In a 51-page published opinion filed January 5, 2024, and resolving consolidated appeals, the Third District Court of Appeal rejected baseline, piecemealing/segmentation, impact analysis, project description, alternatives analysis, and failure-to-recirculate challenges to the EIR for the Department of Water Resources’ (“DWR”) approval of amendments to long-term water supply contracts with local government agencies receiving water through the State Water Project (“SWP”). The amendments extended the contracts, which were originally entered into in the 1960s for 75-year terms, so as to end in the year 2085, and made other amendments to their financial provisions. In the course of affirming the trial court’s judgment upholding the EIR and contract amendments against CEQA, Delta Reform Act, public trust doctrine, and other challenges, the Court of Appeal applied numerous well-established CEQA principles in the enormously significant and complex context of continuing long-term SWP contracts. Planning and Conservation League, et al v. Department of Water Resources, et al, etc. (2024) 98 Cal.App.5th 726 (Ct. App. Nos. C096304, C096316, C096384).Continue Reading Third District Rejects CEQA and Other Challenges to Department of Water Resources’ EIR for Amendments Extending Long-Term State Water Project Supply Contracts Through 2085
In an opinion originally filed on September 8, and subsequently modified and certified for partial publication on October 4, 2023, the Sixth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment granting a writ setting aside Monterey County’s issuance of a permit to investor-owned public utility/water supplier California-American Water Company (“Cal-Am”) to construct a desalination plant and related facilities needed as one component of Cal-Am’s Water Supply Project. Marina Coast Water District v. County of Monterey (California-American Water Company, Real Party in Interest) (2023) 96 Cal.App.5th 46. On Cal-Am’s appeal, the Court held the trial court erred in finding the County’s statement of overriding considerations prejudicially inadequate for not addressing the uncertainty created by the City of Marina’s (“City”) denial of a coastal development permit (“CDP”) – later granted with conditions by the Coastal Commission on appeal – for the drilling of intake wells in coastal zone aquifers to supply the plant. On project opponent Marina Coast Water District’s (“MCWD”) cross-appeal, the Court held that County’s decision not to require a subsequent EIR and its statement of overriding considerations were both supported by substantial evidence and (in an unpublished portion of its opinion not further discussed here) that County’s approval did not violate its own general plan.Continue Reading Sixth District Reverses Writ, Upholds Responsible Agency Monterey County’s Approval of Desalination Plant In Reliance on CPUC’s EIR For Multi-Component, Cross-Jurisdictional Water Supply Project; Court Rejects CEQA Challenges Based On County’s Decision Not to Prepare Subsequent EIR and Allegedly Inadequate Statement of Overriding Considerations
“I fought the law and the law won” – The Crickets
In an opinion filed July 19, and later ordered published on August 16, 2023, the Second District Court of Appeal (Div. 6) reversed the trial court’s grant of a preliminary injunction in a CEQA action enjoining the Santa Barbara County Road Commissioner from enforcing public laws by removing unpermitted encroachments from a public right-of-way. Christopher Anderson, et al. v. County of Santa Barbara, et al. (2023) 94 Cal.App.5th 554. The public officer’s law enforcement actions were held to be exempt from CEQA; to have independent utility apart from any alleged larger, “piecemealed” project evading CEQA review; and not to be subject to the “unusual circumstances” exception to applicable categorical exemptions. While the Court was careful to fully analyze all of petitioners’ CEQA arguments, its opinion also offered numerous other reasons why the trial court erred and exceeded its lawful authority under applicable legal principles in issuing the preliminary injunction.Continue Reading Second District Reverses Preliminary Injunction, Holds CEQA Cannot Trump Santa Barbara County’s Authority To Remove Unpermitted Encroachments Placed In Public Right-Of-Way By Adjacent Landowners
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
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 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).
