On March 7, 2022, the Second District Court of Appeal (Div. 4) filed its published opinion in Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters, et al. v. City of Los Angeles, et al (The Icon at Panorama, LLC, Real Party in Interest) (2022) 76 Cal.App.5th 1154.  In reversing the trial court’s judgment and writ setting aside the approvals and EIR for a mixed-use commercial and residential infill development project, the Court held the Project EIR did not violate CEQA’s requirement of an accurate, stable, and finite project description even though the project itself was revised and ultimately approved with components not matching those of any individual alternative studied in the EIR.  The Court further held that the City’s addition of a fifth alternative to the Final EIR (FEIR) that was not significantly different from its other previously analyzed alternatives did not require recirculation for additional public comment, and that the City’s response to the sanitation department’s comment about local sewer line and sewage treatment plant capacity was adequate.

Continue Reading CEQA Mixed-Use “Mix and Match” Upheld: Second District Holds Stable Project Description Requirement Does Not Mean Ultimately Approved Version of Revised Mixed Use Project Must Match An Alternative Analyzed In EIR, And New Project Alternative Added to FEIR Does Not Require Recirculation

On May 12, 2022, the First District Court of Appeal filed a 108-page published opinion affirming a judgment denying a CEQA writ petition that challenged Marin County’s approval of a 43-lot single-family residential subdivision on a 110-acre parcel atop a mountain overlooking the Town of Tiburon and San Francisco Bay.  Tiburon Open Space Committee v. County of Marin (The Martha Company, Real Party in Interest, and Town of Tiburon, Intervenor and Appellant) (2022) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.  Apart from its factual background of nearly a half-century of intense legal battles over (and effectively blocking) the property’s development – which the Court described as “this woeful record before us” – the decision is notable for its legal analysis of how CEQA applies when a lead agency’s discretion in considering a project for approval is constrained by legal obligations.  While in this case the legal obligations stemmed from stipulated federal court judgments mandating that the County approve a minimum level of development on the property, the Court’s reasoning and holdings that the scope of CEQA adjusts and is limited commensurate with legal limitations on an agency’s discretionary authority will clearly apply to other contexts.  Most obviously, and topically, they plainly will apply to housing development projects when state housing laws impose legal obligations that limit local agencies’ legal authority to disapprove or reduce the density of those projects.  (See, e.g., Gov. Code, § 65589.5 (the “Housing Accountability Act”).)

Continue Reading “This Woeful Record”: First District Affirms Judgment Rejecting CEQA Challenges To Marin County’s Approval of 43-Home Mountaintop Subdivision Opposed For Nearly Five Decades By Neighbors And Town of Tiburon

In an opinion filed January 28, and later certified for publication on February 16, 2022, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment denying a petition for writ of mandate that challenged on CEQA grounds the El Dorado Irrigation District’s (“EID”) decision to undertake its Upper Main Ditch piping project.  Save the El Dorado Canal v. El Dorado Irrigation District, et al. (2022) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.  The challenged water conveyance project would replace about three miles of EID’s open and unlined earthen ditch system with a buried water transmission pipeline in order to conserve water and improve water quality.  Petitioner alleged the EIR’s project description was inadequate because it omitted the material fact that the ditch section to be abandoned as a water conveyance also served as the watershed’s only drainage system, and that the EIR insufficiently analyzed the abandonment’s impacts on hydrology, biological resources, and wildfires.

Continue Reading Third District Rejects CEQA Challenges To El Dorado Irrigation District Ditch Piping Project, Holds EIR’s Project Description And Analysis Of Potential Hydrology, Biological Resources, and Wildfire Impacts Were Adequate

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

Of all the major sports, baseball is the only one that is not played “on the clock.”  So it’s only fitting that the First District recently held the special legislation (AB 734; Pub. Resources Code, § 21168.6.7) enacted to provide fast-track judicial review benefits to the Oakland A’s baseball park/mixed use development project (Howard Terminal Project) likewise had no terminal time limit.  In a published decision filed August 10, 2021, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment rejecting petitioners’ claim that the clock ran out on January 1, 2020 on Governor Newsom’s authority to certify the project as meeting the statute’s qualifying criteria.  Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, et al. v. Gavin C. Newsom, etc., et al. (Oakland Athletics Investment Group, LLC, Real Party in Interest) (2021) 67 Cal.App.5th 711.  The Court held that because AB 734 itself contains no deadline for certification, and the Legislature did not intend to incorporate the January 1, 2020 deadline from the Governor’s AB 900 Guidelines, Governor Newsom’s authority did not expire prior to his exercise of it, meaning that his subsequent February 11, 2021 certification (made shortly after the trial court’s favorable decision) was valid and effective.

