Update: SCOTUS Declines Review of Friends of the Eel River CEQA Preemption Decision

The United States Supreme Court will not be taking up the California Supreme Court’s July 2017 decision in the Friends of the Eel River case.  In that decision, authored by Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye, the California Supreme Court held that the federal Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA) did not preempt application of CEQA to the reopening of state-owned rail service on a rail line between Napa County and Humboldt County. The United States Supreme Court denied the rail operator’s petition for writ of certiorari on April 30, which leaves the California court’s decision as the final word (for now).

You can view our summary and analysis of the Friends of the Eel River decision in our August 1, 2017 blog post.

West Covina Mitigated Negative Declaration Upheld, and Parking Impacts For Infill Projects Deemed Exempt by the Second Appellate District

On March 22, 2018, the Second Appellate District certified for publication its opinion in Covina Residents for Responsible Development v. City of Covina, et al. (2018) 230 Cal.Rptr.3d 550, concerning a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) for a proposed 68-unit, mixed-use, infill project located one quarter mile from the Covina Metrolink commuter rail station in the City of Covina. The case is notable as the first published decision addressing the application of CEQA’s exemption for parking impacts under Public Resources Code (PRC) Section 21099, subdivision (d)(1), which was enacted as part of SB 743 “to further the Legislature’s strategy of encouraging transit-oriented, infill development consistent with the goal of reducing greenhouse gases announced in [SB 375].” Continue Reading

Fifth Appellate District Upholds City of Visalia’s General Plan Update Against Challenge to Square Footage Restrictions in Neighborhood Commercial Zones

On January 30, 2018, the Fifth Appellate District certified for publication its earlier opinion in Visalia Retail, LP v. City of Visalia, upholding the City of Visalia’s (“City”) 2014 General Plan Update.  Plaintiff and Appellant, Visalia Retail, LP (“Plaintiff”), challenged the City’s General Plan land use policy LU-P-67, which set a 40,000-square-foot size limitation in the Neighborhood Commercial zones for grocery stores and similar businesses acting as the “anchor tenant” within a shopping center.  Plaintiff challenged LU-P-67 on two grounds, one under CEQA and one under California Planning and Zoning Law.  The Court of Appeal rejected both arguments. Continue Reading

Clean Sweep for City of San Diego in Challenge to Approval of Private School

On December 20, 2017, the Fourth District Court of Appeal delivered a solid win for the City of San Diego in a multi-faceted challenge to its approval of a private school pursuant to a Mitigated Negative Declaration (“MND”).  In Clews Land and Livestock LLC et al. v. City of San Diego, Petitioners Clews Land and Livestock, et al. (“CLL”) argued  that an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was required because of significant impacts in the areas of fire hazards, traffic, noise, recreation, and historic resources, and because the final MND included impacts not disclosed in the draft.  CLL further argued that the City’s approval violated the applicable community land use plan and historic resources provisions of the San Diego Municipal Code (SDMC.). Continue Reading

Second Appellate District Rejects Challenge to EIR Alternatives Analysis for West Hollywood Redevelopment Project

On December 22, the Second Appellate District certified for publication its November 30 opinion in Los Angeles Conservancy v. City of West Hollywood, concerning a proposed mixed-use redevelopment of the “Melrose Triangle” site that would result in demolition of the existing buildings.  In this decision, the Court rejected the Conservancy’s claim that the City gave short-shrift to an alternative that would have preserved one of the buildings, which is located at 9080 Santa Monica Boulevard and may be eligible for listing on the California Register of Historical Resources as an exemplar of “Streamline Moderne Style” (the “9080 Building”).  Notably, the Court’s ruling reaffirmed prior case law holding that a lead agency may find an alternative to be infeasible where it is impractical or undesirable for reasons of public policy. Continue Reading

First Appellate District Rejects Urban Decay Claim, Upholds EIR for New El Dorado County Courthouse

