In a published opinion filed on January 17, 2024, the Second District Court of Appeal (Div. 5) reversed a trial court judgment overturning a mitigated negative declaration (MND) and requiring an EIR for a 42-single family home project; instead, the Court of Appeal held the petitioners’ action should have been dismissed as time-barred and that the trial court erred in overruling the demurrers of respondent City of Los Angeles and the real party developers on statute of limitations grounds.  Delia Guerrero et al. v. City of Los Angeles (TTLE Los Angeles – El Sereno LLC et al, Real Parties in Interest) (2024) 98 Cal.App.5th 1087.Continue Reading Reversal of Misfortune: Second District Holds CEQA Action Challenging Los Angeles Housing Development Project Barred By Statute of Limitations, Reverses Trial Court Judgment Rejecting MND and Requiring EIR

In a published opinion filed November 13, 2023, disposing of consolidated appeals, the Second District Court of Appeal (Div. 6) affirmed judgments denying writ petitions that sought to invalidate a Ventura County ordinance. The ordinance at issue created wildlife migration corridor overlay zones covering approximately 163,000 less-developed acres of the County, including 10,000 acres of classified mineral resources.  California Construction and Industrial Materials Association/Ventura County Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business v. County of Ventura (Los Padres Forestwatch, et al., Interveners and Respondents) (2023) 97 Cal.App.5th 1. As did the trial court, the Court of Appeal rejected the arguments of appellants – which were coalition groups representing construction, industry, labor, agriculture and business interests – that County’s adoption of the ordinance violated requirements of the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act of 1975 (“SMARA”) and CEQA.Continue Reading Second District Holds Ventura County’s Adoption of Ordinance Creating Wildlife Migration Corridor Overlay Zones In County’s Rural Areas Did Not Violate SMARA And Was Properly Determined Categorically Exempt From CEQA

On October 20, 223, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 3) filed an “Order Modifying Opinion; and Denying Petitions for Rehearing and Publication [No Change in Judgment]” in Yerba Buena Neighborhood Consortium, LLC, et al. v. The Regents of the University of California (2023) 95 Cal.App.5th 779, litigation that I analyzed in my 10/10/23 post here.  The Order denied petitions for rehearing, denied the California Building Industry Association’s request to publish unpublished portions of the Opinion, and slightly modified the lengthy opinion to add a single footnote and revise one sentence.  The Court of Appeal’s docket also reflects that petitions for review have been filed in the case and those may not be acted on by the Supreme Court until around the end of the year.Continue Reading First District Denies Rehearing and Publication Requests, Slightly Modifies Opinion With No Change in Judgment in CEQA Case Upholding U.C. Regents’ EIR for Parnassus Heights Campus Long-Range Development Plan; Petitions For Review Filed

In an opinion originally filed on September 8, and subsequently modified and certified for partial publication on October 4, 2023, the Sixth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment granting a writ setting aside Monterey County’s issuance of a permit to investor-owned public utility/water supplier California-American Water Company (“Cal-Am”) to construct a desalination plant and related facilities needed as one component of Cal-Am’s Water Supply Project.  Marina Coast Water District v. County of Monterey (California-American Water Company, Real Party in Interest) (2023) 96 Cal.App.5th 46.  On Cal-Am’s appeal, the Court held the trial court erred in finding the County’s statement of overriding considerations prejudicially inadequate for not addressing the uncertainty created by the City of Marina’s (“City”) denial of a coastal development permit (“CDP”) – later granted with conditions by the Coastal Commission on appeal – for the drilling of intake wells in coastal zone aquifers to supply the plant.  On project opponent Marina Coast Water District’s (“MCWD”) cross-appeal, the Court held that County’s decision not to require a subsequent EIR and its statement of overriding considerations were both supported by substantial evidence and (in an unpublished portion of its opinion not further discussed here) that County’s approval did not violate its own general plan.Continue Reading Sixth District Reverses Writ, Upholds Responsible Agency Monterey County’s Approval of Desalination Plant In Reliance on CPUC’s EIR For Multi-Component, Cross-Jurisdictional Water Supply Project; Court Rejects CEQA Challenges Based On County’s Decision Not to Prepare Subsequent EIR and Allegedly Inadequate Statement of Overriding Considerations

In an opinion filed September 13, and modified and certified for publication on October 6, 2023, the Fourth District Court of Appeal (Div. 3) affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying a CEQA writ petition challenging the City of Laguna Beach’s determination that the Guidelines’ Class 31 categorical exemption applied to its approval of a project to remodel a historic single family home.  Historic Architecture Alliance, et al v. City of Laguna Beach, et al (Ian and Cherlin Kirby, Real Parties in Interest) (2023) 96 Cal.App.5th 186.    The decision refines the established CEQA principle that a project that may cause a change in the significance of a historical resource is also one that may have a significant environmental effect (and thus require an EIR or MND) in the unique context of CEQA’s categorical exemption for projects found to be consistent with the “Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties” (the “Secretary’s Standards”).  (CEQA Guidelines, § 15331.)  It also clarifies that the “fair argument” test does not apply to a project opponent’s attempt to establish the historical resource exception (Guidelines § 15300.2(f)) to this categorical exemption; because both the exemption and the exception require the lead agency to make the same factual determination – i.e., the project’s consistency with the Secretary’s Standards – applying the fair argument test to the exception would render the exemption meaningless.Continue Reading Fourth District Affirms Judgment Upholding City’s Use of CEQA Guidelines’ Historical Resource (Class 31) Exemption To Approve Historic Single Family Home Rehabilitation Project; Holds “Fair Argument” Test Doesn’t Apply To Exception Requiring Same Factual Determination As Exemption

