Negative Declaration / Mitigated Negative Declaration

In a partially published opinion filed on November 3, 2021, involving the CEQA review for a bed and breakfast/commercial event project proposed on property within a Yolo County agricultural zone, the Third District Court of Appeal (in a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Robie) reaffirmed the basic CEQA principle that a “full EIR” must be prepared whenever a project may have any significant environmental effect; it thus reversed the trial court’s judgment that had allowed a deficient revised Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) and its mitigation measures to remain intact while ordering Yolo County to also prepare an EIR limited to addressing only the project’s impacts on three species of concern (tricolored blackbird, valley elderberry longhorn beetle, and golden eagle).  The Court of Appeal reversed and remanded with instructions to issue a peremptory writ directing the County to set aside its MND approval and to prepare a full EIR instead.  Farmland Protection Alliance v. County of Yolo (2021) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.  (In the unpublished portion of its opinion, which won’t be further discussed in this post, the Court of Appeal held the trial court was correct in finding that substantial evidence supported a fair argument that the project may have a significant impact on the beetle, thus requiring an EIR, and also concluded the trial court did not err in upholding the County’s determinations that the project was consistent with the Williamson Act and County’s zoning code.)

Continue Reading Third District Holds CEQA Does Not Authorize “Remedy” of “Limited EIR” To Augment Deficient MND; Rather, Full EIR Must Be Prepared Where Substantial Evidence Supports Fair Argument That Any Aspect Of Project May Have Significant Environmental Effect

In a 53-page published opinion filed October 8, 2021, the Fourth District Court of Appeal mostly affirmed, but reversed in part, a judgment in a CEQA action challenging two sets of projects of the City of San Diego to underground overhead utility wires in several neighborhoods.  McCann v. City of San Diego (2021) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.  The opinion addressed and resolved a number of significant and interesting CEQA claims and issues involving the exhaustion doctrine; procedures for administratively appealing CEQA exemption determinations (and related due process notice issues); piecemealing; project description; aesthetics; and proper methodology for determining the significance of GHG emissions impacts through assessing a project’s consistency with a local Climate Action Plan (CAP).

Continue Reading Fourth District Addresses Numerous Significant CEQA Issues In Action Challenging City of San Diego’s Utility Undergrounding Projects

In a partially published unanimous opinion filed June 16, 2021, authored by a jurist who is also a noted CEQA expert (Acting Presiding Justice Ronald Robie), the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying a writ petition challenging El Dorado County’s mitigated negative declaration (MND) for and approval of the Newtown Road Bridge at South Fork Weber Creek Replacement Project.  Newtown Preservation Society, et al. v. County of El Dorado, et al. (3d Dist. 2021) 65 Cal.App.5th 771.  In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal held that petitioners/appellants erroneously framed the “fair argument” test in terms of the project having “potentially significant impacts on resident safety and emergency evacuation,” whereas the correct test is “whether the record contains substantial evidence that the project may have a significant effect on the environment or may exacerbate existing environmental hazards.”  It held appellants “failed to carry their burden of showing substantial evidence supports a fair argument of significant environmental impact in that regard.”  (In the unpublished portion of its opinion, which won’t be analyzed in further detail in this post, the Court held the County did not impermissibly defer mitigation, and it declined to consider two other arguments because they added nothing to the fair argument analysis and/or constituted new theories or arguments raised for the first time on appeal.)

Continue Reading Flunking CEQA’s “Fair Argument” Test: Third District Affirms Judgment Upholding MND for El Dorado County Bridge Replacement Project, Rejects Arguments Based on Alleged Significant Impacts on Fire Evacuation Routes During Construction As Insufficient To Require EIR

In an opinion filed April 23, and later certified for publication on May 13, 2021, the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed in part an order denying an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) motion, and held that a malicious prosecution action could proceed against losing CEQA plaintiffs who had unsuccessfully challenged a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND), but not against their attorneys.  Jan Dunning, et al. v. Kevin K. Johnson, APLC, et al. (4th Dist. 2021) 64 Cal. App. 5th 156. While the merits of the malicious prosecution action have yet to be determined, the Court of Appeal’s ruling that the action could even proceed is itself significant given the daunting hurdle posed by the anti-SLAPP statute, and should give pause to project opponents who think that meritless CEQA litigation lacking probable cause and brought with malice can be pursued without potential consequence.

