The CEQA Statute and Guidelines both contain provisions outlining what types of projects are exempt from environmental review. There are dozens of exemptions, however, that are listed in other provisions of the California codes that can be difficult to find. On June 6, 2018, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) released a helpful technical advisory listing over 50 CEQA exemptions that are not codified within CEQA itself. The advisory does caution that the list is not exhaustive. Below is a link to access the technical advisory.
In a March 2018 decision, the First Appellate District examined several CEQA issues pertinent to petroleum refining and hazardous materials transport. In Rodeo Citizens Association v. County of Contra Costa, the appeals court affirmed several findings of the lower court, dismissing challenges to the environmental impact report (“EIR”) prepared for a propane and butane recovery project at the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo. (The appeals court did not review the trial court’s order to the county to set aside the certification of the EIR and correct several other air quality related issues.) The appeals court found the risk of rail transportation of propane and butane was appropriately measured against the baseline of existing risks; the project description did not mask plans for the refinery to alter its crude oil feedstock; and that greenhouse gas impacts from downstream uses of petroleum products need not be evaluated. Continue Reading
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.
On January 12, 2018, the First Appellate District held that the California Attorney General need not exhaust administrative remedies in order to contest the adequacy of Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), as is normally required of third-party challengers under Section 21177. City of Long Beach v. City of Los Angeles, Case No. A148993 (2018). The Appeals Court also held that BNSF Railway Company’s (BNSF) proposed construction of a new railyard in Southern California failed to adequately consider air quality impacts from the project. The case emphasizes the need for EIRs to consider impacts to ambient air pollutant concentrations and the cumulative impacts of such pollutants under CEQA, even if the underlying analysis may be time consuming and difficult to generate. Continue Reading
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
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
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
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
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
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