Responsible and Trustee Agencies

“The more I know, the less I understand/All the things I thought I’d figured out, I have to learn again” – Don Henley, “The Heart of the Matter”

One of CEQA’s bedrock principles is that environmental review must precede project approval.  (E.g., POET, LLC v. California Air Resources Board (2013) 217 Cal.App.4th 1214; CEQA Guidelines, § 15004(a).)  To reverse the order and “put the cart before the horse” would be anathema, i.e., to sanction uninformed and undemocratic lead agency decision making, and to encourage irretrievable commitments of resources and post-hoc rationalizations that foreclose mitigations and alternatives and sweep environmental considerations under the rug.  Right?  Well …  maybe not.  In the area of State Water Resources Control Board (“SWRCB” or the “State Board”) water quality certifications (“WQCs”) under the Federal Clean Water Act (“CWA”; 33 U.S.C § 1251 et seq), this bedrock principle appears to have been watered down, and it may be significantly eroding under pressure from a preemptive federal law deadline.


Continue Reading Must CEQA Compliance Precede Project Approval? When State Water Board Water Quality Certifications Are Involved, The Answer Is As “Clear as Mud”

In a published opinion filed December 29, 2020, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment denying a petition for writ of mandate filed by the Santa Clara Valley Water District (District) challenging waste discharge requirements (WDRs) belatedly imposed by a responsible agency, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (Board), on lead agency District’s flood control project.  Santa Clara Valley Water District v. San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (2020) 59 Cal.App.5th 199.  The case involved highly unique facts, and a number of interesting legal issues concerning the Board’s authority under the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA), the state Porter-Cologne Act, and CEQA.

Continue Reading Can a Responsible Agency Get A Second Bite At The CEQA Apple? First District Says “Sometimes, Yes,” Upholds Regional Water Board’s Imposition of Additional Mitigation On Flood Control Project Through “Independent” Porter-Cologne Act Authority Exercised Subsequent To Grant Of CWA § 401 Water Quality Certification Based On Lead Agency’s Unchallenged Final EIR

In a published opinion filed May 18, 2020, the Sixth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of a historic preservation group’s writ petition that challenged the City of San Jose’s (City) entry into a Streambed Alteration Agreement (SAA) with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), which agreement was needed to implement the City’s pedestrian bridge project involving demolition of the historic Willow Glen Railroad Trestle.  Willow Glen Trestle Conservancy v. City of San Jose (6th Dist. 2020) 49 Cal.App.5th 127.

Continue Reading Sixth District Holds City Of San Jose’s Action In Seeking And Accepting Streambed Alteration Agreement From California Department Of Fish And Wildlife Is Not New Discretionary Approval For City’s Historic Trestle Demolition/Bridge Construction Project, And Thus Does Not Trigger Subsequent CEQA Review

In a 68-page published opinion filed September 27, 2019, the Fourth District Court of Appeal (Div. One) affirmed the trial court’s judgment rejecting a plaintiff group’s numerous challenges to the California Coastal Commission’s (CCC) certification of a port master plan amendment by the San Diego Unified Port District (Port).  The amendment allows expansion of the San Diego Convention Center by the City of San Diego (City) and of the adjacent Hilton San Diego Bayfront hotel by One Park Boulevard, LLC (One Park).  San Diego Navy Broadway Complex Coalition v. California Coastal Commission, et al. (City of San Diego, et al., Interveners and Appellants) (2019) 40 Cal.App.5th 563.  While the trial court had rejected the statute of limitations defense of indispensable parties/interveners City and One Park and ruled against plaintiff’s Coastal Act and CEQA-based challenges to the CCC’s findings on the merits, the Court of Appeal disagreed with the statute of limitations ruling, and based its affirmance on the primary ground that the claims were time-barred by the Coastal Act’s applicable 60-day statute of limitations because interveners were not timely joined within that limitations period.  It also held plaintiff’s claims lacked substantive merit in any event.

Continue Reading Fourth District Rejects Coastal Act/CEQA-Based Challenges To Commission’s Certification of San Diego Port Plan Amendment As Time-Barred For Failure To Join Indispensable Parties Within Limitations Period

In a published opinion filed February 13, 2019, the Fourth District Court of Appeal (Division 3) reaffirmed the need for a CEQA litigant challenging a coastal development permit to appeal to the Coastal Commission before suing.  Fudge v. City of Laguna Beach (Hany Dimitry; Real Party in Interest) (2019) 32 Cal.App.5th 193.  The Court refused plaintiff’s invitation to make the simple complex, and followed published precedents requiring a plaintiff to exhaust the statutory administrative remedy of an appeal to the Commission to ripen a litigation challenge.

