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

In an opinion originally filed on September 8, and subsequently modified and certified for partial publication on October 4, 2023, the Sixth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment granting a writ setting aside Monterey County’s issuance of a permit to investor-owned public utility/water supplier California-American Water Company (“Cal-Am”) to construct a desalination plant and related facilities needed as one component of Cal-Am’s Water Supply Project.  Marina Coast Water District v. County of Monterey (California-American Water Company, Real Party in Interest) (2023) 96 Cal.App.5th 46.  On Cal-Am’s appeal, the Court held the trial court erred in finding the County’s statement of overriding considerations prejudicially inadequate for not addressing the uncertainty created by the City of Marina’s (“City”) denial of a coastal development permit (“CDP”) – later granted with conditions by the Coastal Commission on appeal – for the drilling of intake wells in coastal zone aquifers to supply the plant.  On project opponent Marina Coast Water District’s (“MCWD”) cross-appeal, the Court held that County’s decision not to require a subsequent EIR and its statement of overriding considerations were both supported by substantial evidence and (in an unpublished portion of its opinion not further discussed here) that County’s approval did not violate its own general plan.Continue Reading Sixth District Reverses Writ, Upholds Responsible Agency Monterey County’s Approval of Desalination Plant In Reliance on CPUC’s EIR For Multi-Component, Cross-Jurisdictional Water Supply Project; Court Rejects CEQA Challenges Based On County’s Decision Not to Prepare Subsequent EIR and Allegedly Inadequate Statement of Overriding Considerations

In a published opinion filed June 7, 2023, the Fifth District Court of Appeal held the trial court erred in applying California’s interrelated factors test to deny a preliminary injunction in a CEQA case.  The error consisted of failing to consider harm to the public interests in informed decisionmaking and public disclosure as relevant informational harm to be weighed in evaluating the relative balance of harms likely to result from the erroneous granting or denial of the preliminary injunction.  Tulare Lake Canal Company v. Stratford Public Utility District (Sandridge Partners, L.P., et al, Real Parties in Interest) (2023) 92 Cal.App.5th 380. Accordingly, the Court of Appeal reversed the order denying the preliminary injunction and remanded the matter to the trial court for reconsideration, while keeping in effect its writ of supersedeas continuing the trial court’s TRO in full force and effect.Continue Reading Fifth District Holds Harm To Public Interest In Informed Decisionmaking Must Be Considered By Court In Deciding Whether To Grant Preliminary Injunction In CEQA Case

In a March 27, 2023 post found here, we wrote about the Second District Court of Appeal’s (Div. 1) decision concerning the Water Code section 13389 CEQA exemption for Regional Water Quality Control Board (“RWQCB”) issuance of waste discharge permits, formerly published as Los Angeles Waterkeeper v. State Water Resources Control Board (2023) 88 Cal.App.5th 874.  After the Regional Board and State Board filed a request for modification of that opinion to clarify certain issues, the Court of Appeal vacated it, ordered rehearing, considered supplemental briefing, and filed a new, superseding published opinion in the case on June 2, 2023.Continue Reading Second District “Waters Down” Los Angeles Waterkeeper Waste Discharge Permit CEQA Exemption Opinion After Rehearing At Request Of Water Boards, Narrows And Clarifies Holding With No Change In Judgment Or Result

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

On February 27, 2023, the Second District Court of Appeal (Division One) filed its published decision in Los Angeles Waterkeeper v. State Water Resources Control Board (2023) 88 Cal.App.5th 874, a case mainly focused on water law but which also has some significant CEQA implications.  Briefly put, the petitioner in Los Angeles Waterkeeper attempted to bypass a statutory limitation on CEQA review through an action that would, if successful, have resulted in the imposition of additional substantive and procedural environmental review requirements on certain projects for which no EIR is required. As explained below, the Second District rejected this invitation to expand CEQA’s reach.Continue Reading Second District Affirms Judgment Upholding Water Code CEQA Exemption, Rejects Plaintiff’s Attempt To Extend CEQA Review And Findings Requirements To Regional Water Board’s Approval Of Waste Discharge Permits

The First District Court of Appeal filed on June 30, and later ordered published on July 26, 2022, its opinion in County of Mono v. City of Los Angeles (1st Dist. No. A162590) 81 Cal.App.5th 657.  The case involves another round in the long-running controversies surrounding Los Angeles’s efforts to secure water for its populace.  As the City now owns substantial acreage in the Sierra Nevada from which it takes much of its water, it serves both as landlord and water user in that region.  The overlap of those two roles gave rise to the County of Mono case, in which the County sought to use CEQA litigation as leverage over the City’s water allocations to agricultural users who lease property from the City.  The case holds that the City’s water allocations to the City’s agricultural lessees were authorized under its existing 2010 leases and thus did not constitute a new project subject to CEQA review before they could be lawfully implemented. The case provides guidance to practitioners on when and how CEQA applies to  public contracts, and also regarding the appropriate contents of the administrative record in CEQA litigation challenging staff level actions implementing existing leases.  Entitlement and litigation attorneys should accordingly both find it a useful case to review.
Continue Reading First District Holds LA’s Water Allocations To Agricultural Lessees Were Authorized Under Existing Leases And Did Not Constitute Or Implement A Separate “Project” Subject to CEQA Review

On May 12, the Third District Court of Appeal belatedly ordered partially published an opinion it had filed on April 20, 2022, reversing the trial court’s judgment upholding the EIR for lead agency Siskiyou County’s approval of Crystal Geyser Water Company’s water bottling plant project.  We Advocate Through Environmental Review, et al. v. County of Siskiyou, et al. (Crystal Geyser Water Company, Real Party in Interest) (2022) ____ Cal.App.5th ______.  The decision followed close on the heels of the Court’s earlier decision in a related CEQA case brought by the same plaintiff and involving the same project in which it held that the City of Mount Shasta, acting as a responsible agency issuing a wastewater permit for the project, had violated CEQA by failing to make the required Public Resources Code § 21081 findings regarding potentially significant effects identified in the EIR.  (My May 16, 2022 post on that earlier case can be found here.)
Continue Reading The Other CEQA Shoe Drops: Third District Reverses Judgment Upholding Siskiyou County’s EIR For Crystal Geyser Bottling Plant Project, Holds (1) Project Objectives Were Too Narrowly Stated And (2) County Should Have Recirculated EIR’s Climate Discussion To Allow Comment On Substantially Higher GHG Emissions Estimate First Disclosed In FEIR

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 an opinion originally filed on February 23, and later modified and ordered published on March 22, 2022, the Second District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment invalidating the Kern Water Bank Authority’s (“KWBA”) EIR and approval of its own project to divert unappropriated Kern River waters in certain wet years to recharge its Kern Water Bank (“KWB”).  Buena Vista Water Storage District v. Kern Water Bank Authority (2022) 76 Cal.App.5th 576.  In upholding KWBA’s EIR and reinstating its project approval, the Court addressed CEQA project description, baseline, and impact analysis issues in the context of a water diversion and recharge project involving excess flood waters from the not-fully-appropriated Kern River.
Continue Reading Second District Upholds EIR for Kern Water Bank Recharge Project Involving Diversion of Unappropriated Kern River Water In Certain Wet Years; Rejects CEQA Claims Alleging Inconsistent Project Description, Inaccurate Environmental Setting, And Inadequate Water Supply Impacts Analysis