In an opinion in a much-publicized case, filed December 28, 2022, and later ordered published on January 26, 2023, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 3), upheld the City of Livermore’s (“City”) approval of a 130-unit affordable housing project on a downtown infill site and its accompanying determination that the project was CEQA-exempt under Government Code section 65457 (“Section 65457”). (Save Livermore Downtown v. City of Livermore (2023) 87 Cal.App.5th 1116 (“SLD”).) The important opinion was ordered published based on requests submitted by City, Attorney General Rob Bonta, YIMBY, and the California Building Industry Association.Continue Reading First District Upholds Use of Government Code Section 65457 CEQA Exemption For Downtown Livermore Affordable Housing Project, Roundly Rejects Meritless Arguments of NIMBY Opposition
The 2021-2022 Legislative Session was light on CEQA amendments, and once again did not produce any significant reform. We saw a continued focus on incentivizing affordable and infill developments on the condition that the project pay prevailing wages (AB 2011), reducing barriers for specified sustainable transit projects (SB 922), and amendments akin to “pet project exemptions” that are targeted to solving a narrower set of concerns (SB 118 and SB 886). None of the amendments, however, more broadly limit CEQA’s reach.Continue Reading Recap of 2023 CEQA Amendments Now In Effect
While CEQA is a complicated area of law, often criticized as a “plaintiff’s sandbox,” CEQA litigation is not a “free-for-all” immune from malicious prosecution actions when it is unsuccessfully pursued with malice and without probable cause. Such is the teaching of the First District Court of Appeal’s December 28, 2022 published opinion in Charles Jenkins et al v. Susan Brandt-Hawley et al (1st Dist., Div. 2, 2022) 86 Cal.App.5th 1357, which affirmed the trial court’s order denying an anti-SLAPP motion and allowing a malicious prosecution action to proceed against a prominent CEQA attorney and her law firm.Continue Reading When CEQA Litigation Turns Tortious: First District Affirms Order Denying Anti-SLAPP Motion, Allows Malicious Prosecution Action To Proceed Against Counsel Who Brought Unsuccessful CEQA Challenge To Single-Home Project
In an opinion filed on November 14, and later certified for publication on December 13, 2022, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 3) affirmed a Sonoma County Superior Court judgment upholding the EIR for a 180-unit apartment complex proposed on a 15.45-acre parcel of vacant land along the Petaluma River. Save North Petaluma River and Wetlands v. City of Petaluma (J. Cyril Johnson Investment Company, Real Party in Interest) (2022) ___ Cal.App.5th ___. The issues considered on appeal involved the adequacy of the EIR’s environmental “baseline” for its analysis of potential special status species impacts and the adequacy of its analysis of alleged public safety/emergency evacuation impacts.
Continue Reading First District Rejects CEQA Challenges To EIR For Petaluma River Apartment Project, Upholds Special Status Species Baseline And Public Safety/Emergency Access Impacts Analyses As Supported By Substantial Evidence
A 10-page article by Holland & Knight’s Jennifer Hernandez, published this month by the Center for Jobs & the Economy/California Business Roundtable, documents that CEQA litigation targeted nearly 50,000 housing units – approximately half the state’s total annual housing production – in 2020 alone. While Holland & Knight’s analysis of 2019-2021 CEQA lawsuit data is ongoing, the article’s “interim report”, which can be read here, states there is no expectation of change in the magnitude of anti-housing CEQA actions, which most frequently allege violations relating to analysis of climate change related impacts, i.e., GHGs and VMT.
Continue Reading CEQA vs. Housing: A Very Wrong Picture
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) 78 Cal.App.5th 700. 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) 75 Cal.App.5th 239. 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