In a partially published (but mostly unpublished) opinion filed on March 7, 2024, the Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment and writ-discharge order which had upheld Kern County’s most recently revised “streamlined permitting” ordinance for oil and gas wells and its associated CEQA review.  V Lions Farming, LLC v. County of Kern, et al. (California Independent Petroleum Association, et al., Real Parties) (2024) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.  The Court of Appeal instead directed entry of a judgment and writ setting aside the County’s revised ordinance and related certification of a revised supplemental recirculated EIR (SREIR) and addendum.  It held (in unpublished portions of its opinion) that the SREIR’s discussion of cancer risk from the potential drilling of multiple wells near a sensitive receptor was informationally deficient, and that the County also erred in analyzing the significance of lowering groundwater levels in wells by misconstruing CEQA to prohibit consideration of the social and economic impacts on disadvantaged communities in making that significance determination.  (These and other unpublished portions of the opinion will not be discussed in any further detail in this post.)Continue Reading Fifth District Clarifies That Agricultural Conservation Easements (ACE’s) Qualify As Legally Permissible “Compensatory Mitigation” For Agricultural-Land Conversion Impacts Under CEQA Despite Not Ensuring No Net Loss

In a published opinion filed November 13, 2023, disposing of consolidated appeals, the Second District Court of Appeal (Div. 6) affirmed judgments denying writ petitions that sought to invalidate a Ventura County ordinance. The ordinance at issue created wildlife migration corridor overlay zones covering approximately 163,000 less-developed acres of the County, including 10,000 acres of classified mineral resources.  California Construction and Industrial Materials Association/Ventura County Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business v. County of Ventura (Los Padres Forestwatch, et al., Interveners and Respondents) (2023) 97 Cal.App.5th 1. As did the trial court, the Court of Appeal rejected the arguments of appellants – which were coalition groups representing construction, industry, labor, agriculture and business interests – that County’s adoption of the ordinance violated requirements of the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act of 1975 (“SMARA”) and CEQA.Continue Reading Second District Holds Ventura County’s Adoption of Ordinance Creating Wildlife Migration Corridor Overlay Zones In County’s Rural Areas Did Not Violate SMARA And Was Properly Determined Categorically Exempt From CEQA

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)

In a published opinion filed June 9, 2023, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 3) reversed the trial court’s judgment granting a writ of mandate in consolidated CEQA actions and upheld the adequacy of the UC Regents’ EIR for vegetation removal actions planned to occur within about 800 acres of hilly, forested and fire-prone land on UC Berkeley’s Hill Campus.  The Claremont Canyon Conservancy v. The Regents of the University of California/Hills Conservation Network v. Carol T. Christ (2023) 92 Cal.App.5th 474. Continue Reading Missing the Forest For the Trees: First District Reverses Trial Court, Upholds Project Description And Impact Analysis In Regents’ EIR For Vegetation Removal Projects To Reduce Wildfire Risk At UC Berkeley Hills Campus

In a March 27, 2023 post found here, we wrote about the Second District Court of Appeal’s (Div. 1) decision concerning the Water Code section 13389 CEQA exemption for Regional Water Quality Control Board (“RWQCB”) issuance of waste discharge permits, formerly published as Los Angeles Waterkeeper v. State Water Resources Control Board (2023) 88 Cal.App.5th 874.  After the Regional Board and State Board filed a request for modification of that opinion to clarify certain issues, the Court of Appeal vacated it, ordered rehearing, considered supplemental briefing, and filed a new, superseding published opinion in the case on June 2, 2023.Continue Reading Second District “Waters Down” Los Angeles Waterkeeper Waste Discharge Permit CEQA Exemption Opinion After Rehearing At Request Of Water Boards, Narrows And Clarifies Holding With No Change In Judgment Or Result

