On September 7, 2018, Governor Brown signed two bills amending CEQA in relatively minor ways that will become effective January 1, 2019.

AB 2341 (Chapter 298) (Mathis) adds Public Resources Code § 21081.3 to provide that “a lead agency is not required to evaluate the aesthetic effects of a project and aesthetic effects shall not be considered significant effects on the environment if the project involves the refurbishment, conversion, repurposing, or replacement of an existing building that meets … [five specified] requirements[.]”  To fall within this new partial statutory exemption, (1) the building must be abandoned, dilapidated (defined as “decayed, deteriorated, or fallen into such disrepair through neglect or misuse so as to require substantial repair for safe and proper use”), or have been vacant for over a year; (2) the site must be immediately adjacent to parcels developed with qualified urban uses or 75 percent of its perimeter must adjoin such parcels (with the remainder adjoining parcels previously so developed); (3) the project must include housing construction; (4) any new structure must “not substantially exceed the height of the existing structure”; and (5) the project must “not create a new source of substantial light or glare.”

Continue Reading More Mild Than Wild: Legislature Tinkers With Modestly Reforming Scope Of CEQA Analysis In Two New Laws

In an opinion filed on January 4, and later certified for partial publication on January 30, 2018, the Fifth District Court of Appeal affirmed a trial court judgment rejecting appellant’s claim that the EIR for the City of Visalia’s general plan update improperly omitted an analysis of the plan’s potential urban decay effects.  Visalia Retail, L.P. v. City of Visalia (5th Dist. 2018) 20 Cal.App.5th 1.  A new land use policy included in the update for areas designated “Neighborhood Commercial” provided that no shopping center tenant in such areas could be larger than 40,000 square feet.  Appellant, a property owner affected by the policy, objected to the City and submitted the opinion of an experienced local commercial real estate broker that the policy would cause anchor tenant vacancies and/or lower-traffic anchors that would reduce landlords’ rental income used for maintenance and improvements, and would have other economic effects resulting in a “downward spiral of physical deterioration” and “physical blight and ‘urban decay’ deterioration[.]”

Continue Reading CEQA Does Not Require City’s General Plan Update EIR to Address Urban Decay Based on Broker’s Speculative Opinion Concerning Effects of Commercial Tenant Square Footage Cap

In 15-page opinion filed on September 15, and later certified for publication on October 16, 2017, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment denying a writ petition challenging the Judicial Council of California’s (“Judicial Council”) EIR for its project to relocate and consolidate El Dorado County Superior Court operations into a single new building on the outskirts of Placerville.  Placerville Historic Preservation League v. Judicial Council of California (County of El Dorado, et al., Real Parties In Interest) (2017) 16 Cal.App.5th 187.  The Court of Appeal held that substantial evidence supported the EIR’s conclusion that “the possible economic impact of moving judicial activities from the downtown courthouse … was not likely to be severe enough to cause urban decay in downtown Placerville.”  It also held that the Council did not need to adopt mitigation mandating re-use of the courthouse to support this conclusion.

Continue Reading Keeping CEQA In Its Lane: First District Holds Substantial Evidence Supports EIR’s Conclusion That “Urban Decay” Is Not Reasonably Foreseeable Indirect Effect Of Project Relocating Trial Court Operations From Historic Placerville Courthouse

In an opinion filed June 15, and ordered partially published on July 13, 2016, the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment requiring the County of San Bernardino to prepare an EIR instead of a mitigated negative declaration (MND) for its approval of a conditional use permit (CUP) authorizing a 9,100 square-foot Dollar General retail store on a 1.45-acre lot in Joshua Tree. Joshua Tree Downtown Business Alliance v. County of San Bernardino (Dynamic Development, LLC, Real Party in Interest) (4th Dist., Div. 2, 2016) 1 Cal.App.5th 677, Case No. E062479.

Continue Reading Fourth District Holds Non-Expert Opinion Fails To Support “Fair Argument” Under CEQA That Approval of Non-Regional Retail Store In Joshua Tree Would Cause Urban Decay