Social and Economic Impacts

In a partially published (but mostly unpublished) opinion filed on March 7, 2024, the Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment and writ-discharge order which had upheld Kern County’s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) 100 Cal.App.5th 412.  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  It held (in unpublished portions of its opinion) that the SREIR’s discussion of cancer risk from the potential drilling of multiple wells near a sensitive receptor was informationally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  (These and other unpublished portions of the opinion will not be discussed in any further detail in this post.)Continue Reading Fifth District Clarifies That Agricultural Conservation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 an important published opinion filed February 16, 2024, the Fourth District Court of Appeal (Div. 1) held the San Diego County Board of Supervisors committed a prejudicial abuse of discretion in granting project opponents’ appeals of the Planning Commission’s decision upholding County’s use of the CEQA Guidelines section 15183 exemption for a construction debris and inert materials recycling facility project.  Hilltop Group, Inc., et al v. County of San Diego, et al. (2024) 99 Cal.App.5th 890.  The decision is noteworthy not just as the newest in a series of recent published decisions explicating the application of this important CEQA exemption, but because it sides with and grants a writ remedy to a project developer plaintiff that ultimately prevailed in litigation alleging a lead agency overstepped its legal authority by ordering preparation of an unnecessary EIR for an exempt project.Continue Reading CEQA Remedies Go Both Ways:  Fourth District Reverses Judgment Upholding San Diego County Board’s Decision Granting Project Opponents’ Administrative Appeal, Holds Board Erred In Finding CEQA Guidelines Section 15183 Statutory Exemption Inapplicable And Ordering EIR Prepared for Exempt Industrial Project

In a 51-page published opinion filed January 5, 2024, and resolving consolidated appeals, the Third District Court of Appeal rejected baseline, piecemealing/segmentation, impact analysis, project description, alternatives analysis, and failure-to-recirculate challenges to the EIR for the Department of Water Resources’ (“DWR”) approval of amendments to long-term water supply contracts with local government agencies receiving water through the State Water Project (“SWP”).  The amendments extended the contracts, which were originally entered into in the 1960s for 75-year terms, so as to end in the year 2085, and made other amendments to their financial provisions.  In the course of affirming the trial court’s judgment upholding the EIR and contract amendments against CEQA, Delta Reform Act, public trust doctrine, and other challenges, the Court of Appeal applied numerous well-established CEQA principles in the enormously significant and complex context of continuing long-term SWP contracts.  Planning and Conservation League, et al v. Department of Water Resources, et al, etc. (2024) 98 Cal.App.5th 726 (Ct. App. Nos. C096304, C096316, C096384).Continue Reading Third District Rejects CEQA and Other Challenges to Department of Water Resources’ EIR for Amendments Extending Long-Term State Water Project Supply Contracts Through 2085

On May 17, 2020, the California Supreme Court granted review of the First District Court of Appeal’s controversial and much criticized published decision in Make UC a Good Neighbor v. Regents of University of California (2023) 88 Cal.App.5th 656, which held the University’s long-range campus development plan (LRDP) EIR inadequate, throwing a monkey wrench into its efforts to redevelop and build much-needed student and homeless housing at the historic People’s Park site. (My March 3, 2023 post on the Court of Appeal’s decision can be found here.)Continue Reading California Supreme Court Grants Review In Controversial “People’s Park”/Student Housing CEQA Case

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

In a published opinion filed February 24, 2023, the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 5) reversed a judgment upholding the adequacy of the EIR for the University of California, Berkeley’s long range campus development plan (“LRDP”) and a controversial housing development project at the historic People’s Park.  Make UC a Good Neighbor v. Regents of University of California (Resources for Community Development, Real Party in Interest) (2023 88 Cal.App.5th 656.  The opinion comes in a case that has been much publicized in popular news media as involving both development of an iconic historic site, currently plagued with crime and homelessness, and treatment of housed college students as presumptive purveyors of “party noise” environmental impacts; it has also (justifiably) resulted in renewed calls for CEQA reform, including from Governor Newsom.Continue Reading First District Reverses Judgment In Controversial “People’s Park” CEQA Case, Holds UC Regents’ Program/Project EIR For Long Range Development Plan And Site-Specific Student Housing Project At The Park Failed To Adequately Analyze Alternative Housing Sites, And Student Noise Impacts

In a 53-page published opinion filed October 8, 2021, the Fourth District Court of Appeal mostly affirmed, but reversed in part, a judgment in a CEQA action challenging two sets of projects of the City of San Diego to underground overhead utility wires in several neighborhoods.  McCann v. City of San Diego (2021) 70 Cal.App.5th 51.  The opinion addressed and resolved a number of significant and interesting CEQA claims and issues involving the exhaustion doctrine; procedures for administratively appealing CEQA exemption determinations (and related due process notice issues); piecemealing; project description; aesthetics; and proper methodology for determining the significance of GHG emissions impacts through assessing a project’s consistency with a local Climate Action Plan (CAP).
Continue Reading Fourth District Addresses Numerous Significant CEQA Issues In Action Challenging City of San Diego’s Utility Undergrounding Projects

In a published opinion filed August 19, 2021, the Second District Court of Appeal reversed a judgment of the Los Angeles County Superior Court that found fault with the EIR for an improvement project within the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument portion of the Angeles National Forest.  Save Our Access–San Gabriel Mountains v. Watershed Conservation Authority (2021) 68 Cal.App.5th 8.  The trial court had rejected plaintiff’s claims that CEQA required the EIR to analyze alternatives beyond the “no project” alternative, and that the project was inconsistent with applicable land use and management plans, but issued a writ requiring additional analysis of the project’s parking reduction “impacts.”  In resolving the ensuing appeals of both parties, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment on the parking issue, finding that reduction in parking is a social not environmental, impact and that plaintiff had failed to identify any secondary adverse physical effects on the environment resulting from the reduction.  It affirmed the remainder of the judgment denying plaintiff’s other claims, and reversed the trial court’s fee award to plaintiff as compelled by its disposition of the merits.
Continue Reading Second District Confirms Parking Is (Still) Not A CEQA Impact, Reverses Judgment That Found EIR For San Gabriel Mountains Wilderness Recreation And Preservation Project Deficient For Not Sufficiently Analyzing “Impact” Of Reducing Recreational Parking

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

In an opinion filed September 5, and later certified for partial publication on October 3, 2019, the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment upholding the City of Chico’s EIR and related statement of overriding considerations for Walmart’s project to expand an existing store, add a gas station, and create two new outparcels for future commercial development.  Chico Advocates for a Responsible Economy v. City of Chico (Walmart Inc., Real Party in Interest) (2019) 40 Cal.App.5th 839.  The published portion of the Court’s opinion rejects plaintiff/appellant CARE’s challenges to the EIR’s “robust 43-page urban decay analysis,” holding as a matter of law that “the potential loss of close and convenient shopping is not an environmental issue that must be reviewed under CEQA” and that the EIR’s methodology for analyzing urban decay was supported by substantial evidence.  The unpublished portion of the opinion (which won’t be further discussed in detail) held that the City’s statement of overriding considerations was supported by substantial evidence, did not need to “describe in detail the weight accorded to the various aspects of the agency’s balancing of competing public objectives,” and did not need to include findings “reconciling” the project approval with the CIty’s rejection of an earlier, materially different expansion project in 2009.
Continue Reading Third District Rejects CEQA Challenges To Chico Walmart Expansion Project EIR’s Urban Decay Analysis And City’s Statement Of Overriding Considerations