Miller Starr Regalia’s developer clients are always keenly interested in efficient and defensible CEQA compliance, which entails effective utilization of legislative and regulatory exemptions and streamlining options where the same are available for particular projects. My partner, Carolyn Nelson Rowan, the incoming Editor-in-Chief of the Miller & Starr California Real Estate 4th treatise, and I took a detailed look at recent judicial application of the statutory CEQA exemption implemented by CEQA Guidelines §15183, which can provide either a complete exemption or streamlining benefits for projects consistent with the development density/intensity established by existing community plans or zoning policies reviewed by a prior EIR. Our article on the same, “Hilltop Group, Inc. v. County of San Diego: Throwing a Judicial Monkey Wrench Into the Spin Cycle of Local Agency CEQA Laundering?” was published in the May 2024 issue of the Miller & Starr Real Estate Newsalert, and can be found here.Continue Reading Recent Judicial Developments in CEQA Exemptions and Streamlining

In a partially published opinion filed March 29, 2024, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 4) rejected contentions that the pre-judgment completion of construction of a shooting range mooted a CEQA challenge to the project; it held an effective remedy in the form of various mitigation measures alleged in the CEQA petition remained available and reversed the trial court’s judgment entered in favor of respondents and real party after sustaining their demurrers and granting their motions to strike and for judgment on the pleadings.  In addition to applying established mootness principles, the Court resolved a number of other issues in holding petitioner Vichy Springs Resort, Inc. (“Vichy”) had sufficiently alleged a CEQA claim at the pleadings stage against both the City of Ukiah (“City”) and the County of Mendocino (“County”) in a unique factual and legal context presenting novel issues of land use regulatory authority and intergovernmental immunity.  Vichy Springs Resort, Inc. v. City of Ukiah, et al. (Ukiah Rifle and Pistol Club, Inc., Real Party in Interest) (2024) 101 Cal.App.5th 46.Continue Reading First District Holds CEQA Challenge To Shooting Range Project On City-Owned Land In Unincorporated County Was Not Mooted By Project’s Construction During Trial Court Proceedings Despite Petitioner’s Failure To Seek Preliminary Injunction

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

“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 August 14, 2023, the Third District Court of Appeal reversed a judgment that denied a petition for writ of mandate challenging the State Department of Public Health’s (Department) approval of Real Party in Interest Harm Reduction Coalition of Santa Cruz County’s (real party) needle exchange program.  Grant Park Neighborhood Association Advocates v. Department of Public Health, et al. (2023) 94 Cal.App.5th 478.  In ordering a writ to issue to set aside the approval, the Court of Appeal agreed with petitioner and appellant Grant Park’s first three arguments based on the Department’s prejudicial violations of Health and Safety Code § 121349’s required procedures; it declined to reach appellant’s separate CEQA argument seeking the same relief, however, since it had already granted all requested relief under the other statutory provisions.  However – and as most relevant to this blog – the Court also noted that following the trial court’s judgment the Legislature enacted a 2021 statutory amendment exempting the Department’s approval of needle exchange operations from CEQA.Continue Reading Third District Declines To Reach CEQA Exemption Claim In Reversing On Other Grounds Judgment Upholding State Department of Public Health’s Approval of Santa Cruz County Needle Exchange Program But Notes New Statutory CEQA Exemption Now Exists

In an opinion filed July 19, and ordered published on August 9, 2023, the Fourth District Court of Appeal (Div. 1) reversed a trial court order denying the City of San Diego’s (City) request to discharge a peremptory writ of mandate issued under CEQA that ordered the City to set aside three resolutions approving a set of neighborhood utility wire undergrounding projects.  Because the writ did nothing more than order the approvals set aside, and the City’s return demonstrated full compliance with that CEQA mandate, the trial court exceeded its jurisdiction and abused its discretion in retaining continuing jurisdiction and failing to discharge the writ.  McCann v. City of San Diego (2023) 94 Cal.App.5th 284 (“McCann II”). Continue Reading CEQA Writ Simple: Fourth District Holds Trial Court Erred In Retaining Continuing Jurisdiction And Not Discharging Peremptory Writ That Ordered Only Set Aside Remedy Where Lead Agency’s Return Demonstrated Full Compliance

On January 25, 2023, the California Supreme Court extended to March 3, 2023 its time to grant or deny review of the Second District Court of Appeal’s published opinion in G.I. Industries v. City of Thousand Oaks (2022) 84 Cal.App.5th 814.  My October 31, 2022 post on the Court of Appeal’s opinion, and my follow-up December 5, 2022 post on its modified opinion on denial of rehearing can be found here and here.Continue Reading Supreme Court Extends Time To Decide Petitions For Review In Brown Act/CEQA Exemption Case; Sonoma County Files Depublication Request And Cal Cities Files Amicus Letter Urging Review

In an opinion on rehearing filed January 18, 2023, the Third District Court of Appeal reissued its previous published opinion in the Save Our Capitol! case (my January 2, 2023 post on which can be found here) with the addition of a few pages of discussion addressing “Relief” inserted at the end of the majority opinion just before its “Disposition.” Continue Reading Third District Adds Brief CEQA Severance Analysis After Rehearing In Save Our Capitol! Case, Limits Its Relief To Allow Capitol Annex Demolition To Go Forward

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

On December 5, 2022, the real party in interest (Arakelian Enterprises, Inc. dba Athens Services) and respondent City of Thousand Oaks both filed petitions for review in the California Supreme Court in G.I. Industries v. City of Thousand Oaks (2022) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.  (My recent post on the Second District Court of Appeal’s modified opinion order, which contains a link to my original post on the case, can be found here.)
Continue Reading Petitions for Review Filed In Brown Act/CEQA Exemption Case