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Water companies and city brought an action to determine groundwater rights and to amend a 1961 judgment imposing a physical solution on the Water Coast Groundwater Basin. The trial court ruled that an EIR was required before it could consider the amendment. On appeal to the Second District Court of Appeal, the Court reversed the lower court’s order denying the motion to amend and remanded the case back to the trial court with directions to hold a full hearing regarding water storage issues. In reaching its holding, the Appellate Court addressed three issues. First, the Court held that the trial court had the jurisdiction to consider a motion to amend the 1961 judgment regarding the West Coast Groundwater Basin. Second, the Court found that the trial court had erred in denying the motion to amend the judgment without holding an evidentiary hearing. Third, the Court concluded that the trial court had erred in requiring the moving parties to prepare an EIR before filing a motion to amend the judgment. Because the groundwater basin is the subject of an existing judgment mandating a physical solution, the court (not the agencies) had the approval power and CEQA does not apply to actions of the court. Therefore, the trial court erred in concluding the agencies’ motion to the court constituted a discretionary action required prior CEQA review.

Key Point:

The holding suggests that where approval of an action is required by a judicial officer, and no environmental impacts could occur without such approval, then the agency’s decision to request an action by the court does not require prior CEQA review. On December 21, 2011, the California Supreme Court granted the petition for review of this decision. The Second District Court of Appeal decision, therefore, was depublished and is no longer citable precedent.

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