In a lengthy, but mostly unpublished, opinion filed December 16, 2021, the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment rejecting a petitioner group’s CEQA, Planning and Zoning Law, and procedural due process/fair hearing challenges to the City of San Diego’s approval of a four-lane road connecting existing developments.  Save Civita Because Sudberry Won’t v. City of San Diego (2021) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.  In the opinion’s published portions, the Court held that (1) the City did not violate CEQA Guidelines § 15088.5(g) in failing to summarize revisions made to a recirculated draft EIR, and (2) petitioner’s procedural due process claim was foreclosed because the City Council acted in a quasi-legislative capacity in certifying the FEIR and approving the road project.  (In the opinion’s unpublished portions, which won’t be discussed in detail here, the Court also upheld the trial court’s rejection of Petitioner’s claims that the FEIR:  failed to analyze a project alternative of removing the road from a community plan; failed to adequately analyze traffic impacts and hazards; failed to disclose the VMT calculation’s margin of error; and failed to discuss impacts on General Plan consistency and pedestrian-friendly communities.)

Continue Reading Fourth District Rejects CEQA Challenges To San Diego’s FEIR And General/Specific Plan Amendments For Connector Road Construction Project; Holds Procedural Due Process Protections Did Not Apply Because Underlying Approvals Were Quasi-Legislative, Not Quasi-Adjudicatory

In an opinion filed November 15, and later ordered published on December 14, 2021, the Sixth District Court of Appeal reaffirmed the basic CEQA principle that required environmental review and analysis must precede project approval, and it applied that principle to invalidate the California Coastal Commission’s (Commission) approval of a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) for a residential subdivision project in Monterey County. Friends, Artists and Neighbors of Elkhorn Slough v. California Coastal Commission (Heritage/Western Communities, Ltd., et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2021) ___ Cal.App.5th ___. While the dispositive rule is a simple one, the case’s more complex facts and procedural history make it interesting – and somewhat disturbing – on a number of levels.

Continue Reading Sixth District Holds Coastal Commission’s Post-Approval Analysis of Coastal Development Permit’s Environmental Impacts Violates CEQA

In a partially published opinion filed on November 3, 2021, involving the CEQA review for a bed and breakfast/commercial event project proposed on property within a Yolo County agricultural zone, the Third District Court of Appeal (in a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Robie) reaffirmed the basic CEQA principle that a “full EIR” must be prepared whenever a project may have any significant environmental effect; it thus reversed the trial court’s judgment that had allowed a deficient revised Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) and its mitigation measures to remain intact while ordering Yolo County to also prepare an EIR limited to addressing only the project’s impacts on three species of concern (tricolored blackbird, valley elderberry longhorn beetle, and golden eagle).  The Court of Appeal reversed and remanded with instructions to issue a peremptory writ directing the County to set aside its MND approval and to prepare a full EIR instead.  Farmland Protection Alliance v. County of Yolo (2021) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.  (In the unpublished portion of its opinion, which won’t be further discussed in this post, the Court of Appeal held the trial court was correct in finding that substantial evidence supported a fair argument that the project may have a significant impact on the beetle, thus requiring an EIR, and also concluded the trial court did not err in upholding the County’s determinations that the project was consistent with the Williamson Act and County’s zoning code.)

Continue Reading Third District Holds CEQA Does Not Authorize “Remedy” of “Limited EIR” To Augment Deficient MND; Rather, Full EIR Must Be Prepared Where Substantial Evidence Supports Fair Argument That Any Aspect Of Project May Have Significant Environmental Effect

In an opinion filed September 28, and certified for publication on October 26, 2021, the Fourth District Court of Appeal (Div. 3) affirmed a judgment denying a writ petition challenging the City of Tustin’s finding that a Costco gas station/ancillary facilities project in an existing shopping center was categorically exempt from CEQA.  Protect Tustin Ranch v. City of Tustin (Costco Wholesale Corporation, Real Party in Interest) (2021) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.  As did the trial court, the Court of Appeal rejected Petitioner/Appellant’s arguments that the project exceeded the 5-acre size limit of the Class 32 infill exemption (CEQA Guidelines, § 15332) and that the “unusual circumstances” exception precluded the City’s use of the exemption.

Continue Reading Fourth District Affirms Judgment Upholding CEQA Class 32 Infill Exemption For Costco Gas Station/Parking Lot Project Within Existing Shopping Center

In a published opinion filed October 21, 2021, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order finding the real party developers of a UC Berkeley campus development project – undertaken for the University’s benefit, and in which it had a strong vested interest – were necessary parties, but were not indispensable parties to a CEQA action challenging the project EIR under the factors of the Code of Civil Procedure (“CCP”) § 389(b).  While the action was thus properly dismissed as against those real parties upon their demurrers due to plaintiff’s failure to join them within CEQA’s 30-day limitations period, it was not required to be dismissed in its entirety and could continue to final adjudication among the remaining parties.  Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods v. The Regents of the University of California (Collegiate Housing Foundation, American Campus Communities, et al, Real Parties in Interest) (2021) _____ Cal.App.5th _____.

Continue Reading A Teaching Moment? First District Affirms CEQA Action Demurrer Order Finding Late-Joined Developers of UC Berkeley Campus Project Were Necessary, But Not Indispensable, Real Parties In Interest

In a 53-page published opinion filed October 8, 2021, the Fourth District Court of Appeal mostly affirmed, but reversed in part, a judgment in a CEQA action challenging two sets of projects of the City of San Diego to underground overhead utility wires in several neighborhoods.  McCann v. City of San Diego (2021) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.  The opinion addressed and resolved a number of significant and interesting CEQA claims and issues involving the exhaustion doctrine; procedures for administratively appealing CEQA exemption determinations (and related due process notice issues); piecemealing; project description; aesthetics; and proper methodology for determining the significance of GHG emissions impacts through assessing a project’s consistency with a local Climate Action Plan (CAP).

