“We didn’t start the fire….”

-Billy Joel

Wildfires are an unfortunate reality of life in California and have become of increasing concern over the past several years.  Eight of the ten largest wildfires in the state since 1932 have occurred in the last decade (five of which took place in 2020 alone).

Continue Reading Attorney General’s Guidance On “Best Practices” For CEQA Analysis Of And Mitigation For Wildfire-Related Impacts Is Long On Litigation And Policy Advocacy, Short On Neutral Legal Analysis

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) ___ Cal.5th ___, 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

On July 13, 2022, the California Supreme Court denied numerous depublication requests with respect to, and declined to review on its own motion, the First District Court of Appeal’s decision in Save the Hill Group v. City of Livermore (2022) 76 Cal.App.5th 1092, S. Ct. Case No. S274754; Ct. App. Case No. A161573.  My May 26, 2022 post on the League of Cities’ and CSAC’s depublication requests, which were shortly thereafter followed by further depublication requests by Respondent City of Livermore and the California Building Industry Association, can be found here, and my April 4, 2022 post analyzing the Court of Appeal’s opinion which can be found here.

Continue Reading California Supreme Court Denies Depublication Requests In Livermore CEQA Case Addressing “No Project” Alternative

On March 7, 2022, the Second District Court of Appeal (Div. 4) filed its published opinion in Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, et al. v. City of Los Angeles, et al (The Icon at Panorama, LLC, Real Party in Interest) (2022) 76 Cal.App.5th 1154.  In reversing the trial court’s judgment and writ setting aside the approvals and EIR for a mixed-use commercial and residential infill development project, the Court held the Project EIR did not violate CEQA’s requirement of an accurate, stable, and finite project description even though the project itself was revised and ultimately approved with components not matching those of any individual alternative studied in the EIR.  The Court further held that the City’s addition of a fifth alternative to the Final EIR (FEIR) that was not significantly different from its other previously analyzed alternatives did not require recirculation for additional public comment, and that the City’s response to the sanitation department’s comment about local sewer line and sewage treatment plant capacity was adequate.

Continue Reading CEQA Mixed-Use “Mix and Match” Upheld: Second District Holds Stable Project Description Requirement Does Not Mean Ultimately Approved Version of Revised Mixed Use Project Must Match An Alternative Analyzed In EIR, And New Project Alternative Added to FEIR Does Not Require Recirculation

On June 1, 2022, the Sixth District Court of Appeal, in response to a request for publication, ordered that its previously unpublished May 9, 2022 opinion in Committee for Sound Water and Land Development v. City of Seaside (KB Bakewell Seaside Venture II, LLC, Real Party in Interest) (2022) ___ Cal.App.5th ___ be published.  Matt Henderson’s and my May 20, 2022 post discussing and analyzing the Court’s decision, which is now precedent and can be cited as such, can be found here.

Continue Reading Sixth District Belatedly Orders Published Its Opinion Upholding Constitutionality Of Judicial Council’s Emergency Rule Altering CEQA’s Statutes Of Limitations

On May 12, the Third District Court of Appeal belatedly ordered partially published an opinion it had filed on April 20, 2022, reversing the trial court’s judgment upholding the EIR for lead agency Siskiyou County’s approval of Crystal Geyser Water Company’s water bottling plant project.  We Advocate Through Environmental Review, et al. v. County of Siskiyou, et al. (Crystal Geyser Water Company, Real Party in Interest) (2022) ____ Cal.App.5th ______.  The decision followed close on the heels of the Court’s earlier decision in a related CEQA case brought by the same plaintiff and involving the same project in which it held that the City of Mount Shasta, acting as a responsible agency issuing a wastewater permit for the project, had violated CEQA by failing to make the required Public Resources Code § 21081 findings regarding potentially significant effects identified in the EIR.  (My May 16, 2022 post on that earlier case can be found here.)

Continue Reading The Other CEQA Shoe Drops: Third District Reverses Judgment Upholding Siskiyou County’s EIR For Crystal Geyser Bottling Plant Project, Holds (1) Project Objectives Were Too Narrowly Stated And (2) County Should Have Recirculated EIR’s Climate Discussion To Allow Comment On Substantially Higher GHG Emissions Estimate First Disclosed In FEIR

On May 25, 2022, the League of California Cities (“League”) and California State Association of Counties (“CSAC”) filed a 10-page letter with the California Supreme Court requesting it to depublish the First District Court of Appeal’s recent decision in Save the Hill Group v. City of Livermore, Case No. A161573 (my April 4, 2022 post on which can be found here).

Continue Reading League of California Cities and CSAC File Request for Depublication of First District Decision Addressing Sufficiency of CEQA-Mandated “No Project” Alternative In Housing Project EIR

On May 12, 2022, the First District Court of Appeal filed a 108-page published opinion affirming a judgment denying a CEQA writ petition that challenged Marin County’s approval of a 43-lot single-family residential subdivision on a 110-acre parcel atop a mountain overlooking the Town of Tiburon and San Francisco Bay.  Tiburon Open Space Committee v. County of Marin (The Martha Company, Real Party in Interest, and Town of Tiburon, Intervenor and Appellant) (2022) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.  Apart from its factual background of nearly a half-century of intense legal battles over (and effectively blocking) the property’s development – which the Court described as “this woeful record before us” – the decision is notable for its legal analysis of how CEQA applies when a lead agency’s discretion in considering a project for approval is constrained by legal obligations.  While in this case the legal obligations stemmed from stipulated federal court judgments mandating that the County approve a minimum level of development on the property, the Court’s reasoning and holdings that the scope of CEQA adjusts and is limited commensurate with legal limitations on an agency’s discretionary authority will clearly apply to other contexts.  Most obviously, and topically, they plainly will apply to housing development projects when state housing laws impose legal obligations that limit local agencies’ legal authority to disapprove or reduce the density of those projects.  (See, e.g., Gov. Code, § 65589.5 (the “Housing Accountability Act”).)

Continue Reading “This Woeful Record”: First District Affirms Judgment Rejecting CEQA Challenges To Marin County’s Approval of 43-Home Mountaintop Subdivision Opposed For Nearly Five Decades By Neighbors And Town of Tiburon

As the world continues to dig out from the aftermath of the Covid 19 pandemic, the aftereffects of the earliest phase of lockdowns continue to be felt, including in the world of CEQA litigation.  While this blog does not ordinarily focus on unpublished appellate decisions, the recent case of Committee for Sound Water and Land Development v. City of Seaside, H049031 (6th Dist., May 9, 2022) is worth a look given its analysis of CEQA’s statute of limitations and its extension by emergency actions of the Judicial Council, as well as its handling of the tricky scenario of what happens when an approving agency is dissolved by operation of law.

Continue Reading Sixth District Upholds Constitutionality of Judicial Council’s Covid Emergency Rules Altering CEQA’s Statutes of Limitations In Unpublished Opinion