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a subsequent EIR and its statement of overriding considerations were both supported by substantial evidence and (in an unpublished portion of its opinion not further discussed here) that County’s approval did not violate its own general plan.Continue Reading Sixth District Reverses Writ,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
On September 7, 2023, Governor Newsom signed into law AB 1307, urgency legislation which took effect immediately and added to the Public Resources Code a new Section 21085, which reads: “For purposes of this division, for residential projects, the effects of noise generated by project occupants and their guests on human beings is not a significant effect on the environment.”Continue Reading Recent Legislation Brings Incremental CEQA Reform
“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
In a published opinion filed March 2, 2023, the Fifth District Court of Appeal held that where no governmental approvals were required, an investor-owned public utility was not required to comply with CEQA prior to exercising its eminent domain power by filing an action to condemn a maintenance/access easement in connection with its existing electrical power transmission facilities located on and traversing private property. Robinson v. Superior Court of Kern County (5th Dist. 2023) 88 Cal.App.5th 1144. While most of the opinion involved eminent domain issues irrelevant to this blog, the pertinent issue here is a simple definitional one: CEQA applies only to “discretionary projects proposed to be carried out or approved by public agencies” (Pub. Resources Code, § 21080(a)), and CEQA’s definition of “public agency” includes only state agencies, boards and commissions, and local and regional agencies. (Pub. Resources Code, § 21063; CEQA Guidelines, § 15379.)Continue Reading CEQA Does Not Apply To Investor-Owned Public Utility’s Exercise Of Power Of Eminent Domain To Acquire Electric Facilities Maintenance Easement
The First District Court of Appeal filed on June 30, and later ordered published on July 26, 2022, its opinion in County of Mono v. City of Los Angeles (1st Dist. No. A162590) 81 Cal.App.5th 657. The case involves another round in the long-running controversies surrounding Los Angeles’s efforts to secure water for its populace. As the City now owns substantial acreage in the Sierra Nevada from which it takes much of its water, it serves both as landlord and water user in that region. The overlap of those two roles gave rise to the County of Mono case, in which the County sought to use CEQA litigation as leverage over the City’s water allocations to agricultural users who lease property from the City. The case holds that the City’s water allocations to the City’s agricultural lessees were authorized under its existing 2010 leases and thus did not constitute a new project subject to CEQA review before they could be lawfully implemented. The case provides guidance to practitioners on when and how CEQA applies to public contracts, and also regarding the appropriate contents of the administrative record in CEQA litigation challenging staff level actions implementing existing leases. Entitlement and litigation attorneys should accordingly both find it a useful case to review.
Continue Reading First District Holds LA’s Water Allocations To Agricultural Lessees Were Authorized Under Existing Leases And Did Not Constitute Or Implement A Separate “Project” Subject to CEQA Review
In an opinion originally filed on February 23, and later modified and ordered published on March 22, 2022, the Second District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment invalidating the Kern Water Bank Authority’s (“KWBA”) EIR and approval of its own project to divert unappropriated Kern River waters in certain wet years to recharge its Kern Water Bank (“KWB”). Buena Vista Water Storage District v. Kern Water Bank Authority (2022) 76 Cal.App.5th 576. In upholding KWBA’s EIR and reinstating its project approval, the Court addressed CEQA project description, baseline, and impact analysis issues in the context of a water diversion and recharge project involving excess flood waters from the not-fully-appropriated Kern River.
Continue Reading Second District Upholds EIR for Kern Water Bank Recharge Project Involving Diversion of Unappropriated Kern River Water In Certain Wet Years; Rejects CEQA Claims Alleging Inconsistent Project Description, Inaccurate Environmental Setting, And Inadequate Water Supply Impacts Analysis
In an opinion filed on December 29, 2021, and later ordered published on January 25, 2022, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 4) affirmed a judgment upholding the City of Newark’s (City) use of Government Code § 65457’s CEQA exemption for a 469-lot residential subdivision on land adjacent to San Francisco Bay. Plaintiffs unsuccessfully challenged the City’s 2019 subdivision map approval based on the claim that a subsequent EIR was required due to changes in the project and circumstances allegedly showing it would have new significant impacts on the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse (“harvest mouse”) and its wetlands habitat. Citizens’ Committee to Complete the Refuge, et al. v. City of Newark et al., (SI XVII, LLC, et al, Real Parties in Interest) (2021) 74 Cal.App.5th 460.
Continue Reading First District Affirms Judgment Upholding Statutory CEQA Exemption For Housing Project Consistent With EIR-Reviewed Specific Plan, Rejects Claims That Changes In Project Or Circumstances Required Subsequent EIR
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
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 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