In a partially published opinion filed September 20, 2023, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 3) affirmed the Alameda County Superior Court’s judgments denying writ petitions in three partially consolidated CEQA actions challenging the 2021 project/program EIR for the Comprehensive Parnassus Heights Plan.  Yerba Buena Neighborhood Consortium, LLC, et al v. Regents of the University of California/San Franciscans for Balanced and Livable Communities v. Regents of the University of California (2023) 95 Cal.App.5th 779. Continue Reading First District Affirms Judgment Upholding UCSF’s EIR for Long-Range Development Plan Substantially Increasing Parnassus Heights Campus Development Against Numerous CEQA Challenges

On August 10, 2023 the Sixth District Court of Appeal filed its published opinion in Santa Rita Union School District v. City of Salinas (2023) 94 Cal.App.5th 298.  On September 7, 2023, it filed an Order slightly modifying its opinion without modifying the judgment and denying rehearing.  The case concerns the certification of an EIR for the “West Area Specific Plan” in and by the City of Salinas, and claims by two school districts in the City that asserted perennial underfunding meant that the EIR failed to adequately address school-related impacts.  While the trial court agreed in part, granting narrow writ relief enjoining future entitlements while leaving the specific plan approval in place, the Sixth District did not, holding that the districts’ expressed concerns were speculative in nature and need not have been evaluated in the EIR.Continue Reading Sixth District Reverses Judgment Finding Specific Plan FEIR Inadequate For Failure To Adequately Analyze And Respond To Comments Regarding School Facilities-Related Impacts; Court Of Appeal Holds FEIR Was Adequate In All Respects And Was Not Required To Speculate Regarding Possible Environmental Impacts From Uncertain Future School District Decisions Made To Accommodate Increased Enrollment Should Funds Prove Unavailable To Construct New Schools Contemplated In Plan

On September 7, 2023, Governor Newsom signed into law AB 1307, urgency legislation which took effect immediately and added to the Public Resources Code a new Section 21085, which reads: “For purposes of this division, for residential projects, the effects of noise generated by project occupants and their guests on human beings is not a significant effect on the environment.”Continue Reading Recent Legislation Brings Incremental CEQA Reform

“I fought the law and the law won” – The Crickets

In an opinion filed July 19, and later ordered published on August 16, 2023, the Second District Court of Appeal (Div. 6) reversed the trial court’s grant of a preliminary injunction in a CEQA action enjoining the Santa Barbara County Road Commissioner from enforcing public laws by removing unpermitted encroachments from a public right-of-way.  Christopher Anderson, et al. v. County of Santa Barbara, et al. (2023) 94 Cal.App.5th 554. The public officer’s law enforcement actions were held to be exempt from CEQA; to have independent utility apart from any alleged larger, “piecemealed” project evading CEQA review; and not to be subject to the “unusual circumstances” exception to applicable categorical exemptions.  While the Court was careful to fully analyze all of petitioners’ CEQA arguments, its opinion also offered numerous other reasons why the trial court erred and exceeded its lawful authority under applicable legal principles in issuing the preliminary injunction.Continue Reading Second District Reverses Preliminary Injunction, Holds CEQA Cannot Trump Santa Barbara County’s Authority To Remove Unpermitted Encroachments Placed In Public Right-Of-Way By Adjacent Landowners

In a published opinion filed August 14, 2023, the Third District Court of Appeal reversed a judgment that denied a petition for writ of mandate challenging the State Department of Public Health’s (Department) approval of Real Party in Interest Harm Reduction Coalition of Santa Cruz County’s (real party) needle exchange program.  Grant Park Neighborhood Association Advocates v. Department of Public Health, et al. (2023) 94 Cal.App.5th 478.  In ordering a writ to issue to set aside the approval, the Court of Appeal agreed with petitioner and appellant Grant Park’s first three arguments based on the Department’s prejudicial violations of Health and Safety Code § 121349’s required procedures; it declined to reach appellant’s separate CEQA argument seeking the same relief, however, since it had already granted all requested relief under the other statutory provisions.  However – and as most relevant to this blog – the Court also noted that following the trial court’s judgment the Legislature enacted a 2021 statutory amendment exempting the Department’s approval of needle exchange operations from CEQA.Continue Reading Third District Declines To Reach CEQA Exemption Claim In Reversing On Other Grounds Judgment Upholding State Department of Public Health’s Approval of Santa Cruz County Needle Exchange Program But Notes New Statutory CEQA Exemption Now Exists