Continue Reading Coastal Act Trumps CEQA: CDP Challenger Must Administratively Appeal Local Entity’s Approval To Coastal Commission Before Bringing Judicial Action

In an opinion filed March 23, and belatedly modified and ordered published on May 25, 2017, the First District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s dismissal of a plaintiff environmental group’s (“Friends”) CEQA action against a local air quality district (“District”).  (Friends of Outlet Creek v. Mendocino County Air Quality Management District (Grist Creek Aggregates, LLC, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (1st Dist., Div. 1, 2017) 11 Cal.App.5th 1235.)  Friends’ action challenged District’s 2015 issuance of an “Authority to Construct” to Real Party Grist Creek for asphalt plant-operations on a site used, at various times since 1972, for aggregate and asphalt production.  The trial court had sustained District’s and Grist Creek’s demurrer on the ground that CEQA relief was unavailable against a local air district in this context and that Friends’ exclusive remedy was an action under Health and Safety Code § 40864.

Continue Reading First District Holds CEQA Action Can Be Brought Directly Against Local Air District to Challenge “Authority to Construct” Issued for Mendocino County Asphalt Production Operation

In a unanimous 29-page opinion authored by Associate Justice Carol Corrigan, and filed on March 30, 2017, the California Supreme Court held the City of Newport Beach’s EIR for a large mixed-use development project proposed on a 400-acre coastal zone site failed to comply with CEQA.  Banning Ranch Conservancy v. City of Newport Beach (Newport Banning Ranch LLC, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2017) 2 Cal.5th 918.  The EIR improperly failed to identify areas of the site that might qualify as “environmentally sensitive habitat areas” (ESHA) – unique areas receiving special legal protections under the California Coastal Act – and take such areas into consideration in its analysis of project alternatives and mitigation measures.  In light of its reversal of the Court of Appeal’s judgment upholding the EIR and project approvals on CEQA grounds, the high court stated it did not need to reach plaintiff and appellant’s independent claim that the City also violated a general plan “strategy” requiring it to “[w]ork with appropriate state and federal agencies to identify wetlands and habitats to be preserved and/or restored and those on which development will be permitted.”

Continue Reading California Supreme Court Holds Banning Ranch EIR Violates CEQA by Failing to Identify and Analyze Coastal Zone Project’s Impacts on Potential Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHA); Declines to Reach General Plan Issues

In the second of two published opinions filed May 10, 2016, the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment upholding the lead agency designation and EIR for a controversial project proposing to pump 50,000 acre-feet annually for a 50-year period from an aquifer underlying Cadiz, Inc.’s Mojave Desert property in San Bernardino County.  Center For Biological Diversity, et al. v. County of San Bernardino, et al., (4th Dist., Div. 3, 2016) 247 Cal.App.4th 326, Case No. G051058.  (For my post covering the Court’s related published opinion, see “Fourth District Rejects CEQA Challenges To Large Mojave Desert Groundwater Pumping Project In Separate Published Opinions,” by Arthur F. Coon, posted May 11, 2016.)
Continue Reading Fourth District Upholds EIR For Cadiz Mojave Desert Groundwater Pumping Project Against Various CEQA Challenges

The First District Court of Appeal held the California State Lands Commission’s (“CSLC”) EIR for a project involving the lease of sovereign lands beneath San Francisco Bay for private dredge mining of sand complied with CEQA; however, it partially reversed the trial court’s judgment denying a writ because the record failed to demonstrate CSLC’s compliance with the public trust doctrine. San Francisco Baykeeper, Inc. v. California State Lands Commission (Hanson Marine Operations, Inc., et al., Real Parties In Interest) (1st Dist., Div. 4, 2015) 242 Cal.App.4th 202, filed 11/18/15.
Continue Reading State Lands Commission’s CEQA Review of SF Bay/Delta Sand Mining Project Approval Is Adequate, But Fails to Fulfill Obligation to Consider Public Trust Doctrine

On October 2, 2015, the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (“CDFW”) entered into a 12-page “agree[ment] to work with each other to conserve biological and natural resources on federal public lands administered by the BLM within California.” (10/2/15 Agreement By And Between The United States Bureau Of Land Management And The California Department Of Fish And Wildlife (“Agreement”), at p. 1.)  The Agreement states it was developed “for the purpose of memorializing and making specific [the agencies’] cooperation and coordination to protect and conserve fish, wildlife, plants and their habitat within California” and that it “supplements” an earlier, November 27, 2012 MOU between BLM and CDFW.  (Ibid.)
Continue Reading Satisfying State Compensatory Mitigation Requirements Under CEQA On Federal Conservation Lands: CDFW And BLM Agree To Cooperate To Make It Happen