Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Plaintiff Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) filed a petition in June 2014 to overturn a March 2014 order of defendant Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control District1 (Water Board) that sought to impose liability for remediation of metallic and acidic water pollution from an abandoned mine, the owner of which was the subsidiary of ARCO’s predecessors in interest. The trial court granted the petition in January 2018. The Water Board appealed, contending the trial court applied the wrong legal standard to determine whether the ARCO predecessors incurred direct liability for control over activities resulting in the hazardous waste that the mine discharges. The Court of Appeal agreed the trial court employed too restrictive a standard in evaluating the evidence, and therefore reversed and remanded for reconsideration of the record under the proper standard. View "Atlantic Richfield v. Central Valley Regional Water Quality etc." on Justia Law

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The 86-acre Knights Valley parcel in rural Sonoma County is zoned “Land Extensive Agriculture,” which allows wineries and tasting rooms as conditional uses. The project is a two-story, 5,500-square-foot winery building with a 17,500-square-foot wine cave, wastewater treatment, water storage facilities, fire protection facilities, and mechanical areas, covering approximately 2.4 acres. The site contains two residences and 46 acres of vineyards. The nearby area is primarily vineyards. County staff reviewed reports considering impacts on geology, groundwater, wastewater, and biological resources, and concluded that, with recommended mitigation, the project would not have a significant effect on the environment. The county approved the use permit with conditions and adopted a mitigated negative declaration under the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code 21000) and a mitigation monitoring program. The court of appeal upheld the approval. Opponents did not provide evidence that the project is reasonably likely to cause landslides or otherwise generate environmentally harmful releases of debris; that erosion from the project, particularly runoff from the cave spoils, will cause significant effects on Bidwell Creek and degrade the habitat for salmonids; or that the project’s groundwater use will significantly affect salmonids, groundwater supply in neighboring wells, and fire suppression. There was no substantial evidence that the winery will have a significant aesthetic impact or that there is a reasonable possibility the project, as conditioned, will significantly increase the risk of wildfires. View "Maacama Watershed Alliance v. County of Sonoma" on Justia Law

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At issue in appeal was a challenge under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to a project proposing to expand an existing Walmart store by approximately 64,000 square feet (the Project). Years earlier, Walmart Stores, Inc. (Walmart), had proposed a larger expansion project that would have increased the size of the store by approximately 98,000 square feet. In 2009, the City of Chico (City) declined to approve that project. In 2015, Walmart returned to the City seeking approval of the current Project. After preparing a new environmental impact report (EIR), which showed the Project would have a significant and unavoidable traffic impact, the City certified the EIR and approved the Project. The City also adopted a statement of overriding considerations, concluding that the benefits of the Project outweighed its one unavoidable environmental impact. Plaintiff Chico Advocates for a Responsible Economy (CARE) filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the City’s environmental review and approval of the Project, but the trial court denied the petition. CARE appealed, arguing the trial court erred in denying the petition because: (1) the EIR failed to adequately evaluate the Project’s urban decay impacts; and (2) the City’s statement of overriding considerations is deficient. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Chico Advocates for a Responsible Economy v. City of Chico" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Court of Appeal in this case was the proposed expansion of the San Diego Convention Center by the City of San Diego and of the adjacent Hilton San Diego Bayfront hotel by One Park Boulevard, LLC (One Park, and collectively, the Project). The San Diego Unified Port District (Port) approved a port master plan amendment authorizing the Project (Amendment). The California Coastal Commission (Commission) certified the Amendment as consistent with the California Coastal Act, which required certain findings under the California Environment Quality Act (CEQA). San Diego Navy Broadway Complex Coalition (Navy Broadway) filed a petition for writ of administrative mandamus against the Commission and the Port to challenge the certification, later adding the City and One Park (collectively, Defendants). Defendants raised a statute of limitations defense, which the trial court rejected after a bench trial. The court then held a hearing on the merits, denied Navy Broadway's petition, and entered judgment for Defendants. Navy Broadway appealed the judgment, and Defendants filed a cross-appeal challenging the statute of limitations ruling. After its review, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court erred in rejecting Defendants' statute of limitations defense; the action should have been dismissed, and the judgment for Defendants should be affirmed. The Court elected to address Navy Broadway's appeal and further concluded it could affirm based on the merits of its petition too. View "San Diego Navy Broadway Complex Coalition v. Cal. Coastal Com." on Justia Law

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The former hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. When it opened in 1929, it was a luxury resort; the Spanish Revival-style building contains Heinsbergen murals, stenciled ceilings, exquisite tile, and wrought-iron light fixtures. In 1941, the building transferred to the U.S. Navy. It was used as a military hospital until 1962 when it was transferred to the state. Since 1963, the Department has operated a prison adjacent to the building, which served as administrative offices. In 2002, the Department moved its staff from the building and offered to donate it to the City of Norco. The transfer did not occur; 2012 legislation required the prison’s closure. The Department published a draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR), indicating that there was no funding for repair or rehabilitation and that continued deterioration is expected. The Legislature rescinded the closure order. The final EIR was subsequently certified. The Department indicated that it would not be able to repair or maintain the former hotel due to inadequate funds and higher, mission-critical maintenance priorities. The Foundation repeatedly encouraged the Department to perform necessary maintenance, then unsuccessfully sought a writ of mandate, alleging that the department failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Public Resources Code 21000 by allowing the “demolition by neglect” given the 2014 El Niño rains. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the petition. The Department’s inaction is not a “project” subject to CEQA. View "Lake Norconian Club Foundation v. Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Department of Water Resources (DWR) applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or Commission) to extend its federal license to operate Oroville Dam and its facilities as a hydroelectric dam, the “Oroville Facilities Project.” A Settlement Agreement (SA)) by which the affected parties agreed to conditions for extending the license. “ DWR filed a programmatic (informational) Environmental Impact Report (EIR) as the lead agency in support of the application pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Plaintiffs challenged the sufficiency of the EIR, and the failure to consider the import of climate change, in the state courts and sought to enjoin the issuance of an extended license until their environmental claims were reviewed. The trial court denied the petition on grounds the environmental claims were speculative. In an earlier opinion the Court of Appeal held that the authority to review the EIR was preempted by the Federal Power Act (FPA), that the superior court lacked subject matter jurisdiction of the matter, and ordered that the case be dismissed. Plaintiffs petitioned for review in the Supreme Court, review was granted, and the matter was transferred back to the Court of Appeal with directions to reconsider the case in light of Friends of the Eel River v. North Coast Railroad Authority, 3 Cal.5th 677 (2017). The Court determined the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA), at issue in Eel River, was materially distinguishable from the FPA. Therefore, the Court concluded Eel River did not apply in this case. The plaintiffs could not challenge the environmental sufficiency of the program because review of that program lied with FERC and they did not seek review as required by 18 Code of Federal Regulations part 4.34(i)(6)(vii) (2003). The plaintiffs could not challenge the environmental predicate to the Certificate contained in the CEQA document because that was subject to review by FERC. The plaintiffs could not challenge the Certificate because it did not exist when this action was filed, and they could not challenge the physical changes made by the SWRCB in the Certificate until they were implemented. For these reasons the parties did not tender a federal issue over which the Court of Appeal had state CEQA jurisdiction. Accordingly, it dismissed the appeal with directions to the trial court to vacate its judgment and dismiss the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. View "County of Butte v. Dept. of Water Resources" on Justia Law

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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