The California Supreme Court heard oral arguments in an important case we’ve been following involving CEQA’s definition of a “project” on the afternoon of June 4, 2019, and took the matter under submission. The case – Union of Medical Marijuana Patients v. City of San Diego (California Coastal Commission, Real Party in Interest), No. S238563 – involves a City of San Diego ordinance authorizing (as a new use in industrial/commercial zones) and restricting the location and manner of operation of medical marijuana dispensaries within the City, and plaintiff’s challenge to the City’s determination that its adoption of the ordinance was not a “project” for purposes of having to undergo CEQA review. The Court’s grant of review encompassed the issues whether the particular ordinance is a CEQA project and also whether zoning ordinances in general are CEQA projects.
On May 15, 2019, the California Supreme Court announced it would hear oral argument in Union of Medical Marijuana Patients v. City of San Diego (California Coastal Commission), Case No. S238563, on June 4, 2019, at 2:00 p.m. in its Los Angeles courtroom. This is a long-awaited development as review was unanimously granted in this case on January 11, 2017, and the case was fully briefed by the parties in October 2017. My prior blog post on the case, which presents the important legal issue whether an amendment to a zoning ordinance is, categorically, a “project” under CEQA (see Pub. Resources Code, §§ 21065, 21080(a)), can be found here.
Save Lafayette Trees Litigation Update: The Beat Goes On
We last posted on this decision (currently published as Save Lafayette Trees v. City of Lafayette (Pacific Gas and Electric Company, Real Party in Interest) (1st Dist. 2019) 32 Cal.App.5th 148) and its significant CEQA/Planning and Zoning Law statute of limitations holdings in my February 26, 2019 post, which can be found here. In that post, it was noted (among other things) that the Court’s opinion after rehearing was issued on February 8, 2019, following the January 29, 2019 bankruptcy filing of real party PG&E, but that it did not address the effect (if any) of the automatic stay.
The California Legislature has enacted new Public Resources Code § 21159.25, effective as of January 1, 2019 (Stats. 2018, c. 670 (A.B. 1804)), which extends much of the substance of the existing CEQA Guidelines’ Class 32 categorical exemption for “infill development” (14 Cal. Code Regs., § 15332) to certain multi-family housing projects in urbanized, unincorporated county areas. While largely patterned after the Class 32 exemption, the statute thus has a few unique and significant twists and limitations, as explained below.
Continue Reading Legislature Enacts New Statutory CEQA Exemption, Modeled After Class 32 Categorical Exemption, For Certain Infill Multifamily Housing Developments In Urbanized, Unincorporated County Areas
In a lengthy opinion filed February 22, and belatedly ordered published on March 25, 2019, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 1) affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying a petition for writ of mandate challenging the EIR for a mixed use business and residential project (the “5M Project”) on 4 acres in downtown San Francisco. South of Market Community Action Network v. City and County of San Francisco (Forest City California Residential Development, Inc., et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2019) 33 Cal.App.5th 321. The 5M Project includes a general plan amendment and development agreement, and would provide “office, retail, cultural, educational, and open-space uses …, primarily to support the region’s technology industry and provide spaces for co-working, media, arts, and small-scale urban manufacturing” on a site bounded by Mission, Fifth, Howard, and Sixth Streets. The project site is currently occupied by eight buildings with approximately 317,700 gross square feet (gsf) of office and commercial uses (including the Chronicle Building, which the project would renovate), and seven surface parking lots.
Successfully navigating CEQA litigation has been compared to walking a tightrope – myriad issues challenging an EIR can be (and often are) raised, and a “misstep” as to even a single one typically results in the court’s issuance of a writ decertifying the entire EIR and vacating the project approvals pending future CEQA compliance. Fortunately, however, CEQA litigation can also be like a funnel, with its beginning at the top and its end at the bottom: while many issues and challenges to an agency’s EIR can initially be raised, their subsequent final adjudication on the merits through a limited peremptory writ of mandate – one granting in part and denying in part a writ petition – serves to progressively eliminate and narrow the issues at play in any future litigation. This is a result of the doctrine of res judicata (or claim preclusion), and a textbook example of that doctrine’s application in the CEQA litigation context can be found in the Third District’s recent partially published opinion in Ione Valley Land, Air, and Water Defense Alliance, LLC v. County of Amador (Newman Minerals, LLC, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2019) 33 Cal.App.5th 165. (The opinion was filed February 26, but later modified and certified for partial publication on March 20, 2019.)
Continue Reading Third District Holds Res Judicata Bars Relitigation of CEQA Claims In Second Writ Petition Challenging Reapproved Quarry Project And Partially Recirculated EIR: Barred Claims Were Either Adjudicated Adversely To Petitioner On First Petition, Or Could Have Been Litigated In First Action
On March 13, 2019, at the losing Petitioner/Appellant’s request, the California Supreme Court ordered depublication of the Sixth District’s partially published opinion in Alliance of Concerned Citizens Organized for Responsible Development v. City of San Juan Bautista (2018) 29 Cal.App.5th 424 (No. S253725); my December 3, 2018 post on the case can be found here. Review of the decision was not sought or granted, so its result stands unaffected by the high court’s action. The main takeaway from this decision was that the nature of a final judgment is determined by its substance and effect in resolving the claims raised in the action on their merits, rather than by any label the court attaches to it. The grant of depublication means only that, subject to very limited exceptions, the opinion “must not be cited or relied on by a court or a party in any other action.” (Cal. Rules of Ct., Rule 8.1115(a).)
Spring now being practically “in the air,” a bit of CEQA “spring cleaning” seems appropriate – so here’s a brief look at the status of some significant CEQA-related cases that are now pending before our Supreme Court, or in which its review has been sought:
On November 20, 2018, in response to a petition for review filed by the Target Superstore project’s opponent, plaintiff (and respondent on appeal) Citizens Coalition Los Angeles, the California Supreme Court denied review and ordered the Court of Appeal’s opinion depublished. My September 7, 2018 blog post analyzing and critiquing the Court of Appeal’s decision, which was previously published at Citizens Coalition Los Angeles v. City of Los Angeles (2018) 26 Cal.App.5th 561, can be found here.
Just a few updates/items of possible interest as we head toward the end of this short (but very cold and wet) month:
The close of OPR’s public comment period on its Discussion Draft of the CEQA Climate Change Advisory is March 15, 2019, at 5:00 p.m.
OPR also released in late December 2018 its Technical Advisory on Evaluating Transportation Impacts Under CEQA, containing its technical recommendations on VMT assessment, thresholds of significance, and mitigation measures, as well as incorporating Guidelines changes and more recent feedback since release of the April 2018 technical advisory. Details on these and related developments can be found in OPR’s February 21, 2019 email and on its website.