The Fourth District Court of Appeal in Historic Architecture Alliance v. City of Laguna Beach (2023) 96 Cal.App.5th 186, found that the City of Laguna Beach’s (“City”) findings for the use of the Class 31 California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exemption to approve the renovation and extension of a historic single-family home (“Project”), and

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 Sixth Appellate District, on May 10, 2023, published a decision in Preservation Action Council of San Jose v. City of San Jose (2023) 91 Cal.App.5th 517 upholding the City of San Jose’s certification of a final supplemental EIR (SEIR) for development of three high-rise office towers in downtown San Jose on a site that contained several historic structures. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of the petition for writ of mandate and held that the SEIR’s consideration of proposed compensatory mitigation for historic buildings was sufficient and that the City adequately responded to comments requesting compensatory mitigation.

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.”