Perhaps foremost among the judicially recognized fundamental constraints on lead agencies’ power to impose various types of mitigation measures on project approvals in the CEQA process is the “doctrine of unconstitutional conditions” explicated in the Nollan/Dolan cases and their progeny.

The CEQA Guidelines explicitly acknowledge applicable constitutional requirements that mitigation measures must have an “essential nexus” to a legitimate government interest, and that those imposed as ad hoc exactions must bear a “rough proportionality” to the project’s adverse impacts.  (14 Cal. Code Regs., § 15126.4(a)(4)(A), (B), citing Nollan v. California Coastal Com’n (1987) 483 U.S. 825, 837; Dolan v. City of Tigard (1994) 512 U.S. 374, 391; Ehrlich v. City of Culver City (1996) 12 Cal.4th 854, 866-877.)

Continue Reading The Limits of CEQA Mitigation – Recent Judicial Applications of Nollan and Dolan

The North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA), a public agency established by state law, contracted with Northwestern Pacific Railroad Company (NWPRC) to allow NWPRC to conduct freight services on tracks controlled by NCRA.  Petitioner groups Friends of The Eel River (FOER) and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CAT) filed mandate petitions under CEQA challenging NCRA’s EIR and approval of the operations.  In affirming the trial court’s judgment denying the petitions, the First District Court of Appeal – in addressing what it termed “an issue of first impression in California” — followed uniform Federal law in holding the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA; 49 U.S.C. § 10101 et. seq.) grants the Surface Transportation Board (STB) exclusive jurisdiction over rail operations and broadly exempts state and local laws that impose “permitting or preclearance requirements (including environmental requirements)” on railroad operations or activities.  Friends of the Eel River v. North Coast Railroad Authority (1st Dist., Div. 5, 2014) ___Cal.App.4th ___, 2014 WL 4809456 (opn. filed 9/29/14).  In so holding that the ICCTA preempted CEQA’s application to a project involving railroad operations and thus barred Petitioners’ actions, the Court rejected Petitioners’ arguments that NCRA and NWPRC were estopped to assert federal preemption as a defense by NCRA’s agreement to conduct CEQA review, their positions in prior proceedings, and/or NCRA’s (later-rescinded) certification of an EIR.

Continue Reading First District Holds CEQA’s Application To Public Agency’s Approval of Railroad Operations Is Preempted By Federal Law Despite Agency’s Agreement To Conduct CEQA Review And Preparation of EIR