On June 23rd, the Fourth District published Save Our Access v. City of San Diego (2023) 92 Cal.App.5th 819, holding that a city’s approval of a ballot measure to remove the 30-foot Coastal Zone height limit in a community planning area required further environmental review. The Court concluded that the program EIR

The Fourth District Court of Appeal, in Olen Properties Corp. v. City of Newport Beach (2023) ___Cal.App.5th___, upheld the City of Newport Beach’s approval of a 312-unit apartment complex challenged by a neighboring commercial development owner. To comply with CEQA, the City of Newport Beach prepared an addendum to an existing environmental impact report

In June we reported that California Governor Gavin Newsom’s infrastructure permitting and CEQA reform legislation package was mostly dead, with the Legislature finding it too complex for last-minute consideration. But there’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Legislators and the Governor subsequently reached a tentative agreement to allow a pared-down version

Over the Fourth of July weekend, California lost a wonderful man, a talented planner, and an amazing mentor who changed the landscape of California. Larry Mintier avidly sought economic and environmental balance and succeeded in promoting both in his planning efforts across California, north to south and east to west. He was the primary author

In Tulare Lake Canal Company v. Stratford Public Utility District (2023) 92 Cal.App.5th 380, the Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed and remanded a trial court order denying a preliminary injunction to halt the construction of a water pipeline through an easement granted by the Stratford Public Utilities District (SPUD) without first undergoing environmental review.

In Claremont Canyon Conservancy v. Regents of the University of California (2023) 92 Cal.App.5th 474, two organizations, the Claremont Canyon Conservancy and the Hills Conservation Network, filed petitions for writ of mandate challenging the adequacy of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) under CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act) for a plan to conduct a Wildland Vegetative Fuel Management Plan to decrease wildfire risk at the University of California, Berkeley’s Hill Campus. Consolidated in the trial court, the petitions asserted that the EIR’s project description and discussion of environmental impacts were inadequate, arguing that the EIR lacked important details about the precise number of trees to be removed under the Plan. The trial court agreed, and halted the Plan. In a dramatic turn, the Court of Appeal reversed, finding that “the EIR include[d] sufficient detail to enable the public to understand the environmental impacts associated with the Regents’ plan to remove vegetation in specific locations on the Hill Campus to reduce wildlife risk.” The case helps settle the level of detail required in an EIR’s project description, particularly where some details may be subject to refinement when implementing the project.

The Second District of the Court of Appeal on June 8 ordered publication of its May 12 opinion affirming the denial of a writ of mandate that challenged the City of Buenaventura’s removal and relocation of a statue of Junipero Serra. Petitioner, the Coalition for Historical Integrity, alleged that removing the statue required CEQA review because it was a historical resource. The Court of Appeal upheld the City’s finding that the statue was not a historical resource and exempt from CEQA under the “common sense” exemption.

The California Supreme Court, on May 17, 2023, granted review of the First District Court of Appeal’s decision in Make UC a Good Neighbor v. Regents of University of California (2023) 88 Cal.App.5th 656, where the Court of Appeal invalidated the EIR for UC Berkeley’s Long Range Development Plan and a housing development at People’s Park. The appellate court found two issues with the EIR: (1) it did not sufficiently justify the decision not to consider alternative locations for the student housing project at People’s Park, and (2) it did not assess potential noise impacts from student parties. The decision invigorated calls for CEQA reform and attracted scrutiny for its recognition of “party noise” as an environmental impact.

Governor Gavin Newsom announced proposed major new infrastructure permitting reforms on May 19, 2023 in an effort to create thousands of jobs and build California’s clean energy future. The eleven-bill package seeks to expedite certain water, transportation, clean energy, semiconductor, and microelectronics projects, including water recycling and desalination plants, solar fields, offshore wind farms, the Sites Reservoir Project in the Sacramento Valley, and the plan to build a tunnel to transport water to Southern California beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta (the Delta Conveyance Project). A Senate budget committee found the package was too complex for last-minute consideration before the June 2 cutoff for bills to pass out of their house, but there is still some hope that the plan could move forward.

On June 3, 2023, President Biden signed the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 (“FRA”) into law, extending the U.S. debt limit into 2025. As part of the Congressional deal, FRA also contains amendments to the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), including narrowing NEPA’s scope of consideration, streamlining the documentation of NEPA, and setting time limits, among other things. These amendments are notable as they are a rare statutory amendment to NEPA in nearly four decades. But for the most part, FRA incorporates existing regulations and case law developed over the years to flesh out NEPA requirements. Thus, the amendments are unlikely to significantly change the current practice of NEPA. But those opposing FRA’s NEPA amendments argue that more projects would now sidestep stringent scrutiny and would curb the public’s ability to voice input on projects. Others note, however, that these amendments will prevent repeated and unnecessary delays of important infrastructure projects.

FRA proposes the following substantive and procedural amendments to NEPA: