“It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Yogi Berra and Lenny Kravitz

In a unanimous opinion filed on June 6, 2024, the California Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the First District Court of Appeal in the controversial “People’s Park” case, thus upholding the Regents’ 2021 Long-Range Development Plan (LRDP) EIR and clearing the legal path for UC Berkeley’s residential development at the People’s Park site.  Make UC A Good Neighbor v. Regents of University of California (2024) ____ Cal.5th ____.  (My prior posts on the Court of Appeal’s decision and the Supreme Court’s grant of review in this case can be found here (3/3/23 post) and here (5/21/23 post).)Continue Reading Supreme Court Holds Legislature’s Case-Driven CEQA Amendments Require Judgment Upholding UC Berkeley’s 2021 Long-Range Development Plan EIR and People’s Park Housing Project Against Claims of Failures to Analyze Student “Social Noise” and Alternative Locations

In an important published opinion filed February 16, 2024, the Fourth District Court of Appeal (Div. 1) held the San Diego County Board of Supervisors committed a prejudicial abuse of discretion in granting project opponents’ appeals of the Planning Commission’s decision upholding County’s use of the CEQA Guidelines section 15183 exemption for a construction debris and inert materials recycling facility project.  Hilltop Group, Inc., et al v. County of San Diego, et al. (2024) 99 Cal.App.5th 890.  The decision is noteworthy not just as the newest in a series of recent published decisions explicating the application of this important CEQA exemption, but because it sides with and grants a writ remedy to a project developer plaintiff that ultimately prevailed in litigation alleging a lead agency overstepped its legal authority by ordering preparation of an unnecessary EIR for an exempt project.Continue Reading CEQA Remedies Go Both Ways:  Fourth District Reverses Judgment Upholding San Diego County Board’s Decision Granting Project Opponents’ Administrative Appeal, Holds Board Erred In Finding CEQA Guidelines Section 15183 Statutory Exemption Inapplicable And Ordering EIR Prepared for Exempt Industrial Project

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

On July 10, 2023, Governor Newsom signed into law a number of bills aimed at streamlining and accelerating the construction of critical infrastructure projects needed to achieve California’s ambitious climate and clean energy goals. Among the many bills was SB No. 149, CEQA legislation that amended Public Resources Code §§ 21167.6, 21181, 21183, 21189.1, and 21189.3; added Chapter 7 (commencing with § 21189.80); and became effective immediately as an urgency measure “[t]o promote environmental protection and safeguard economic development of California’s diverse public resources and people, and enhance the state’s ability to maximize federal funding to support those efforts[.]”  The full text of SB 149 can be found here.Continue Reading Governor Signs Infrastructure/Budget Legislation Including Significant Revisions To CEQA (SB 149)

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

On March 22, 2023, the California Supreme Court granted the City of San Francisco’s stand-alone depublication request in (and declined to review on its own motion) the First District Court of Appeal’s (Div. 4) decision in Saint Ignatius Neighborhood Association v. City and County of San Francisco.  The depublished opinion reversed a trial court decision that upheld the City’s use of CEQA Guidelines Class 1 (existing facilities) and 3 (small structures) categorical exemptions for a high school athletic stadium project involving the installation of four 90-foot tall light standards to significantly expand nighttime stadium use.  Officially, the Supreme Court’s depublication order is not to be construed as expressing any opinion on the merits, and the Court of Appeal’s decision remains fully binding on the parties but cannot be cited as precedent.  My 12/7/22 post on the case can be found here. Continue Reading CEQA Updates: Supreme Court Depublishes High School Stadium Light Standard Exemption Case; Second District Modifies Pacific Palisades Opinion With No Change In Judgment

In a published opinion filed March 8, 2023, the Second District Court of Appeal (Division 8) affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying writ relief in a lawsuit challenging approval of a CEQA-exempt eldercare facility project in Pacific Palisades, an oceanside area of the City of Los Angeles.  Pacific Palisades Residents Association, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles (Rony Shram, et al, Real Parties in Interest) (2023) 88 Cal.App.5th 1338.   The decision capped almost six years of “vociferous” NIMBY opposition to a much-needed project – an opposition that failed on its merits at every governmental and judicial level of review to which it was taken, yet relentlessly continued nonetheless.Continue Reading Another Call for CEQA Litigation Reform?  Second District Rejects NIMBY Group’s CEQA, Coastal Act, and Land Use Challenges, Affirms Judgment Upholding Approval of Zoning-Compliant And CEQA-Exempt Eldercare Facility On Flat, Graded, Vacant One-Acre Infill Site Surrounded By Residential and Commercial Development

In a published decision filed February 16, 2023, the Second District Court of Appeal (Division 7) affirmed a judgment denying a CEQA writ petition challenging approval of a single-family home expansion project because the petitioner group failed to exhaust administrative remedies.  Arcadians for Environmental Preservation v. City of Arcadia (Julie Wu, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2023) 88 Cal.App.5th 418.  The Court held that the generalized and unelaborated objections, made by a member of petitioner in the City’s administrative proceedings, to the City’s Class 1 categorical exemption determination for the project failed to fairly apprise the City of petitioner’s specific objections so as to preserve them for litigation.Continue Reading Neighbor-Led Group Opposing Single-Family Home Expansion Project Failed To Exhaust Administrative Remedies By Making Sufficiently Specific Objections To City’s CEQA Class 1 Categorical Exemption Determination