Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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Millennium and the City challenged the trial court's ruling that the proposed project failed to comply with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Stopthemillennium cross-appealed the trial court's decision regarding the draft environmental impact report's (EIR) disclosure of seismic impacts of the development. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court did not err in concluding that the project description used by the City and Millennium failed to comply with CEQA's requirement of an accurate, stable and finite project description. Because the project description is at the heart of the EIR process in this case, the court held that it was not necessary to reach the parties' remaining contentions. View "Stopthemillenniumhollywood.com v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's order and judgment upholding the Water Board's determination that Barclay was jointly and severally responsible with real party in interest Shell Oil for the cleanup and abatement of petroleum hydrocarbon compounds and other contaminants (the petroleum residue or waste) at the former Shell tank farm in Carson, California. The court rejected Barclay's claims that the Water Board failed to hold the type of hearing required by the Administrative Procedure Act and its Administrative Bill of Rights; the payments Shell made to the Water Board constituted a conflict of interest tainting the proceedings and the RCAO; Barclay's actions are protected by the safe harbor of Water Code section 13304, subdivision (j); Barclay did not cause or permit a discharge of waste because its actions were not performed with the required knowledge of the hazards created; and the trial court erred in refusing to admit and consider additional evidence proffered by Barclay. View "Barclay Hollander Corp. v. California Regional Water Quality Control Board" on Justia Law

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Appellants petitioned the Commission to revoke a coastal development permit (CDP), alleging that MVF's CDP application contained intentional misrepresentations regarding approvals it received from the Los Angeles County Environmental Review Board (ERB), the California Water Resources Control Board (Water Board), and the California Department of Fish and Game (Fish and Game). After the Commission denied the petition, appellants petitioned the superior court for a writ of administrative mandate to set aside the Commission's decision. The Court of Appeal affirmed the superior court's denial of the petition and held that substantial evidence supported the Commission's determination that accurate or complete information would not have caused the Commission to act differently in ruling on MVF's CDP application. In this case, the Commission correctly interpreted and applied section 13105, subdivision (a), and substantial evidence supported the Commission's determination that although MVF's application contained intentional misrepresentations regarding the approvals by the ERB, Fish and Game, and the Water Board, the Commission would not have imposed additional conditions or denied the CDP if accurate information had been provided. View "Hubbard v. Coastal Commission" on Justia Law

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HERO appealed the trial court's denial of their petition for writ of mandate, seeking to set aside actions taken by the City in approving a proposal by the owner to convert a vacant 18-unit apartment building into a boutique hotel. At issue was whether the City erred in failing to prepare an environmental impact report (EIR) to assess the loss of affordable housing and displacement of tenants that would result from the conversion of the former apartment building into a hotel. The Court of Appeal held that there were no housing-related impacts or displacement of tenants for the City to address in an EIR, because the building at issue had been withdrawn from the rental market years before the City commenced environmental review for the hotel project. The court also rejected HERO's other contentions and affirmed the judgment. View "Hollywoodians Encouraging Rental Opportunities v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Sacramentans for Fair Planning contended the City of Sacramento violated zoning law and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it approved entitlements for real party 2500 J Owners, LLC, to construct a high-rise condominium building in the City’s Midtown area. The project was not consistent with the general plan and zoning code standards for building intensity and height. But the City approved it pursuant to a general plan policy authorizing more intense development than zoning otherwise allowed if the project provided a significant community benefit. The City also conducted a streamlined CEQA review. CEQA authorized the less intense review for a type of residential mixed-use development such as the proposed project which, because of its proximity to mass transit services, may help reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions by generating less use of motor vehicles. In a petition for writ of mandate, plaintiff argued that approving the project under the general plan policy violated constitutional law and an implied-in-law zoning contract that required identical uses in a zoning district to be treated uniformly and prohibited a delegation of legislative authority without sufficient standards to govern its use. Plaintiff also claimed the City violated CEQA because the streamlined review did not analyze all of the project’s environmental effects. The trial court denied plaintiff’s petition. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order and judgment. View "Sacramentans for Fair Planning v. City of Sacramento" on Justia Law

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After years of investigation, the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board), issued a cleanup and abatement order (CAO) to San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E) and several other entities, in connection with a power plant’s operations that discharged waste into the San Diego Bay. The Regional Board found that SDG&E caused or permitted waste to be discharged into the Bay and thereby created, or threatened to create, pollution and nuisance conditions. SDG&E contested its designation as a responsible "person" under Water Code section 13304 (a), and petitioned for a writ of mandate to have the CAO vacated. The superior court denied the writ. SDG&E argued then, as it did before the Court of Appeal, that shipyard companies comparatively discharged greater amounts of pollutants into the Bay and that two appellate opinions required application of the "substantial factor" causation test to determine whether SDG&E created or threatened to create a condition of pollution or nuisance. The Court of Appeal found it was undisputed that SDG&E directly discharged and thus "caused or permitted" waste to enter the Bay, distinguishing the aforementioned appellate cases. Further, the Regional Board adequately demonstrated that the waste discharged by SDG&E created, or threatened to create, a condition of pollution or nuisance. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment. View "San Diego Gas & Electric Co. v. San Diego Regional Water etc." on Justia Law

