On November 9, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a published opinion affirming a judgment on the pleadings, granted by Northern District Presiding Judge William Alsup, in a removed action filed by a group of taxicab drivers and companies against the City of San Francisco.  San Francisco Taxi Coalition, et al. v. City and County of San Francisco, et al. (9th Cir. 2020) ___ F.3d ___.  The action challenged the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency’s (SFMTA) adoption of 2018 taxi regulations which favored recent, post-2010 owners of taxi permits (called “medallions,” and for which the recent owners paid $250,000 each) over longer-term permit owners by giving them priority for lucrative airport pickup rides.

Continue Reading A “Fare” Shake? Ninth Circuit Affirms Judgment On the Pleadings for San Francisco In Removed Action Challenging SFMTA’s 2018 Taxi Regulations, Remands for Consideration of Whether to Grant Plaintiffs Leave to Amend CEQA Claim

In an opinion originally filed on August 26, and later certified for publication on September 16, 2020, the Third District Court of Appeal dismissed a plaintiff group’s (“Parkford”) appeal from an adverse judgment in a CEQA/land use case as moot.  Parkford Owners for a Better Community v. County of Placer (Silversword Properties, LLC, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2020) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.

Continue Reading Third District Dismisses Appeal In CEQA Case As Moot Where Plaintiff Failed To Timely Seek Or Obtain Preliminary Injunction And Project Construction Was Completed Before Trial

In a published opinion filed on August 17, 2020, the Third District Court of Appeal mostly affirmed the trial court’s judgment upholding Placer County’s partial abandonment of public easement rights in an emergency access/public transit road connecting two Lake Tahoe-area residential subdivisions; the County took the action to resolve disputes that had arisen after one subdivision’s residents began using the road as an all-purpose public road and short-cut through the other subdivision to get to Northstar-at-Tahoe.  Martis Camp Community Association v. County of Placer, et al. (Retreat at Northstar Association, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2020) _____ Cal.App.5th _____________.  My partner Bryan Wenter’s post covers the land use issues at the heart of the case, and can be found here; readers should consult that post for the case’s factual background and primary holdings.  This post covers the CEQA issue at the “tail end” of the opinion, which involved application of CEQA’s “subsequent review” rules to County’s partial road abandonment project.

Continue Reading Hitting A CEQA Snag: Third District Affirms Rejection of Statutory Road Abandonment And Brown Act Challenges And Inverse Condemnation Claim, But Holds Placer County Violated CEQA By Adopting Addendum To Wrong Project’s EIR

On August 27, 2020, the California Supreme Court filed its unanimous opinion, authored by Justice Corrigan, in Protecting Our Water and Environmental Resources v. County of Stanislaus (2020) ___ Cal.5th ___ (“POWER”).  The POWER decision is a “mixed bag” for the parties to the litigation themselves:  the Court rejected both (a) the County’s position that all its well permits are ministerial approvals exempt from CEQA, and (b) the environmental plaintiffs’ converse position that all such permits are discretionary approvals subject to CEQA.  For non-parties, the case’s significance lies in its elucidation of the legal rules and principles governing the key distinction between discretionary and ministerial projects – a fundamental distinction that determines CEQA’s threshold applicability to agency approvals and actions.  In following appellate precedent focusing not on permitting ordinances and regulations as a whole and in the abstract, but more granularly on the specific regulatory controls applicable to a particular permit application, the high Court in POWER eschews the “all or nothing” approach urged by the parties and endorses a more nuanced and contextual analysis that is both reasonable and fully consonant with CEQA and its objectives.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Holds Stanislaus County Well Permit Decisions Under State Standards Are Neither Categorically Ministerial Nor Categorically Discretionary In Nature; Rather, Whether CEQA-Triggering Discretion Exists Must Be Determined On Case-By-Case Basis

In a mammoth 132-page published opinion (with an additional five pages of appendices) filed on June 12, 2020, the Fourth District Court of Appeal (Division One) mostly affirmed the trial court’s judgment invalidating San Diego County’s approvals of a 2018 Climate Action Plan (CAP), related Guidelines for Determining Significance, and related Supplemental EIR (SEIR).  The opinion – which marked “the third time the County’s attempt to adopt a viable climate action plan and related CEQA documents” had been before the Court – resolved consolidated appeals in three cases, in which the lead plaintiffs were Golden Door Properties, LLC and the Sierra Club.  (Golden Door Properties, LLC v. County of San Diego (2020) 50 Cal.App.5th 467.)  While the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s findings that the CAP was inconsistent with the County’s General Plan (applying the familiar highly deferential standard of review to the County’s consistency determination), that several of the County’s responses to SEIR comments were inadequate, and that the SEIR’s geographical scope of study for cumulative impacts was inconsistent, it otherwise affirmed the trial court’s findings of significant CEQA violations affecting the CAP and SEIR.

