In an opinion filed April 18, and belatedly ordered published on May 10, 2023, the Sixth District Court of Appeal upheld the City of San Jose’s (City) certification of a final Supplemental EIR (FSEIR) for development of three high-rise office towers (the “Project”) on an eight-acre downtown site containing several historic structures which the Project required to be demolished. Preservation Action Council of San Jose v. City of San Jose (SJ Cityview, LLC, Real Party in Interest) (2023) 91 Cal.App.5th 517. In affirming the trial court’s judgment denying Preservation Action Council of San Jose’s (Appellant) petition for writ of mandate, the Court rejected Appellant’s arguments that the FSEIR failed to adequately analyze and provide compensatory mitigation for the historic buildings and failed to adequately respond to comments on those issues.Continue Reading Sixth District Holds Downtown San Jose Office Project FSEIR’s Brief Discussion And Rejection of “Compensatory” Mitigation for Historic Buildings Razed By Project Was Informationally Adequate Under CEQA Based On City’s Unchallenged Factual Finding That No Similar Historic Buildings Existed Elsewhere In City’s Downtown
In a published opinion filed March 2, 2023, the Fifth District Court of Appeal held that where no governmental approvals were required, an investor-owned public utility was not required to comply with CEQA prior to exercising its eminent domain power by filing an action to condemn a maintenance/access easement in connection with its existing electrical power transmission facilities located on and traversing private property. Robinson v. Superior Court of Kern County (5th Dist. 2023) 88 Cal.App.5th 1144. While most of the opinion involved eminent domain issues irrelevant to this blog, the pertinent issue here is a simple definitional one: CEQA applies only to “discretionary projects proposed to be carried out or approved by public agencies” (Pub. Resources Code, § 21080(a)), and CEQA’s definition of “public agency” includes only state agencies, boards and commissions, and local and regional agencies. (Pub. Resources Code, § 21063; CEQA Guidelines, § 15379.)Continue Reading CEQA Does Not Apply To Investor-Owned Public Utility’s Exercise Of Power Of Eminent Domain To Acquire Electric Facilities Maintenance Easement
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
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 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
In a published opinion filed on August 17, 2020, the Third District Court of Appeal mostly affirmed the trial court’s judgment upholding Placer County’s partial abandonment of public easement rights in an emergency access/public transit road connecting two Lake Tahoe-area residential subdivisions; the County took the action to resolve disputes that had arisen after one subdivision’s residents began using the road as an all-purpose public road and short-cut through the other subdivision to get to Northstar-at-Tahoe. Martis Camp Community Association v. County of Placer, et al. (Retreat at Northstar Association, et al., Real Parties in Interest) (2020) 53 Cal.App.5th 569. My partner Bryan Wenter’s post covers the land use issues at the heart of the case, and can be found here; readers should consult that post for the case’s factual background and primary holdings. This post covers the CEQA issue at the “tail end” of the opinion, which involved application of CEQA’s “subsequent review” rules to County’s partial road abandonment project.
Continue Reading Hitting A CEQA Snag: Third District Affirms Rejection of Statutory Road Abandonment And Brown Act Challenges And Inverse Condemnation Claim, But Holds Placer County Violated CEQA By Adopting Addendum To Wrong Project’s EIR