Continue Reading First District Holds CEQA Special Legislation For Oakland Howard Terminal Project (AB 734) Did Not Incorporate AB 900 Guidelines’ Deadline For Governor Certification; Governor Newsom’s Certification of Project As Qualifying For Expedited Judicial Review Was Timely

On May 20, 2021, Governor Newsom signed into law Senate Bill No. 7, the “Jobs and Economic Improvement Through Environmental Leadership Act of 20216” (the “Act”), which repealed and added Chapter 6.5 to Division 13 of the Public Resources Code (sections 21178 through 21189.3).  The new Act, which was immediately effective as an “urgency” statute, essentially modifies and reenacts former 2011 legislation that was repealed by its own terms on January 1, 2021.  Like the former leadership act, the new legislation authorizes the Governor, until January 1, 2024, to certify certain “environmental leadership development projects” (“leadership projects”) that meet specified requirements for streamlining benefits related to CEQA.  (Pub. Resources Code, §§ 21180, 21181.)  To qualify for CEQA streamlining benefits under the new Act, the Governor must certify a project as a leadership project before January 1, 2024.  (§ 21181.)

Continue Reading CEQA Urgency Legislation Reenacts Modified Version of Environmental Leadership Act, Adds Certain Housing Development Projects As Eligible For Governor Certification And Streamlining Benefits

In an opinion filed April 23, and later certified for publication on May 13, 2021, the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed in part an order denying an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) motion, and held that a malicious prosecution action could proceed against losing CEQA plaintiffs who had unsuccessfully challenged a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND), but not against their attorneys.  Jan Dunning, et al. v. Kevin K. Johnson, APLC, et al. (4th Dist. 2021) 64 Cal. App. 5th 156. While the merits of the malicious prosecution action have yet to be determined, the Court of Appeal’s ruling that the action could even proceed is itself significant given the daunting hurdle posed by the anti-SLAPP statute, and should give pause to project opponents who think that meritless CEQA litigation lacking probable cause and brought with malice can be pursued without potential consequence.

Continue Reading Is More Litigation the Remedy for Meritless CEQA Litigation? Fourth District Concludes Malicious Prosecution Action Against Losing CEQA Plaintiffs Survives Anti-SLAPP Motion

As we rapidly approach the end of a year of COVID-related challenges and uncertainties, CEQA practitioners may want to review the year’s key legislation impacting CEQA and its application, which was contained in the handful of bills summarized below.

  • AB 168 (Aguilar-Curry). This urgency legislation became effective with the Governor’s signature on September 25, 2020.  It amends Government Code §§ 65400, 65913.4 and 65941.1 to correct an “oversight” in SB 35 (Weiner), namely, that 2017 law’s failure to consider potential destruction of tribal cultural resources as a result of the streamlined, ministerial (and thus CEQA-exempt) approval process it authorized for multifamily housing development projects satisfying specified objective planning standards.  (SB 35 is summarized in detail in my 12/7/17 blog post, which can be found here.)


Continue Reading 2020 CEQA Legislative Developments

“The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., The Common Law (1881)

“CEQA discourse has become increasingly abstract, almost medieval in its scholasticism.” – former California Governor Edmund G. (“Jerry”) Brown, Jr.

by Arthur F. Coon

On November 24, 2020, the Fifth District Court of Appeal filed its partially published opinion in the latest installment of the long-running CEQA litigation over Fresno County’s approval of the Friant Ranch project.  Sierra Club v. County of Fresno (Friant Ranch, L.P., Real Party in Interest) (2020) 57 Cal.App.5th 979.  The litigation involves a 942-acre mixed-use development project (2500 residential units, 250,000 square feet of commercial space, 460 acres of open space) for which the Notice of Preparation (NOP) of the EIR was issued in 2007; it has generated an earlier appellate opinion (see my 6/16/14 post here) and a Supreme Court opinion (see my 12/28/18 post here) addressing important standard of review issues centered on the adequacy of the project EIR’s air quality impacts discussion.

Continue Reading Remedial Legal Logic: Fifth District Doubles Down On Split with Other Districts in Holding CEQA Doesn’t Allow Limited Writ Remedy of Partial EIR Decertification – But Does It Really Matter?

Senator Scott Weiner’s Senate Bill (SB) 288 has passed both houses of the California Legislature, and was enrolled for proofing on September 4, 2020, prior to its delivery to the Governor for signature.  The new law’s prefatory declarations reflect a stated intent to expand and enact CEQA exemptions to reduce the time and cost of delivering transit and sustainable transportation projects in California, and thereby boost the COVID-damaged economy while furthering the State’s environmental goals.

Continue Reading Legislature Enacts SB 288 to Provide New and Expanded CEQA Exemptions for Sustainable Public Transportation Projects