Continue Reading Fourth District Addresses Numerous Significant CEQA Issues In Action Challenging City of San Diego’s Utility Undergrounding Projects

In an opinion filed on August 24, and certified for partial publication on September 22, 2021, the Third District Court of Appeal reversed a judgment upholding Placer County’s EIR for a 94-acre resort development project in the Olympic (formerly Squaw) Valley area – site of the 1960 Winter Olympics near the iconic Lake Tahoe.  Sierra Watch v. County of Placer (Squaw Valley Real Estate, LLC, Real Party in Interest) (2021) 69 Cal.App.5th 1.  The published portions of the 51-page opinion found faults in the EIR’s description of the environmental setting and related water and air quality impact analyses, and errors in its analysis and mitigation of construction noise impacts.  Nearly half of the opinion remained unpublished; those portions of it (1) upheld the EIR’s climate change analysis (rejecting appellant Sierra Watch’s arguments challenging it as meritless, moot, or forfeited), (2) upheld most of the EIR’s wildfire impacts analysis (finding merit in one of appellant’s eight arguments, relating to underestimation of evacuation times), and (3) held the EIR’s traffic impacts analysis improperly relied on deferred mitigation.  (The unpublished portions of the opinion will not be discussed further in this post.)

Continue Reading Let’s Get Regional: Third District Holds Olympic Valley Resort Project EIR’s Environmental Setting Description and Analysis Violated CEQA’s Requirement To Place Special Emphasis On Unique Regional Environmental Resources By Failing To Sufficiently Consider Lake Tahoe

In a published decision filed August 17, 2021, the Fifth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment directing issuance of a writ of mandate ordering Inyo County to vacate three resolutions of necessity that authorized its condemnation of three Owens Valley landfill properties, including appurtenant water rights, owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP).  Los Angeles Dept. of Water & Power v. County of Inyo (2021) 67 Cal.App.5th 1018. The County operates three landfills on the properties pursuant to leases from LADWP.  In the published part of the opinion, the Court of Appeal held that CEQA’s issue exhaustion requirement did not apply to LADWP’s challenge to the County’s exemption determinations because the County failed to provide adequate notice of them, thus depriving LADWP of an opportunity to be heard on the issue.  As a matter of law, the Court also held the County improperly relied on the existing facilities exemption for the project.

Continue Reading Fifth District Holds Issue Exhaustion Not Required Where Agency Gave No Notice of Intent To Rely On CEQA Exemption Prior to Hearing, And Existing Facilities Categorical Exemption Does Not Apply to Unlined Landfills As A Matter of Law

In a published opinion filed August 19, 2021, the Second District Court of Appeal reversed a judgment of the Los Angeles County Superior Court that found fault with the EIR for an improvement project within the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument portion of the Angeles National Forest.  Save Our Access–San Gabriel Mountains v. Watershed Conservation Authority (2021) 68 Cal.App.5th 8.  The trial court had rejected plaintiff’s claims that CEQA required the EIR to analyze alternatives beyond the “no project” alternative, and that the project was inconsistent with applicable land use and management plans, but issued a writ requiring additional analysis of the project’s parking reduction “impacts.”  In resolving the ensuing appeals of both parties, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment on the parking issue, finding that reduction in parking is a social not environmental, impact and that plaintiff had failed to identify any secondary adverse physical effects on the environment resulting from the reduction.  It affirmed the remainder of the judgment denying plaintiff’s other claims, and reversed the trial court’s fee award to plaintiff as compelled by its disposition of the merits.

Continue Reading Second District Confirms Parking Is (Still) Not A CEQA Impact, Reverses Judgment That Found EIR For San Gabriel Mountains Wilderness Recreation And Preservation Project Deficient For Not Sufficiently Analyzing “Impact” Of Reducing Recreational Parking

In a published opinion filed June 30, 2021, the First District Court of Appeal applied well-established CEQA statute of limitations rules, and a “persuasive dictum” from one of its prior decisions addressing the requirements for valid tolling agreements, to affirm a judgment dismissing a CEQA claim as time-barred.  The Court also upheld the dismissal for failure to state any viable cause of action as to all of plaintiffs’ other claims challenging respondent East Bay Regional Park District’s (“EBRPD” or the “Park District”) approval of a Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) with Pacific Gas and Electric Company (“PG&E”); the MOU set forth contractual terms of PG&E’s tree removal for safety purposes within its natural gas pipeline easements on EBRPD lands.  Save Lafayette Trees, et. al v. East Bay Regional Park District (Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Real Party in Interest) (1st Dist., Div. 3, 2021) 66 Cal.App.5th 21.  (In keeping with this blog’s practice, this post’s analysis will focus on the CEQA issues; it will not cover in detail the case’s significant non-CEQA holdings, which disposed of plaintiffs’ claims against EBRPD for alleged (1) violation of the City of Lafayette’s local Tree Protection Ordinance (on state law preemption grounds); (2) violation of EBRPD’s own Ordinance No. 38; and (3) due process, all as a matter of law.  For purposes of full disclosure, I represented real party PG&E in this litigation.)

Continue Reading First District Addresses CEQA Statute of Limitations And Tolling Agreement Rules In Affirming Judgment Upholding EBRPD’s Approval of Tree Removal MOU With PG&E