In a published opinion filed February 24, 2023, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 5) reversed a judgment upholding the adequacy of the EIR for the University of California, Berkeley’s long range campus development plan (“LRDP”) and a controversial housing development project at the historic People’s Park. Make UC a Good Neighbor v. Regents of University of California (Resources for Community Development, Real Party in Interest) (2023 88 Cal.App.5th 656. The opinion comes in a case that has been much publicized in popular news media as involving both development of an iconic historic site, currently plagued with crime and homelessness, and treatment of housed college students as presumptive purveyors of “party noise” environmental impacts; it has also (justifiably) resulted in renewed calls for CEQA reform, including from Governor Newsom.Continue Reading First District Reverses Judgment In Controversial “People’s Park” CEQA Case, Holds UC Regents’ Program/Project EIR For Long Range Development Plan And Site-Specific Student Housing Project At The Park Failed To Adequately Analyze Alternative Housing Sites, And Student Noise Impacts
In a published opinion filed February 6, 2023, the Fourth District Court of Appeal (Div. 3) affirmed a judgment setting aside an addendum to a 2010 program EIR (PEIR) and accompanying approvals for a 275,000-square foot office complex on a 4.95-acre parcel (the “Gemdale project” or “project”) within the 2,800-acre Irvine Business Complex (IBC). IBC Business Owners for Sensible Development v. City of Irvine (Gemdale 2400 Barranca Holdings, LLC, Real Party in Interest) (2023) 88 Cal.App.5th 100. The Court held that the City’s approval of the Addendum was improper because substantial evidence did not support the conclusion that the project’s GHG emissions were within the scope of the PEIR and would have less than significant impacts; further, the project was unusually large and dense due to its utilization of transfers of development rights (TDRs) of over 220,000 square feet – by far the largest ever approved in the IBC’s history – and thus could not qualify for the Class 32 infill exemption due to the unusual circumstances exception.Continue Reading Fourth District Holds Addendum To 2010 Program EIR For Irvine Business Complex Vision Plan Violated CEQA Because Conclusion That Large Infill Project’s GHG Emissions Would Be Less Than Significant Lacked Substantial Evidence And Project Was Not Exempt
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) 86 Cal.App.5th 1357, 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) 85 Cal.App.5th 1101. 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
“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” – Editorial by Francis Pharcellus Church first appearing in New York newspaper The Sun on September 21, 1897
In keeping with the spirit of the holiday season, it is entirely fitting that some cynical and unbelieving jurisdictions be gifted with a published judicial reminder that CEQA really does exist – and that its required procedures must be scrupulously followed. In an opinion filed November 18, and later ordered published on December 5, 2002, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 4) bestowed such a gift upon the City and County of San Francisco (“City”), although the “jury is out” on whether the latter lead agency will receive it in the proper spirit or view it as humbug and the proverbial lump of coal. Saint Ignatius Neighborhood Association v. City and County of San Francisco (2022) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.Continue Reading “Yes, San Francisco, There Is A CEQA”: First District Reverses Judgment Upholding City’s Categorical Exemption Determinations For Project To Add Four 90-Foot Tall Light Standards To High School Stadium In Residential Neighborhood
“We didn’t start the fire….”
Wildfires are an unfortunate reality of life in California and have become of increasing concern over the past several years. Eight of the ten largest wildfires in the state since 1932 have occurred in the last decade (five of which took place in 2020 alone).Continue Reading Attorney General’s Guidance On “Best Practices” For CEQA Analysis Of And Mitigation For Wildfire-Related Impacts Is Long On Litigation And Policy Advocacy, Short On Neutral Legal Analysis
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 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