In an opinion on rehearing filed January 18, 2023, the Third District Court of Appeal reissued its previous published opinion in the Save Our Capitol! case (my January 2, 2023 post on which can be found here) with the addition of a few pages of discussion addressing “Relief” inserted at the end of the majority opinion just before its “Disposition.” 

Continue Reading Third District Adds Brief CEQA Severance Analysis After Rehearing In Save Our Capitol! Case, Limits Its Relief To Allow Capitol Annex Demolition To Go Forward

As all CEQA practitioners know, a prospective petitioner in a writ proceeding challenging a CEQA determination must first exhaust available administrative remedies as a prerequisite to filing suit.  But which remedies are subject to that requirement?  That is the question presented in the recent case of American Chemistry Council v. Dept. of Toxic Substances Control (5th Dist. 2022) ___ Cal.App.5th ___, originally filed on November 18, 2022, and certified for publication on December 12, 2022.

The American Chemistry Council case deals with the interplay of CEQA with another statutory scheme, the so-called “Green Chemistry” law (Health & Safety Code, § 25251 et seq.) and its implementing Safer Consumer Products regulations (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 22, § 69501 et seq.), in the context of exhaustion of administrative remedies.  The case illustrates the sometimes perilous position of a CEQA practitioner seeking to satisfy the exhaustion requirement while avoiding the running of the very short statutory limitations period within which a CEQA action must be commenced.

Continue Reading Fatal “Exhaustion”: Fifth District Holds CEQA’s Statute of Limitations Ran Out On Plaintiff’s Claim While Plaintiff Thought It Was Still In Process Of Exhausting Administrative Remedies

While CEQA is a complicated area of law, often criticized as a “plaintiff’s sandbox,” CEQA litigation is not a “free-for-all” immune from malicious prosecution actions when it is unsuccessfully pursued with malice and without probable cause.  Such is the teaching of the First District Court of Appeal’s December 28, 2022 published opinion in Charles Jenkins et al v. Susan Brandt-Hawley et al (1st Dist., Div. 2, 2022) ___ Cal.App.5th ___, which affirmed the trial court’s order denying an anti-SLAPP motion and allowing a malicious prosecution action to proceed against a prominent CEQA attorney and her law firm.

Continue Reading When CEQA Litigation Turns Tortious: First District Affirms Order Denying Anti-SLAPP Motion, Allows Malicious Prosecution Action To Proceed Against Counsel Who Brought Unsuccessful CEQA Challenge To Single-Home Project

In a published opinion filed December 6, 2022, the Third District Court of Appeal reversed in part and affirmed in part the trial court’s judgment denying writ petitions in consolidated actions challenging the EIR for a major state government project affecting the Historic State Capitol Building and Annex in Sacramento.  Save Our Capitol! v. Department of General Services (Joint Committee On Rules of the California State Senate and Assembly, Real Party in Interest)/Save the Capitol, Save the Trees v. Department of General Services, et al. (2022) __ Cal.App.5th __.  In the project’s final iteration, Defendant/Respondent Department of General Services and Real Party/Respondent Joint Committee, etc. (collectively, “DGS”) proposed to demolish the Historic Capitol’s 325,000 square-foot Annex, replace it with a larger 525,000 square-foot Annex building, construct a 40,000 square-foot underground visitor center attached to the Historic Capitol’s west side, and construct a 150-space underground parking garage east of the new Annex.  While rejecting many of plaintiffs’ CEQA challenges to the project’s final EIR (FEIR), the Court of Appeal found merit in claims that the EIR’s project description, analyses of impacts to historical resources and aesthetics, and alternatives analysis were deficient.  Accordingly, it directed issuance of a writ vacating the EIR certification and project approval and directing DGS to revise and recirculate the EIR’s deficient sections before again considering project approval.

Continue Reading A “Capitol” Offense: Third District Holds State Capitol Building Annex/Visitor Center Project EIR Violated CEQA Due To Inadequate Project Description And Analyses Of Historical Cultural Impacts, Aesthetics, And Project Alternatives

In an opinion filed on November 14, and later certified for publication on December 13, 2022, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 3) affirmed a Sonoma County Superior Court judgment upholding the EIR for a 180-unit apartment complex proposed on a 15.45-acre parcel of vacant land along the Petaluma River.  Save North Petaluma River and Wetlands v. City of Petaluma (J. Cyril Johnson Investment Company, Real Party in Interest) (2022) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.  The issues considered on appeal involved the adequacy of the EIR’s environmental “baseline” for its analysis of potential special status species impacts and the adequacy of its analysis of alleged public safety/emergency evacuation impacts.

Continue Reading First District Rejects CEQA Challenges To EIR For Petaluma River Apartment Project, Upholds Special Status Species Baseline And Public Safety/Emergency Access Impacts Analyses As Supported By Substantial Evidence

A 10-page article by Holland & Knight’s Jennifer Hernandez, published this month by the Center for Jobs & the Economy/California Business Roundtable, documents that CEQA litigation targeted nearly 50,000 housing units – approximately half the state’s total annual housing production – in 2020 alone.  While Holland & Knight’s analysis of 2019-2021 CEQA lawsuit data is ongoing, the article’s “interim report”, which can be read here, states there is no expectation of change in the magnitude of anti-housing CEQA actions, which most frequently allege violations relating to analysis of climate change related impacts, i.e., GHGs and VMT.

Continue Reading CEQA vs. Housing: A Very Wrong Picture

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) 13 Cal.5th 612, 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