Continue Reading Third Time Is Not The Charm: Fourth District Affirms Judgment Setting Aside San Diego County’s Climate Action Plan And Related Supplemental EIR Approvals Due To CEQA Violations

On May 29, 2020, the California Judicial Council adopted amendments to its controversial Emergency Rule 9 to provide fixed dates for the tolling of civil statutes of limitations, thereby replacing the indeterminate tolling previously provided for by the rule.  While the amended Emergency Rule 9 provides welcome certainty, many believe it goes too far in extending CEQA and other short statutes of limitations in the land use litigation context – most of which are short by legislative design, and range from 30 to 90 days – by a period of 119 days (from April 6 through August 3, 2020).

Continue Reading Update on COVID Pandemic’s Impact on CEQA/Land Use Litigation Statutes of Limitations: California Judicial Council Modifies Emergency Rule 9 To Provide “Hard Stop” Date of August 3, 2020 for Tolling

In a published opinion filed March 24, 2020, the Fourth District Court of Appeal (Division One) reversed a judgment of dismissal with prejudice, entered by the San Diego County Superior Court after sustaining a demurrer without leave on statute of limitations grounds to a group’s action challenging the CEQA review for Caltrans’ Interstate 5 (I-5)/State Route 56 (SR 56) freeway interchange project (the “Project”).  Citizens for a Responsible Caltrans Decision v. Department of Transportation (2020) 46 Cal.App.5th 1103.  The opinion (1) interprets, as a matter of first impression, the scope and operation of the statutory CEQA exemption in Streets and Highways Code § 103 (“Section 103”), and (2) holds that Caltrans’ repeated misrepresentations and misleading conduct during and concerning the Project’s CEQA and approval process precluded the trial court from finding as a matter of law that Caltrans was not estopped to assert the ban of the 35-day statute of limitations based on its filing of a Notice of Exemption (NOE) with the State Clearinghouse (SCH).

Continue Reading Once More Into the “Brambled Thicket”: Fourth District Reverses Ruling Sustaining Demurrer to Action Challenging Caltrans’ Claim of Statutory CEQA Exemption For Freeway Interchange Project, Holds Streets and Highways Code § 103’s Coastal Commission Exemption Does Not Apply And That Petition Adequately Pleaded Estoppel Against Caltrans to Assert 35-Day Statute of Limitations Based on NOE Filing

In a 74-page opinion filed February 24, and later ordered published on March 17, 2020, the Second District Court of Appeal (Division 7) affirmed judgments (granting the writ petition and awarding fees) in coordinated appeals stemming from a CEQA action successfully challenging the City of Agoura Hills’ (City) project approvals and mitigated negative declaration (MND) for a mixed use development project on an undeveloped 8.2 acre parcel.  Save the Agoura Cornell Knoll v. City of Agoura Hills (Doron Gelfand, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2020) 46 Cal.App.5th 665.  The Court rejected the City’s and Real Parties’ procedural arguments that Petitioners and Respondents Save the Agoura Cornell Knoll (STACK) and California Native Plant Society (CNPS) had failed to exhaust administrative remedies, and that their claims were barred by lack of standing and the statute of limitations; on the merits of the CEQA claim, it held that substantial evidence in the record supported a fair argument that even as mitigated the project may have significant impacts on cultural resources (i.e., a Chumash Native American archaeological site), three sensitive plant species, native oak trees, and aesthetic resources, and that an EIR was therefore required; and it further held the trial court properly granted writ relief based on the City’s violation of its own Oak Tree Ordinance by approving a project that would concededly remove 35 to 36 percent of the site’s oak tree canopy when the Ordinance prohibited removal of more than 10 percent.  Finally, the Court held that the trial court properly awarded Petitioners STACK and CNPS $142,148 in attorneys’ fees under Code of Civil Procedure § 1021.5, made payable 50% by City and 50% by Real Parties, notwithstanding that Petitioners furnished their first amended petition to the Attorney General (AG) beyond the 10-day statutory period for doing so.

Continue Reading Second District Affirms Judgment Invalidating City of Agoura Hills’ Mixed-Use Project Approvals and Related MND Based On CEQA and Local Oak Tree Ordinance Violations