In Jensen v. City of Santa Rosa (2018) 23 Cal.App.5th 877, the First Appellate District held that noise impacts from a proposed youth center and transitional housing project were properly analyzed and approved with a negative declaration (ND) where the City of Santa Rosa’s (City) acoustic expert found no noise impacts above the baseline would

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].”

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. 

Crane and building construction site against blue skyOn September 19, in a long-awaited and unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court issued its decision in Friends of the College of San Mateo Gardens v. San Mateo County Community College District.  The opinion, authored by the Court’s newest justice, Leondra Kruger, resolves a split among the Courts of Appeal regarding the proper procedures for addressing changes to a project that have already been subject to CEQA review.  The Court clarified that such changes are not subject to an independent, “new project” threshold test, and that an agency’s decision that no EIR is required as a result of proposed modifications to a previously-approved project is subject to review for substantial evidence.  The decision also affirmed the validity of CEQA Guidelines section 15162 and its application of the principles of finality and subsequent review to projects originally approved with a negative declaration.

Sculpture of Buddha in Japan

On August 31, the First Appellate District issued its decision in Coastal Hills Rural Preservation v. County of Sonoma, which centered on the applicable standards and appropriateness of proceeding on a subsequent mitigated negative declaration (SMND), rather than an environmental impact report (EIR) under CEQA, where changes had been incorporated in a religious facility use permit that was originally reviewed under a mitigated negative declaration (MND). The appeals court affirmed the trial court judgment for the lead agency, Sonoma County, ruling that use of the SMND was appropriate and that the revised permit was not inconsistent with the County’s “Resources and Rural Development” general plan designation.

Willow Glen Trestle Bridge (Photo by Don DeBold, via Flickr)
Willow Glen Trestle Bridge (Photo by Don DeBold, via Flickr)

In its August 12 decision in Friends of the Willow Glen Trestle v. City of San Jose, the Sixth Appellate District rejected a claim that the fair argument standard should apply to a lead agency’s determination regarding whether a resource is a historical resource for purposes of CEQA. In doing so, it became the second appellate court (after the Fifth Appellate District) to adopt this rule.

In 2013, the City of San Jose proposed to demolish the Willow Glen Railroad Trestle – a wooden railroad bridge built in 1922 to service industry – and replace it with a pedestrian bridge that would be part of the City’s trail system. The City issued an initial study and mitigated negative declaration for the project that found no impact on historical resources. This finding relied on two documents obtained by the City in 2004, when it proposed a trail project that did not include demolition of the Trestle: (1) a one-page letter from a State Historic Preservation Officer stating that the proposed project would not affect any “historic properties”; and (2) a one-page evaluation by a consulting architectural historian who opined that the Trestle’s design was based on standard plans for wood trestle bridges, the trestles and superstructure were likely replaced during the previous 30 to 40 years, and the Trestle was “a typical example of a common type and has no known association with important events or persons in local history.”

Joshua TreeWhen cities and counties conduct CEQA review of a large-scale commercial development project including a major national chain like Wal-Mart or Costco, a common objection is that the project will displace existing, locally owned retail establishments, resulting in a significant impact on the environment, in the form of urban decay (or “blight”). This is generally understood to involve abandoned buildings or shopping centers physically deteriorating and becoming a magnet for graffiti, gang/drug activity, and illegal dumping. This claim is often brought in CEQA litigation resulting from approval of such retail projects.

Recently, Division Two of the Fourth Appellate District issued its decision in Joshua Tree Downtown Business Alliance v. County of San Bernardino (June 15, 2016; certified for partial publication on July 13, 2016), upholding a mitigated negative declaration and addressing a key issue for lead agencies and courts evaluating an urban decay claim: when do the comments or testimony of a lay witness constitute substantial evidence of an urban decay impact? The appellate court also rejected a claim of general plan inconsistency, affirming the broad discretion that local governments enjoy in interpreting their general plans.

horse in stable windowIs the “character” of a community part of the “environment” and therefore subject to analysis under CEQA, or is it instead a subjective state of mind of the people who live there?  An appellate court has now weighed in.

In its decision in Preserve Poway v. City of Poway (March 9, 2016), the Fourth District Court of Appeal has upheld the use of a mitigated negative declaration (MND) for a project to subdivide a property currently occupied by an equestrian boarding and training facility.  In doing so, the Court held that evidence of the project’s social and psychological impacts to the community does not require preparation of an environmental impact report (EIR), as CEQA does not address such impacts.

The property, located in the City of Poway (which calls itself the “City in the Country”), is currently being used as a boarding facility for approximately 100 horses, and it is located across the street from a 12-acre rodeo and polo grounds operated by the Poway Valley Riders Association (PVRA). The project involves the subdivision of the property into twelve residential lots, grading of the property, extension of an existing sewer line, undergrounding of existing utilities, installation of new curb, gutters, and fire hydrants, and flood channel improvements.  No home construction is included in the project – any such construction would be subject to further environmental review and City approval.

In an unpublished opinon, Friends of Highland Park v. City of L.A., 2015 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 8002, the Second Appellate District reversed the trial court, holding that the initial study prepared by the City of Los Angeles for an affordable housing project in Highland Park was inadequate because the study lacked quantified greenhouse gas

On October 29, 2015, in Save the American River Association v. City of Folsom, 2015 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 7827, the Third District Court of Appeals affirmed the City of Folsom’s use of a mitigated negative declaration for a project to develop dedicated ADA paths to the waterfront of Lake Natoma; create scenic overlooks;