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The Center for Biological Diversity appealed the denial of its petition for a writ of mandate challenging an environmental impact report (EIR) prepared by the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (Department) pursuant to a law known as Senate Bill No. 4. (Stats. 2013, ch. 313, sec. 2, enacting Sen. Bill No. 4; hereafter, Senate Bill No. 4.) Senate Bill No. 4 added sections 3150 through 3161 to the Public Resources Code to address the need for additional information about the environmental effects of well stimulation treatments such as hydraulic fracturing and acid well stimulation. As relevant here, Senate Bill No. 4 required the Department to prepare an EIR “pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act ([Public Resources Code] Division 13 (commencing with Section 21000) [CEQA]), to provide the public with detailed information regarding any potential environmental impacts of well stimulation in the state.” The Department prepared and certified an EIR. The Center filed a petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, challenging the EIR under CEQA and Senate Bill No. 4. The trial court sustained a demurrer to the Center’s cause of action for violations of CEQA, and subsequently denied the petition for a writ of mandate. The Court of Appeal found no reversible error in the denial of mandamus relief and affirmed. View "Center for Biological Diversity v. CA Dept. of Conservation" on Justia Law

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This case involved issuance of a revised permit for the Potrero Hills Landfill in Solano County, pursuant to the California Integrated Waste Management Act. Appellant Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Defense Fund (SPRAWLDEF) contended the revised permit was improper because it allowed expanded operations not in conformance with the “countywide siting element” of Solano County’s countywide integrated waste management plan (CIWMP). SPRAWLDEF claimed the California Integrated Waste Management Board, as an administrative body, had no right to invoke the judicial doctrine of failure to exhaust administrative remedies to decline to hear SPRAWLDEF’s administrative appeal. SPRAWLDEF also contended the Board deliberated in closed session, in violation of the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded SPRAWLDEF failed to preserve the conformance issue at all stages of the administrative proceedings. The Board was not required to entertain the administrative appeal. To the extent the Board nevertheless addressed the merits, given the statutory language, SPRAWLDEF failed to demonstrate reversible error. As to the open meeting law, the Court of Appeal concluded that even if closed session deliberations were improper, SPRAWLDEF failed to show prejudice warranting the nullification remedy it sought. View "SPRAWLDEF v. Dept. of Resources Recycling and Recovery" on Justia Law

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Forest City proposed a four-acre mixed-use development, bounded by Mission, Fifth, Howard, and Mary Streets. The area has eight existing buildings. The San Francisco Planning Department released its draft environmental impact report (DEIR) in 2014, describing two options. Both would have new active ground floor space, office use, residential dwelling units, and open space. Both would rehabilitate the Chronicle and Dempster Printing Buildings, demolish other buildings, and construct four new buildings. The DEIR discussed nine alternatives, rejecting five as infeasible, and concluding that a preservation alternative was environmentally superior because it would “achieve some of the project objectives regarding the development of a dense, mixed-use, transit-oriented, job-creating project” but avoid the “irreversible impact” of demolishing the Camelline Building, avoid regional pollutant impact, and reduce the transportation and circulation impacts. The Planning Commission held an informational hearing, accepted public comments, and published its responses to public comments, comprising the final EIR. The Commission adopted CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act, Pub. Resources Code 21000) findings, a statement of overriding considerations, and a mitigation monitoring and reporting program; raised the shadow limit for Boeddeker Park; approved a design for development document; recommended amendments to the general plan, Planning Code, and zoning map; and recommended adoption of a development agreement. The Board of Supervisors, trial court, and court of appeal upheld the approvals. The project description was adequate under CEQA; opponents failed to show the EIR was deficient for failing to properly consider cumulative impacts. CEQA requires an EIR to reflect a good faith effort at full disclosure; it does not mandate perfection. View "South of Market Community etc. v. City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law

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This appeal focused on circumstances in which local water and irrigation districts were entitled to subvention for unfunded state mandates. The Commission on State Mandates (Commission). The Commission denied consolidated test claims for subvention by appellants Paradise Irrigation District (Paradise), South Feather Water & Power Agency (South Feather), Richvale Irrigation District (Richvale), Biggs-West Gridley Water District (Biggs), Oakdale Irrigation District (Oakdale), and Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District (Glenn-Colusa). The Commission determined the Water and Irrigation Districts had sufficient legal authority to levy fees to pay for any water service improvements mandated by the Water Conservation Act of 2009. The trial court agreed and denied a petition for writ of mandate brought by the Water and Irrigation Districts. On appeal, the Water and Irrigation Districts presented a question left open by the Court of Appeal’s decision in Connell v. Superior Court, 59 Cal.App.4th 382 (1997). Based on the statutory language, Connell held local water districts were precluded from subvention for state mandates to increase water purity levels insofar as the water districts have legal authority to recover the costs of the state-mandated program. In so holding, Connell rejected an argument by the Santa Margarita Water District and three other water districts that they did not have the “practical ability in light of surrounding economic circumstances.” This appeal considered whether the passage of Proposition 218 changed the authority of water and irrigation districts to recover costs from their ratepayers so that unfunded state mandates for water service had to be reimbursed by the state. The Court of Appeal affirmed, finding the Water and Irrigation Districts possessed statutory authority to collect fees necessary to comply with the Water Conservation Act. Thus, under Government Code section 17556(d), subvention was not available to the Water and Irrigation Districts. The Commission properly denied the reimbursement claims at issue in this case because the Water and Irrigation Districts continued to have legal authority to levy fees even if subject to majority protest of water and irrigation district customers. View "Paradise Irrigation Dist. v. Commission on State Mandates" on Justia Law