On December 22, the Second Appellate District certified for publication its November 30 opinion in Los Angeles Conservancy v. City of West Hollywood, concerning a proposed mixed-use redevelopment of the “Melrose Triangle” site that would result in demolition of the existing buildings. In this decision, the Court rejected the Conservancy’s claim that the City gave short-shrift to an alternative that would have preserved one of the buildings, which is located at 9080 Santa Monica Boulevard and may be eligible for listing on the California Register of Historical Resources as an exemplar of “Streamline Moderne Style” (the “9080 Building”). Notably, the Court’s ruling reaffirmed prior case law holding that a lead agency may find an alternative to be infeasible where it is impractical or undesirable for reasons of public policy.
On April 13, the Second Appellate District disapproved two of its prior decisions that had expansively interpreted the availability of mandatory relief from default or dismissal under Code of Civil Procedure section 473(b). In The Urban Wildlands Group, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles, the court held that this mandatory relief provision did not apply to an adverse judgment at a CEQA merits hearing, resulting from plaintiff’s failure to lodge the administrative record with the court prior to the hearing.
The underlying mandate petition and complaint alleged a single cause of action challenging the City’s finding that a streetlight replacement project using LED lights was exempt from environmental review under CEQA. The parties stipulated that plaintiff would prepare the administrative record and, following certification by the City, lodge it with the trial court. However, plaintiff never lodged the certified record. At the hearing on the merits, the trial court determined that plaintiff could not present sufficient evidence to support its arguments because it failed to lodge the record. Accordingly, the trial court denied the plaintiff’s petition and complaint and entered judgment in favor of the City.
As we reported last year, the California Supreme Court in Center for Biological Diversity v. California Department of Fish and Wildlife invalidated the greenhouse gas analysis and mitigation for the fully-protected unarmored stickleback on review of an environmental impact report (“EIR”) prepared for the Newhall Ranch development in northern Los Angeles County. In its ruling, the Supreme Court remanded the case to the lower appeals court to determine two issues left undecided—the project’s impacts on tribal cultural resources and the endangered steelhead trout.
On July 11, 2016, the Second Appellate District finally issued its ruling after remand from the Supreme Court. In unpublished sections of its opinion, the court provided further direction to the trial court and lead agency on the greenhouse gas analysis and species issues and reiterated its earlier ruling—that the EIR’s evaluation of tribal cultural resources and steelhead trout was supported by substantial evidence. In the only published portion of the opinion, the court grappled with a procedural issue that only a CEQA aficionado could love—whether the appeals court itself can retain jurisdiction to supervise directly the agency’s compliance with its ruling. Appeals court jurisdiction in CEQA cases has witnessed some interesting turns in recent years, as the Legislature has added targeted streamlining provisions and original jurisdiction in the court of appeals in some instances. (See, e.g., Pub. Resources Code, §§ 21168.6 [CPUC challenges], 21185 [environmental leadership projects].) The court here, however, found that it did not have the authority to step into the shoes of the trial court.