On May 17, 2020, the California Supreme Court granted review of the First District Court of Appeal’s controversial and much criticized published decision in Make UC a Good Neighbor v. Regents of University of California (2023) 88 Cal.App.5th 656, which held the University’s long-range campus development plan (LRDP) EIR inadequate, throwing a monkey wrench into its efforts to redevelop and build much-needed student and homeless housing at the historic People’s Park site. (My March 3, 2023 post on the Court of Appeal’s decision can be found here.)Continue Reading California Supreme Court Grants Review In Controversial “People’s Park”/Student Housing CEQA Case

On April 7, 2023, the Third District Court of Appeal filed a lengthy published opinion – the latest installment in one of the longer ongoing CEQA battles in recent memory – affirming a judgment finding an EIR for the Federal relicensing of Oroville Dam and related hydropower facilities legally adequate.  County of Butte and County of Plumas, et al v. Dept. of Water Resources  (2023) 90 Cal.App.5th 147.Continue Reading That Dam Case (Again):  Third District Upholds Oroville Hydropower Facilities Relicensing EIR Against Numerous CEQA Challenges

In a 72-page published opinion filed March 30, 2023, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 4) affirmed in full the trial court’s judgment, which upheld the EIR for the Oakland Waterfront Ballpark District Project (project) with the sole exception of its wind mitigation measure.  East Oakland Stadium Alliance, et al v. City of Oakland, et al (Athletics Investment Group, et al, Real Parties in Interest) (2023) 89 Cal.App.5th 1226.  In doing so, the Court’s lengthy opinion touched on and analyzed numerous interesting and important CEQA topics.Continue Reading First District Affirms Judgment Rejecting All CEQA Challenges To Oakland A’s Ballpark Development EIR Except Improper Deferral of Wind Impacts Mitigation

On March 22, 2023, the California Supreme Court granted the City of San Francisco’s stand-alone depublication request in (and declined to review on its own motion) the First District Court of Appeal’s (Div. 4) decision in Saint Ignatius Neighborhood Association v. City and County of San Francisco.  The depublished opinion reversed a trial court decision that upheld the City’s use of CEQA Guidelines Class 1 (existing facilities) and 3 (small structures) categorical exemptions for a high school athletic stadium project involving the installation of four 90-foot tall light standards to significantly expand nighttime stadium use.  Officially, the Supreme Court’s depublication order is not to be construed as expressing any opinion on the merits, and the Court of Appeal’s decision remains fully binding on the parties but cannot be cited as precedent.  My 12/7/22 post on the case can be found here. Continue Reading CEQA Updates: Supreme Court Depublishes High School Stadium Light Standard Exemption Case; Second District Modifies Pacific Palisades Opinion With No Change In Judgment

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