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

California Supreme Court Again Considers Climate Change in the Context of CEQA, But Fails to Resolve Important Uncertainties for Future Environmental Review

Today, in an opinion authored by Justice Liu, the California Supreme Court ruled that the greenhouse gas analysis in an environmental impact report (“EIR”) prepared for the San Diego Association of Government’s (“SANDAG”) regional transportation plan (“RTP”) did not violate the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), but did little to resolve uncertainties in addressing climate change issues under CEQA.  As we previewed in our May discussion of the oral argument in this case, Cleveland National Forest Foundation v. San Diego Association of Governments, the majority of the Court found that SANDAG’s discussion of the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions was adequate given the state of science and guidance, at least at the time of the issuance of the RTP in 2011. The Supreme Court cautioned, however, that this EIR should not be considered a template for future projects as developing science and regulations will likely provide further guidance on this issue. Continue Reading

Sixth District Upholds County Zoning Updates Against Piecemealing Claim, Rejects Challenge to Negative Declaration Based on “Wholly Speculative” Impacts

In March 2017, the Sixth Appellate District issued its decision in Aptos Council v. County of Santa Cruz, which rejected a two-pronged challenge to the County of Santa Cruz’s adoption of three zoning ordinances revising existing sections of the County zoning code, including an ordinance altering height, density, and parking requirements for hotels.  In affirming denial of the petition for writ of mandate, the appellate court held that (1) the County did not engage in improper “piecemeal” review of the three ordinances under CEQA, and (2) the negative declaration for the hotel ordinance did not need to consider environmental impacts that could result from future hotel development, where those impacts were not reasonably foreseeable.  Continue Reading

First Appellate District Holds that Air Quality Management District’s Issuance of “Authority to Construct” May Be Challenged Under CEQA

Asphalt ProductionOn May 25, 2017, the First Appellate District published a modified version of its unpublished March 23, 2017 opinion, holding that the Mendocino County Air Quality Management District’s (“MCAQMD”) issuance of an “Authority to Construct” (“ATC”) for an asphalt production plant could be challenged under CEQA.  In Friends of Outlet Creek v. Mendocino County Air Quality Management District, the trial court had sustained a demurrer by the MCAQMD and the applicant on the grounds that petitioner could only challenge the ATC approval in a proceeding under Health and Safety Code section 40864.  The First Appellate District reversed, finding ample legal authority for administrative mandate proceedings under CEQA to challenge issuance of permits by air quality management districts. Continue Reading

The California Supreme Court Has a Banner Week, Hearing Argument in Three CEQA and Land Use Cases

California Supreme CourtOn May 3–4, 2017, the California Supreme Court heard oral arguments in three cases with significant implications for California land use law. Below we summarize the main issue(s) argued in each matter and possible outcomes. Because many of these cases have been pending for years, the Court that originally voted to grant review has since been dramatically transformed by Governor Brown’s newest appointments, including Justices Cuéllar and Kruger. Consequently, predicting the likely outcome in any of these cases is particularly difficult. Continue Reading

A Rare Decision on Preclusion in the CEQA Context

In May 2017, the Fifth Appellate District published a decision addressing preclusion, which is rarely a topic in CEQA litigation.  On demurrer, the Kern County Superior Court found that a CEQA petition was barred by res judicata in light of a prior judgment entered in Alameda County (the “Alameda Action”).  In Association of Irritated Residents v. Department of Conservation (2017) 11 Cal.App.5th 1202, the Fifth District reversed, and it also addressed the issue of collateral estoppel in the context of a motion to dismiss the appeal. Continue Reading

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