Continue Reading Is More Litigation the Remedy for Meritless CEQA Litigation? Fourth District Concludes Malicious Prosecution Action Against Losing CEQA Plaintiffs Survives Anti-SLAPP Motion

In a published opinion filed May 18, 2020, the Sixth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of a historic preservation group’s writ petition that challenged the City of San Jose’s (City) entry into a Streambed Alteration Agreement (SAA) with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), which agreement was needed to implement the City’s pedestrian bridge project involving demolition of the historic Willow Glen Railroad Trestle.  Willow Glen Trestle Conservancy v. City of San Jose (6th Dist. 2020) 49 Cal.App.5th 127.

Continue Reading Sixth District Holds City Of San Jose’s Action In Seeking And Accepting Streambed Alteration Agreement From California Department Of Fish And Wildlife Is Not New Discretionary Approval For City’s Historic Trestle Demolition/Bridge Construction Project, And Thus Does Not Trigger Subsequent CEQA Review

On April 2, 2020, the Second Appellate District Court of Appeal (Division 5) filed its published opinion in Coalition for an Equitable Westlake/MacArthur Park v. City of Los Angeles et al. (Adrian Jayasinha et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2020) 47 Cal.App.5th 368, which affirmed a judgment dismissing a CEQA action challenging the City’s project approvals and Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) for a mixed-use development project.  The judgment of dismissal was entered after the trial court sustained without leave the City’s and Real Parties’ demurrers on statute of limitations grounds.  In affirming, the Court reaffirmed and followed Supreme Court precedent “ma[king] clear that the filing of a facially valid notice [of determination or notice of exemption] starts the running of the statute of limitations, even where the underlying CEQA determinations may be flawed.”  (Citing Committee for Green Foothills v. Santa Clara County Bd. of Supervisors (2010) 48 Cal.4th 32, 43 [NODs]; Stockton Citizens for Sensible Planning v. City of Stockton (2010) 48 Cal.4th 481, 505 [NOEs].)

Continue Reading Second District Reaffirms Rule That Filing of Facially Valid NOD Triggers Short CEQA Statute of Limitations And Plaintiff May Not “Go Behind” Agency’s Declarations In Document To Challenge Validity of Project Approval

In a 74-page opinion filed February 24, and later ordered published on March 17, 2020, the Second District Court of Appeal (Division 7) affirmed judgments (granting the writ petition and awarding fees) in coordinated appeals stemming from a CEQA action successfully challenging the City of Agoura Hills’ (City) project approvals and mitigated negative declaration (MND) for a mixed use development project on an undeveloped 8.2 acre parcel.  Save the Agoura Cornell Knoll v. City of Agoura Hills (Doron Gelfand, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2020) 46 Cal.App.5th 665.  The Court rejected the City’s and Real Parties’ procedural arguments that Petitioners and Respondents Save the Agoura Cornell Knoll (STACK) and California Native Plant Society (CNPS) had failed to exhaust administrative remedies, and that their claims were barred by lack of standing and the statute of limitations; on the merits of the CEQA claim, it held that substantial evidence in the record supported a fair argument that even as mitigated the project may have significant impacts on cultural resources (i.e., a Chumash Native American archaeological site), three sensitive plant species, native oak trees, and aesthetic resources, and that an EIR was therefore required; and it further held the trial court properly granted writ relief based on the City’s violation of its own Oak Tree Ordinance by approving a project that would concededly remove 35 to 36 percent of the site’s oak tree canopy when the Ordinance prohibited removal of more than 10 percent.  Finally, the Court held that the trial court properly awarded Petitioners STACK and CNPS $142,148 in attorneys’ fees under Code of Civil Procedure § 1021.5, made payable 50% by City and 50% by Real Parties, notwithstanding that Petitioners furnished their first amended petition to the Attorney General (AG) beyond the 10-day statutory period for doing so.

Continue Reading Second District Affirms Judgment Invalidating City of Agoura Hills’ Mixed-Use Project Approvals and Related MND Based On CEQA and Local Oak Tree Ordinance Violations