In a long-awaited decision, on December 24, 2018 the California Supreme Court in Sierra Club v. County of Fresno (S219783) affirmed, in part, and reversed, in part, the Fifth District Court of Appeal’s decision concerning a challenge to the adequacy of an EIR prepared for the Friant Ranch retirement community (“Project”). Employing a de novo standard of review, the Court found that the Project EIR is inadequate as a matter of law because the EIR did not make a reasonable effort to connect the Project’s air quality impacts to specific health consequences (or explain why it is not feasible to do so). The Court also upheld the lead agency County of Fresno’s discretion to substitute equally effective or more superior future mitigation measures and adopt mitigation measures that do not reduce the Project’s significant and unavoidable impacts to a less-than-significant level. This decision poses significant hurdles for project proponents going forward with new, heightened requirements for EIR analysis of environmental and health impacts and a more scrutinizing, independent legal standard of review for challenges to the adequacy of an EIR. Continue Reading
After a long drought, the California Supreme Court at its November 14, 2018 conference voted unanimously to grant review of three decisions involving the question of whether well permits issued pursuant to county ordinances and incorporating state groundwater well-drilling standards are ministerial and thus not subject to review under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). Although interpreting different county well ordinances enacted by San Luis Obispo and Stanislaus Counties, the ordinances each incorporated state well-drilling standards (Bulletin 74). Yet, the Second and Fifth Districts reached diametrically opposing conclusions regarding whether those ordinances require the exercise of discretion. Continue Reading
On October 24, 2018, the Fourth Appellate District upheld the trial court’s decision in Save Our Heritage Organization v. City of San Diego (D073064), finding that the use of an addendum as outlined in section 15164 of the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) Guideline for approval of project modifications is valid under CEQA and does not conflict with CEQA’s public review requirements. Additionally, the Court also found that once an EIR is approved, the lead agency is not required to make any additional findings under the Public Resources Code (“PRC”) section 21081 of CEQA to approve modifications to a project using an addendum. Overall, this appellate decision is in agreement with the line of CEQA cases approving the use of addenda to approve project modifications that do not result in additional significant environmental impacts. Once again, the appellate court affirmed the CEQA policy that once an EIR is certified, “the interests of finality are favored over the policy of encouraging public comment.” Continue Reading
On October 23, the First Appellate District issued its opinion in Save Lafayette Trees v. City of Lafayette et al. (Case No. A154168) finding that Save Lafayette Trees’ (“Save Lafayette”) CEQA challenge to a Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) tree removal project was timely filed and served, reversing in part and affirming in part the trial court’s sustaining of a demurrer to the petition for writ of mandate (“Petition”). The Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal of the petitioner’s remaining causes of action brought under the California Planning and Zoning Law.
On October 2, after waiting over three-and-a-half years, the California Supreme Court finally heard oral arguments in Sierra Club et al. v. County of Fresno et al. (Case No. S219783). This case, which challenges an EIR prepared for the Friant Ranch retirement community in Fresno County, raises far-reaching and consequential CEQA questions, namely, the standard of review for the adequacy of an EIR’s discussion of required CEQA topics and the level of analysis needed to identify a project’s effect on human health. Continue Reading
We’re pleased to share that Downey Brand partners Kathryn Oehlschlager and Christian Marsh will be speaking at the Bay Planning Commission’s 6th Annual CEQA and Federal Regulatory Update on Thursday, October 25, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean LLP. Kathryn and Christian join other leading experts in land use and development law to address new developments in CEQA and related federal rules and guidelines under the National Environmental Policy Act and federal Endangered Species Act. Registration closes Wednesday, 10/24 at noon, so be sure to register soon!
This year, the topics have been expanded to include:
- Climate Change, New CEQA Guidelines, and Transportation
- Year in Review – Significant CEQA Case Developments in 2017/2018
- Upheaval – Changes Proposed to Federal Permitting, NEPA, Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and More
For a full agenda, click here. 4.5 General MCLE credits will be available (pending approval).
On the heels of its notice of federal rulemaking under the National Environmental Policy Act (see our July 2 blog post) and other more modest efforts at reform on the administrative level, the Administration on July 19 announced a series of proposed changes to the regulations governing administration of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Among the changes, the proposed rules would revise provisions governing:
- Listing of species and designation of critical habitat (Section 4); and
- Interagency consultations on critical habitat and related mitigation (Section 7).
Probably the most dramatic element is the proposed rescission of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s long-standing 4(d) rule, which years ago extended protections of endangered species to those species designated only as “threatened.” The Administration emphasizes that its regulatory efforts are needed to “improve” and “clarify” administration of the ESA. Three proposed rules are expected to be published in the Federal Register in the next several days:
- Revision of the Regulations for Listing Species and Designating Critical Habitat;
- Revision of Regulations for Interagency Cooperation; and
- Revision of the Regulations for Prohibitions to Threatened Wildlife and Plants.
Any Comments will be due in sixty (60) days (late September 2018).
On June 20, 2018, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued an advanced notice of proposed federal rulemaking, soliciting public comments on whether and how CEQ should update its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) implementing regulations. Comments on the proposed rulemaking are due July 20, 2018. Continue Reading
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