Most real estate developers would likely agree that, even when correctly applied and complied with, CEQA can be an onerous law which can significantly complicate, delay, increase the cost of, and in some cases (particularly where CEQA litigation is involved) even preclude projects. But what recourse does a project applicant have under the law when CEQA is misapplied – and blatantly so – by a local agency which denies approval of a project that is clearly exempt from CEQA on the meritless basis that extensive (and expensive) CEQA review is required? When the developer’s only recourse is time-consuming and expensive litigation to obtain a writ of mandate setting aside the agency’s illegal action subjecting the project to CEQA, can the developer who succeeds in obtaining the writ recover from the public agency compensation and damages resulting from the temporary “taking” of all reasonable economic use of its property?
A few recent developments and upcoming events in the CEQA world bear quick mention:
- The BART Housing Bill:
Under AB 2923, BART now has limited land use regulation authority on its own lands near its stations. BART is required to adopt Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) standards for its lands by July 1, 2020, and its action in this regard is subject to CEQA review, with BART acting as the lead agency. The new law declares the minimum TOD standards for this purpose (setting minimum density and height limits, and maximum parking limits) are set forth in BART’s 2017 TOD Guidelines. Development projects which meet TOD zoning requirements and provide 30% affordable housing will qualify for streamlined, “by-right,” ministerial approval with no additional CEQA review. The law also requires cities and counties to adopt zoning standards for BART-owned lands, conforming to BART’s adoption of TOD standards for height, density, parking, and FAR for eligible TOD projects, within 2 years of BART’s action, or by July 1, 2022 if BART fails to act. The new law is intended to increase California’s housing supply and provide some relief from its housing crisis, and could enable BART to develop up to 20,000 residential units and 4.5 million square feet of office/commercial uses on 250 acres of BART-owned lands by 2040. My partner Bryan Wenter’s excellent post on this new law can be found here.
As we move into a brand new year of tracking CEQA developments, it seems like an appropriate time to survey and briefly recap some of the many significant published case law developments that occurred over the past year. (For those with an interest in delving deeper into any of the cases mentioned below, hyperlinks to my relevant prior posts are provided at the end of the each brief case summary.)
On July 26, 2017, the California Supreme Court issued its order denying the losing appellants’ (Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity) request for depublication of the opinion in Sierra Club v. County of Sonoma (2017) 11 Cal.App.5th 11, and also declined to review the case on its own motion, bringing the litigation to a final conclusion. The Court’s docket entry reflects that Justice Kruger was absent and did not participate in the matter.
My post analyzing the Court of Appeal’s opinion, which remains a published precedent as a result of the Supreme Court’s action, can be found here, and my post on the depublication request and related letter briefing can be found here.
On June 16, 2017 – without seeking either rehearing in the First District Court of Appeal or review by the Supreme Court – losing appellants Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity filed a letter asking the Supreme Court to depublish the First District’s (Division 1) recent opinion in Sierra Club v. County of Sonoma (2017) 11 Cal.App.5th 11 (“Sierra Club”). The Supreme Court on the same day extended its otherwise soon-to-expire time to order review of the case on its own motion to August 21, 2017.
In a well-researched and well-reasoned opinion resulting from extensive briefing (including supplemental briefing) from all parties, Sierra Club affirmed the trial court’s denial of appellants’ writ petition challenging the Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner’s issuance of a 54-acre vineyard development permit, as a ministerial approval without CEQA review, under the detailed standards and controls of the County’s vineyard development and erosion control (aka “VESCO”) ordinance. My blog post analyzing this significant case (in which I represent real party Ohlson Ranch) can be found here.
Land use litigators know that CEQA provides a potent weapon to challenge local government decisions affecting land use and development. It is often easy to plead a CEQA claim challenging such decisions, and CEQA will normally apply to them regardless of whether they are legislative (e.g., general plan, specific plan, zoning, and development agreement enactments and amendments) or quasi-adjudicatory (e.g., conditional use permit, subdivision map approvals) in nature. When an EIR has not been prepared to analyze the potential environmental effects of the local agency’s action, a CEQA plaintiff with standing who files suit within the law’s short limitations periods will also receive a very favorable standard of judicial review – the “fair argument” test – in the quest to invalidate the local land use action and require further environmental review.
The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that California Supreme Court Justice Kathryn Werdegar, 81, and currently the Court’s longest-serving member, will retire this summer, on August 31, 2017. Justice Werdegar has served as an associate justice on the high court for 23 years, and was quoted as saying “it is time for someone else to have that privilege and opportunity.”
On January 11, 2017, the California Supreme Court by unanimous order granted review in yet another CEQA case, Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, Inc. v. City of San Diego (2016) 4 Cal.App.5th 103, Supreme Court Case No. S238563.
On November 22, 2016, the California Supreme Court issued a significant Order granting review in Coastal Hills Rural Preservation v. County of Sonoma (2016) 2 Cal.App.5th 1234, and also transferring the matter back to the Court of Appeal (First Appellate District, Div. 1) for reconsideration in light of Friends of the College of San Mateo Gardens v. San Mateo County Community College District (2016) 1 Cal.5th 937, 957-959, fn. 6, and CEQA Guidelines § 15384. The high court further ordered the First District’s opinion to be depublished, and it is therefore no longer citable as binding legal precedent. Both orders were unanimous.
Continue Reading Wither Subsequent Review? Supreme Court Again Weighs In On CEQA Subsequent Review Standards Following Negative Declarations – Grants, Retransfers, and Depublishes First District’s Coastal Hills Rural Preservation Decision
In a 29-page published opinion filed October 14, 2016, the Fourth District Court of Appeal dispensed some good news to municipalities desiring to reasonably regulate retail medical marijuana facilities within their jurisdictional boundaries. In Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, Inc. v. City of San Diego (4th Dist., Div. 1, 2016) 4 Cal.App.5th 103, Case No. D068185, the Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying a writ petition on the basis that the City of San Diego’s ordinance regulating the establishment and location of medical marijuana consumer cooperatives was not a “project” subject to CEQA.
Continue Reading Blowing Smoke About Impacts? Fourth District Rejects Speculative CEQA Challenge to San Diego’s Medical Marijuana Consumer Cooperative Ordinance, Holds Zoning Ordinances Are Not Necessarily CEQA “Projects”