Since the 2004 decision in Bakersfield Citizens for Local Control v. City of Bakersfield, CEQA petitioners challenging development projects often assert that the lead agency has failed to adequately analyze urban decay (“blight”) impacts on historic downtown areas or other existing business districts.  However, such claims have met with limited success.  (See, for example, our blog posts concerning the 2016 decisions in Joshua Tree Downtown Business Alliance v. County of San Bernardino and Naraghi Lakes Neighborhood Preservation Association v. City of Modesto.)  The First Appellate District has just issued another decision addressing—and rejecting—urban decay claims.  In Placerville Historic Preservation League v. Judicial Council of California (filed 9/15/17; certified for publication 10/16/17), the Court upheld the EIR prepared for the new El Dorado County courthouse in the City of Placerville, finding that the EIR’s analysis of potential urban decay impacts was supported by substantial evidence. Continue Reading

Fourth Appellate District Upholds City of San Diego’s Rejection of Subdivision Project and Related MND

CEQA decisions usually arise in the context of a challenge to a lead agency’s approval of a project and a related CEQA document.  However, in a recent decision, Kutzke v. City of San Diego (2017) 11 Cal.App.5th 1034 (certified for publication on May 23, 2017), the Fourth Appellate District resolved a court action arising from a lead agency’s rejection of a project and its MND, and did so in favor of the lead agency. Continue Reading

“Self-Governance,” Not “Regulation”: California Supreme Court Rules No Federal Preemption of CEQA under ICCTA for State-Owned Rail Projects

On July 27, the California Supreme Court released its long-awaited decision in Friends of the Eel River v. North Coast Railroad Authority (S222472), resolving a split among the State’s courts of appeal—but arguably conflicting with federal precedent—with respect to the scope of federal preemption of CEQA with respect to state-owned rail projects.

We discussed the oral arguments in this case in a prior blog post.  In a 6-1 opinion authored by Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye (with Justice Corrigan dissenting), the Court has now held that application of CEQA to a railroad project undertaken by a state entity, North Coast Railroad Authority (“NCRA”), was not preempted by the federal Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (“ICCTA”).  The Court relied on a distinction between a state’s “regulation” of private railroad operations (which is clearly preempted) and a state’s “self-governance” with respect to a state-owned rail project (which, the Court held, is not preempted).  As a result, the Court reversed the judgment of the First Appellate District and remanded the matter for further proceedings on petitioners’ CEQA claims. Continue Reading

DWR Certifies EIR for WaterFix, Triggering 30-Day Deadline for Opponents to File Suit

On July 21, 2017, the California Department of Water Resources (“DWR”) certified the final environmental document and issued its Notice of Determination for the California WaterFix, a significant new water infrastructure component proposed by DWR and United States Bureau of Reclamation. DWR’s action triggered a 30-day statute of limitations to raise CEQA challenges to the project, which has been the subject of steadily accelerating public discussion and debate over the last two years. Continue Reading

State Legislature Reaches Agreement on Extension of the Greenhouse Gas Cap-and-Trade Program; Stops the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s Proposed Cap (and-No-Trade)

On July 17, 2017 the California legislature approved an extension of the state’s greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program from 2020 to 2030.  Cap-and-trade is a key program in the state’s efforts to meets its 2030 greenhouse gas reduction goals of 40% below 1990 levels covering emissions from industrial facilities and electricity and natural gas suppliers.

Governor Brown and legislative leaders have worked for several months on a package of bills that could achieve a 2/3 majority in the legislature, insulating the cap-and-trade program from additional challenges under Proposition 13 and providing the state with considerable discretion in spending revenues generated by the program.  This grand bargain includes a cap on the price of emission allowances sold under the program, measures to reduce emissions of non-greenhouse gas pollutants from industrial facilities and refineries, an increase in maximum penalty for violations of state air rules, and tax credits for energy producers.  In extending cap-and-trade, the legislation also blocks an effort by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (“BAAQMD”) to cap greenhouse gas emissions from Bay Area refineries. Continue Reading

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