On April 7, 2023, the Third District Court of Appeal filed a lengthy published opinion – the latest installment in one of the longer ongoing CEQA battles in recent memory – affirming a judgment finding an EIR for the Federal relicensing of Oroville Dam and related hydropower facilities legally adequate.  County of Butte and County of Plumas, et al v. Dept. of Water Resources  (2023) 90 Cal.App.5th 147.Continue Reading That Dam Case (Again):  Third District Upholds Oroville Hydropower Facilities Relicensing EIR Against Numerous CEQA Challenges

On February 27, 2023, the Second District Court of Appeal (Division One) filed its published decision in Los Angeles Waterkeeper v. State Water Resources Control Board (2023) 88 Cal.App.5th 874, a case mainly focused on water law but which also has some significant CEQA implications.  Briefly put, the petitioner in Los Angeles Waterkeeper attempted to bypass a statutory limitation on CEQA review through an action that would, if successful, have resulted in the imposition of additional substantive and procedural environmental review requirements on certain projects for which no EIR is required. As explained below, the Second District rejected this invitation to expand CEQA’s reach.Continue Reading Second District Affirms Judgment Upholding Water Code CEQA Exemption, Rejects Plaintiff’s Attempt To Extend CEQA Review And Findings Requirements To Regional Water Board’s Approval Of Waste Discharge Permits

On July 13, 2022, the California Supreme Court denied numerous depublication requests with respect to, and declined to review on its own motion, the First District Court of Appeal’s decision in Save the Hill Group v. City of Livermore (2022) 76 Cal.App.5th 1092, S. Ct. Case No. S274754; Ct. App. Case No. A161573.  My May 26, 2022 post on the League of Cities’ and CSAC’s depublication requests, which were shortly thereafter followed by further depublication requests by Respondent City of Livermore and the California Building Industry Association, can be found here, and my April 4, 2022 post analyzing the Court of Appeal’s opinion which can be found here.
Continue Reading California Supreme Court Denies Depublication Requests In Livermore CEQA Case Addressing “No Project” Alternative

On May 25, 2022, the League of California Cities (“League”) and California State Association of Counties (“CSAC”) filed a 10-page letter with the California Supreme Court requesting it to depublish the First District Court of Appeal’s recent decision in Save the Hill Group v. City of Livermore, Case No. A161573 (my April 4, 2022 post on which can be found here).
Continue Reading League of California Cities and CSAC File Request for Depublication of First District Decision Addressing Sufficiency of CEQA-Mandated “No Project” Alternative In Housing Project EIR

In a published decision filed March 30, 2022, the First District Court of Appeal (Division 5) reversed a trial court judgment upholding the reissued final environmental impact report (“RFEIR”) for a 44-single family residence project on a unique, species- and habitat- rich 32-acre site in the City of Livermore’s Garaventa Hills area.  Save the Hill Group v. City of Livermore (Lafferty Communities, Inc., Real Party in Interest) (2022) 76 Cal.App.5th 1092. Both the trial court and Court of Appeal agreed that the RFEIR’s analysis of the “no project” alternative was substantively inadequate, because it lacked information about the feasibility of purchase and preservation options that was necessary for the City Council to make an informed, reasoned decision, but the Court of Appeal disagreed with the trial court’s conclusion that Petitioner/Appellant Save the Hill’s failure to exhaust on this issue barred judicial consideration of it.  The Court of Appeal rejected Appellant’s remaining arguments that the RFEIR’s analysis and mitigation of the project’s vernal pool fairy shrimp (“VPFS”) and wetlands impacts were inadequate, and that its identified compensatory mitigation for permanent sensitive habitat loss was inadequate.  (In a brief concluding portion of the opinion that won’t be further discussed here, the Court also held Appellant had forfeited and lacked standing to raise the issue of City’s alleged mitigation obligations under two prior settlement agreements to which Appellant was not a party.)
Continue Reading First District Holds EIR’s Analysis of “No Project” Alternative To City of Livermore Residential Development Violated CEQA By Failing To Discuss Feasibility Of Purchasing And Preserving Habitat-Rich Garaventa Hills Project Site, Also Addresses Significant Issues Involving Exhaustion Doctrine And Adequacy of Mitigation