Continue Reading Fourth District Addresses Numerous Significant CEQA Issues In Action Challenging City of San Diego’s Utility Undergrounding Projects
In a published decision filed August 17, 2021, the Fifth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment directing issuance of a writ of mandate ordering Inyo County to vacate three resolutions of necessity that authorized its condemnation of three Owens Valley landfill properties, including appurtenant water rights, owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). Los Angeles Dept. of Water & Power v. County of Inyo (2021) 67 Cal.App.5th 1018. The County operates three landfills on the properties pursuant to leases from LADWP. In the published part of the opinion, the Court of Appeal held that CEQA’s issue exhaustion requirement did not apply to LADWP’s challenge to the County’s exemption determinations because the County failed to provide adequate notice of them, thus depriving LADWP of an opportunity to be heard on the issue. As a matter of law, the Court also held the County improperly relied on the existing facilities exemption for the project.
Continue Reading Fifth District Holds Issue Exhaustion Not Required Where Agency Gave No Notice of Intent To Rely On CEQA Exemption Prior to Hearing, And Existing Facilities Categorical Exemption Does Not Apply to Unlined Landfills As A Matter of Law
In a lengthy opinion filed April 8, and ordered published on May 7, 2021, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment rejecting a number of CEQA challenges to the California State Land Commission’s (Lands Commission) supplemental EIR for and related approval of a lease modification to facilitate a desalination plant in Huntington Beach. California Coastkeeper Alliance v. State Lands Commission (Poseidon Resources (Surfside) LLC, Real Party in Interest) (2021) 64 Cal.App.5th 36. In holding that the Commission properly elected to prepare a supplemental (rather than subsequent) EIR, did not err in refusing to assume lead agency status, and did not unlawfully piecemeal environmental review, the Court provided guidance on a number of significant CEQA issues.
Continue Reading Third District Affirms Judgment Upholding State Lands Commission’s Supplemental EIR For Desalination Plant Lease Modification, Rejects CEQA Claims That Commission Piecemealed Review And Should Have Assumed Lead Agency Status And Prepared A Subsequent EIR
“The more I know, the less I understand/All the things I thought I’d figured out, I have to learn again” – Don Henley, “The Heart of the Matter”
One of CEQA’s bedrock principles is that environmental review must precede project approval. (E.g., POET, LLC v. California Air Resources Board (2013) 217 Cal.App.4th 1214; CEQA Guidelines, § 15004(a).) To reverse the order and “put the cart before the horse” would be anathema, i.e., to sanction uninformed and undemocratic lead agency decision making, and to encourage irretrievable commitments of resources and post-hoc rationalizations that foreclose mitigations and alternatives and sweep environmental considerations under the rug. Right? Well … maybe not. In the area of State Water Resources Control Board (“SWRCB” or the “State Board”) water quality certifications (“WQCs”) under the Federal Clean Water Act (“CWA”; 33 U.S.C § 1251 et seq), this bedrock principle appears to have been watered down, and it may be significantly eroding under pressure from a preemptive federal law deadline.Continue Reading Must CEQA Compliance Precede Project Approval? When State Water Board Water Quality Certifications Are Involved, The Answer Is As “Clear as Mud”
In a published opinion filed December 29, 2020, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment denying a petition for writ of mandate filed by the Santa Clara Valley Water District (District) challenging waste discharge requirements (WDRs) belatedly imposed by a responsible agency, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (Board), on lead agency District’s flood control project. Santa Clara Valley Water District v. San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (2020) 59 Cal.App.5th 199. The case involved highly unique facts, and a number of interesting legal issues concerning the Board’s authority under the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA), the state Porter-Cologne Act, and CEQA.
Continue Reading Can a Responsible Agency Get A Second Bite At The CEQA Apple? First District Says “Sometimes, Yes,” Upholds Regional Water Board’s Imposition of Additional Mitigation On Flood Control Project Through “Independent” Porter-Cologne Act Authority Exercised Subsequent To Grant Of CWA § 401 Water Quality Certification Based On Lead Agency’s Unchallenged Final EIR