In a published opinion filed December 15, 2021, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 5) affirmed a trial court’s judgment entered after sustaining a demurrer to a writ petition in a CEQA action without leave to amend. Mission Peak Conservancy, et al. v. State Water Resources Control Board (Christopher George, et al, Real Parties in Interest) (2021) 72 Cal.App.5th 873.
In an opinion filed November 15, and later ordered published on December 14, 2021, the Sixth District Court of Appeal reaffirmed the basic CEQA principle that required environmental review and analysis must precede project approval, and it applied that principle to invalidate the California Coastal Commission’s (Commission) approval of a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) for a residential subdivision project in Monterey County. Friends, Artists and Neighbors of Elkhorn Slough v. California Coastal Commission (Heritage/Western Communities, Ltd., et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2021) 72 Cal.App.5th 666. While the dispositive rule is a simple one, the case’s more complex facts and procedural history make it interesting – and somewhat disturbing – on a number of levels.
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) 71 Cal.App.5th 300. (In the unpublished portion of its opinion, which won’t be further discussed in this post, the Court of Appeal held the trial court was correct in finding that substantial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 published opinion filed November 4, 2021, the Second Appellate District (Div. 8) affirmed the Los Angeles County Superior Court’s order denying International Longshore and Warehouse Union Locals 13, 63, and 94’s (“Union”) motion for permissive intervention in complex CEQA litigation involving the China Shipping Container Terminal (“Terminal”) in the Port of Los Angeles. South Coast Air Quality Management District v. City of Los Angeles, et al (China Shipping (North America) Holding Co., Ltd., et al, Real Parties in Interest) (2021) 71 Cal.App.5th 314.
Continue Reading “Let’s Not Complicate Things”: Second District Holds Trial Court Properly Exercised Its Discretion In Denying Union’s Permissive Intervention Motion In Complex Los Angeles Port CEQA Litigation
In an opinion filed September 28, and certified for publication on October 26, 2021, the Fourth District Court of Appeal (Div. 3) affirmed a judgment denying a writ petition challenging the City of Tustin’s finding that a Costco gas station/ancillary facilities project in an existing shopping center was categorically exempt from CEQA. Protect Tustin Ranch v. City of Tustin (Costco Wholesale Corporation, Real Party in Interest) (2021) 70 Cal.App.5th 951. As did the trial court, the Court of Appeal rejected Petitioner/Appellant’s arguments that the project exceeded the 5-acre size limit of the Class 32 infill exemption (CEQA Guidelines, § 15332) and that the “unusual circumstances” exception precluded the City’s use of the exemption.
In a published opinion filed October 21, 2021, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order finding the real party developers of a UC Berkeley campus development project – undertaken for the University’s benefit, and in which it had a strong vested interest – were necessary parties, but were not indispensable parties to a CEQA action challenging the project EIR under the factors of the Code of Civil Procedure (“CCP”) § 389(b). While the action was thus properly dismissed as against those real parties upon their demurrers due to plaintiff’s failure to join them within CEQA’s 30-day limitations period, it was not required to be dismissed in its entirety and could continue to final adjudication among the remaining parties. Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods v. The Regents of the University of California (Collegiate Housing Foundation, American Campus Communities, et al, Real Parties in Interest) (2021) 70 Cal.App.5th 705.
Continue Reading A Teaching Moment? First District Affirms CEQA Action Demurrer Order Finding Late-Joined Developers of UC Berkeley Campus Project Were Necessary, But Not Indispensable, Real Parties In Interest
On November 18, 2021, the publishers of the California Land Use Law & Policy Reporter and sponsoring law firms (including Miller Starr Regalia) will present, in an online format, the Seventh Annual California Land Use Law Policy Conference. The one-day program will cover numerous topics including recent housing legislation, environmental justice, tribal consultation, the Surplus Land Act, and, of course, a number of CEQA-related issues and topics. I’ll be speaking on recent themes in the CEQA case law. More details on program content, faculty and registration can be found here. Hope you can join!
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) 70 Cal.App.5th 51. 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).
In an opinion filed on August 24, and certified for partial publication on September 22, 2021, the Third District Court of Appeal reversed a judgment upholding Placer County’s EIR for a 94-acre resort development project in the Olympic (formerly Squaw) Valley area – site of the 1960 Winter Olympics near the iconic Lake Tahoe. Sierra Watch v. County of Placer (Squaw Valley Real Estate, LLC, Real Party in Interest) (2021) 69 Cal.App.5th 1. The published portions of the 51-page opinion found faults in the EIR’s description of the environmental setting and related water and air quality impact analyses, and errors in its analysis and mitigation of construction noise impacts. Nearly half of the opinion remained unpublished; those portions of it (1) upheld the EIR’s climate change analysis (rejecting appellant Sierra Watch’s arguments challenging it as meritless, moot, or forfeited), (2) upheld most of the EIR’s wildfire impacts analysis (finding merit in one of appellant’s eight arguments, relating to underestimation of evacuation times), and (3) held the EIR’s traffic impacts analysis improperly relied on deferred mitigation. (The unpublished portions of the opinion will not be discussed further in this post.)
Continue Reading Let’s Get Regional: Third District Holds Olympic Valley Resort Project EIR’s Environmental Setting Description and Analysis Violated CEQA’s Requirement To Place Special Emphasis On Unique Regional Environmental Resources By Failing To Sufficiently Consider Lake Tahoe
Against the backdrop of another severe drought, water supply and impact issues continue to be points of contention for water agencies, water users, conservation groups, and the state. And, of course, litigation over water is not limited to water rights and usage, but extends to related environmental review under CEQA. On September 22, 2021, the Third District Court of Appeal issued a published opinion in Central Delta Water Agency v. Department of Water Resources (2021) 69 Cal.App.5th 170, disposing of several consolidated cases and analyzing operation of the state’s massive State Water Project (SWP) through a CEQA lens. While the case does not break any new legal ground, it applies well-recognized CEQA principles to a lengthy and complex fact pattern involving multiple rounds of lengthy litigation, settlement, and EIR preparation.