular case.
Continue Reading Context Matters: First District Holds CEQA Requires EIR, Not MND, To Analyze Mixed-Use Project’s Potentially Significant Aesthetic And Traffic Impacts On Fremont’s Niles Historical District
In a lengthy opinion filed December 20, 2017, and belatedly ordered published on January 8, 2018, the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division 1, affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying a writ petition asserting CEQA and land use law challenges to the City of San Diego’s (“City”) approval of a small high school on previously developed, open-space designated lands adjacent to a commercial equestrian facility. Clews Land and Livestock, LLC v. City of San Diego (Jan Dunning, et al, Real Parties In Interest) (2017) 19 Cal.App.5th 161. The opinion underscores the critical importance of correctly interpreting and scrupulously following a local lead agency’s administrative appeal procedures in order to exhaust administrative remedies and preserve CEQA claims for judicial review. (The non-CEQA, land use law aspects of the opinion will not be analyzed here but will be covered in a subsequent blog post by my partner, Bryan Wenter.)
In an opinion filed on November 30, and belatedly ordered published on December 22, 2017, the Second District Court of Appeal, Division 1, affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying all CEQA challenges asserted by plaintiff/appellant Los Angeles Conservancy (“Conservancy”) to the City of West Hollywood’s (“City”) approval of the “Melrose Triangle” project (“project”). Los Angeles Conservancy v. City of West Hollywood (Charles Company, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2017) ____ Cal.App.5th _____.
The project proposed office, retail, residential and restaurant uses, and public and private open space and pedestrian paseos, on a 3-acre site at the City’s western “gateway,” and called for demolition of the site’s existing structures, which included an architecturally significant building originally constructed in 1928 and potentially eligible for listing in the California Register of Historical Resources (the “9080 Building”). By 2012 amendments, the City’s general plan called for the site’s development with an iconic “Gateway” building with exemplary architecture, and significant open space and pedestrian walkthroughs open to the sky. Developer Charles Company’s proposed Gateway Building would occupy the space currently occupied by the 9080 Building, and other buildings and features on the site were also proposed to implement the general plan’s development vision.
Continue Reading Second District Holds Melrose Triangle Project EIR’s Alternatives Analysis and Responses to Comments Comply with CEQA, Upholds City of West Hollywood’s Findings Rejecting Historic Building Preservation Alternative as Infeasible
In 15-page opinion filed on September 15, and later certified for publication on October 16, 2017, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying a writ petition challenging the Judicial Council of California’s (“Judicial Council”) EIR for its project to relocate and consolidate El Dorado County Superior Court operations into a single new building on the outskirts of Placerville. Placerville Historic Preservation League v. Judicial Council of California (County of El Dorado, et al., Real Parties In Interest) (2017) 16 Cal.App.5th 187. The Court of Appeal held that substantial evidence supported the EIR’s conclusion that “the possible economic impact of moving judicial activities from the downtown courthouse … was not likely to be severe enough to cause urban decay in downtown Placerville.” It also held that the Council did not need to adopt mitigation mandating re-use of the courthouse to support this conclusion.
Continue Reading Keeping CEQA In Its Lane: First District Holds Substantial Evidence Supports EIR’s Conclusion That “Urban Decay” Is Not Reasonably Foreseeable Indirect Effect Of Project Relocating Trial Court Operations From Historic Placerville Courthouse
A project that may cause a substantial adverse change in the significance of a “historical resource” may, for that reason, have a significant effect on the environment for purposes of CEQA. (Pub. Resources Code, § 21084.1.) And those familiar with CEQA know that, under its “fair argument” test, where there is any substantial evidence in the record that a project may have a significant effect on the environment, an EIR must be prepared. (§ 21080(d).) But just what is a “historical resource”? How is the determination of its historicity made, by whom, and by applying what standards to the relevant evidence? Those important questions are addressed by the August 12, 2016 published opinion of the Sixth Appellate District Court of Appeal in Friends of the Willow Glen Trestle v. City of San Jose (2016) 2 Cal.App.5th 457.
In the published part of a partially published opinion filed July 11, 2016, the Second Appellate District Court of Appeal held that Public Resources Code § 21168.9 does not authorize an appellate court to issue and supervise compliance with a writ of mandate on direct appeal, but, rather, such a matter must be remitted to the trial court with appropriate directions. Center for Biological Diversity v. Department of Fish and Wildlife (The Newhall Land and Farming Company, Real Party in Interest) (5th Dist., Div. 5, 2016) 1 Cal.App.5th 452, Case No. B245131. The Court thus rejected the real party developer’s motion (on remand of the case from the Supreme Court) arguing that CEQA’s “general principle” of expediting litigation and specific language in its remedies statute (Pub. Resources Code, § 21168.9) authorized such action.
Continue Reading CEQA Remedies Statute Does Not Authorize Appellate Court To Issue Writ And Supervise Compliance On Direct Appeal, Holds Second District In Partially Published Decision On Remand In Newhall Ranch Case
In a 5-2 decision filed November 30, 2015, the California Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal which had upheld the EIS/EIR for the controversial Newhall Ranch development project. Center For Biological Diversity, et al. v. California Department of Fish and Wildlife (The Newhall Land and Farming Company, Real Party in Interest) (2015) 62 Cal.4th 204. The high court approved the EIS/EIR’s methodology analyzing the significance of the project’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in terms of reductions from projected “business as usual” (BAU) emissions consistent with AB 32’s statewide reductions mandate, rather than against some absolute numeric limit above the project site’s “baseline” emissions. However, it held the GHG analysis lacked supporting substantial evidence and a cogent explanation correlating the project-specific reductions to AB 32’s mandated state-wide reductions so as to demonstrate consistency with the latter’s goals under the approved methodology. The Court further held the EIS/EIR violated Fish & Game Code § 5515’s prohibition on the taking of “fully protected” fish species by including mitigation measures providing for the collection and relocation by USFWS of the unarmored threespine stickleback. Finally, the Court held – under the particular factual circumstances of the case – that certain issues raised by plaintiffs during an optional public comment period on the Final EIS/EIR were timely raised so as to sufficiently exhaust administrative remedies under Public Resources Code § 21177(a).
Continue Reading Lost in Translation: Supreme Court Elucidates CEQA GHG Analysis, “Fully Protected” Species Take Prohibition, And Issue Exhaustion In Decision Finding Newhall Ranch Development EIR Flawed