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. S555874.  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 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

In an opinion filed on April 12, and later ordered published on May 11, 2022, the Third District Court of Appeal reversed a judgment that had denied a CEQA writ petition challenging the City of Mount Shasta’s issuance of a wastewater permit for the Crystal Geyser Water Company’s bottling plant project.  We Advocate Through Environmental Review, et al v. City of Mount Shasta, et al (Crystal Geyser Water Company, Real Party in Interest) (2022) ___ Cal.App.5th___.

Continue Reading Responsible Agency Committed Fundamental CEQA Procedural Violation By Not Making Public Resources Code Section 21081 Findings for Significant Effects Associated With Its Wastewater Permit For Water Bottling Plant Project

In a published decision filed March 30, 2022, the First District Court of Appeal (Division 5) reversed a trial court judgment upholding the reissued final environmental impact report (“RFEIR”) for a 44-single family residence project on a unique, species- and habitat- rich 32-acre site in the City of Livermore’s Garaventa Hills area.  Save the Hill Group v. City of Livermore (Lafferty Communities, Inc., Real Party in Interest) (2022) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.  Both the trial court and Court of Appeal agreed that the RFEIR’s analysis of the “no project” alternative was substantively inadequate, because it lacked information about the feasibility of purchase and preservation options that was necessary for the City Council to make an informed, reasoned decision, but the Court of Appeal disagreed with the trial court’s conclusion that Petitioner/Appellant Save the Hill’s failure to exhaust on this issue barred judicial consideration of it.  The Court of Appeal rejected Appellant’s remaining arguments that the RFEIR’s analysis and mitigation of the project’s vernal pool fairy shrimp (“VPFS”) and wetlands impacts were inadequate, and that its identified compensatory mitigation for permanent sensitive habitat loss was inadequate.  (In a brief concluding portion of the opinion that won’t be further discussed here, the Court also held Appellant had forfeited and lacked standing to raise the issue of City’s alleged mitigation obligations under two prior settlement agreements to which Appellant was not a party.)

Continue Reading First District Holds EIR’s Analysis of “No Project” Alternative To City of Livermore Residential Development Violated CEQA By Failing To Discuss Feasibility Of Purchasing And Preserving Habitat-Rich Garaventa Hills Project Site, Also Addresses Significant Issues Involving Exhaustion Doctrine And Adequacy of Mitigation

In an opinion filed on December 16, 2021, and belatedly ordered published on January 13, 2022, the Fourth District Court of Appeal rejected a CEQA challenge to a small multifamily project in the City of Santa Cruz.  Ocean Street Extension Neighborhood Assn. v. City of Santa Cruz (2021) 73 Cal.App.5th 985 (“OSENA”).  The case contains valuable guidance regarding mitigation for biological resources impacts, lays out some common sense principles that may help condense the EIR preparation process, and also provides useful guidance to developers and agencies dealing with water supply issues during the current drought.

Continue Reading Fourth District Rejects CEQA And Municipal Code Challenges To City Of Santa Cruz’s Project Approvals And EIR For Small Multifamily Housing Project

In an opinion filed January 28, and later certified for publication on February 16, 2022, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment denying a petition for writ of mandate that challenged on CEQA grounds the El Dorado Irrigation District’s (“EID”) decision to undertake its Upper Main Ditch piping project.  Save the El Dorado Canal v. El Dorado Irrigation District, et al. (2022) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.  The challenged water conveyance project would replace about three miles of EID’s open and unlined earthen ditch system with a buried water transmission pipeline in order to conserve water and improve water quality.  Petitioner alleged the EIR’s project description was inadequate because it omitted the material fact that the ditch section to be abandoned as a water conveyance also served as the watershed’s only drainage system, and that the EIR insufficiently analyzed the abandonment’s impacts on hydrology, biological resources, and wildfires.

Continue Reading Third District Rejects CEQA Challenges To El Dorado Irrigation District Ditch Piping Project, Holds EIR’s Project Description And Analysis Of Potential Hydrology, Biological Resources, and Wildfire Impacts Were Adequate

In a sprawling, 123-page published opinion filed on February 14, 2022, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed in part, and reversed in part, judgments in consolidated CEQA actions challenging Placer County’s EIR for its approval of a specific plan and rezoning to permit residential and commercial development and preserve forest land in the Martis Valley near Truckee and Lake Tahoe.  League to Save Lake Tahoe, Mountain Area Preservation, et al./California Clean Energy Committee v. County of Placer, et al. (Sierra Pacific Industries, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2022) ___ Cal.App.5th __________.  Consistent with its impressive length, the opinion decides a number of significant issues, and contains a thorough exposition of established CEQA rules and principles, including, but not limited to, those governing:  applicable standards of review; baseline/environmental setting description; lead agency discretion regarding thresholds of significance, methodology for impact study, and significance determinations; cumulative impacts (including GHG) analysis; and requirements for adequate mitigation measures.

Continue Reading Third District Addresses Significant CEQA Issues In Mixed Decision On Placer County’s EIR For Specific Plan/Rezoning Allowing Development of Martis Valley Timberlands

In an opinion filed on December 29, 2021, and later ordered published on January 25, 2022, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 4) affirmed a judgment upholding the City of Newark’s (City) use of Government Code § 65457’s CEQA exemption for a 469-lot residential subdivision on land adjacent to San Francisco Bay.  Plaintiffs unsuccessfully challenged the City’s 2019 subdivision map approval based on the claim that a subsequent EIR was required due to changes in the project and circumstances allegedly showing it would have new significant impacts on the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse (“harvest mouse”) and its wetlands habitat.  Citizens’ Committee to Complete the Refuge, et al. v. City of Newark et al., (SI XVII, LLC, et al, Real Parties in Interest) (2021) 74 Cal.App.5th 460.

Continue Reading First District Affirms Judgment Upholding Statutory CEQA Exemption For Housing Project Consistent With EIR-Reviewed Specific Plan, Rejects Claims That Changes In Project Or Circumstances Required Subsequent EIR