Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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Plaintiffs, opposed the development of an eight-unit multifamily residential building in a high-density residential district, challenged a resolution granting demolition and design review permits. They claimed the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA; Govt. Code, 21000) because the city council failed to consider aspects of the project other than design review and that the city abused its discretion under CEQA by approving the demolition permit and design review without requiring an environmental impact report (EIR) based on its determination that the proposed project met the requirements for a Class 32 (infill) categorical exemption under CEQA Guidelines. The court of appeal affirmed. The city council properly limited the scope of its review as required by the ordinance, did not abdicate its duty to act, and did not delegate its ultimate duty to the planning commission. St. Helena's Municipal Code did not require the city council to consider the environmental consequences of a multi-family project in an HR district Because of that lack of any discretion to address environmental effects, it was unnecessary to rely on the Class 32 exemption. View "McCorkle Eastside Neighborhood Group v. St. Helena" 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 (referred to as the Oroville Facilities Project, Project, Settlement Agreement or "SA"). The plaintiffs brought this action in the superior court to stay the license procedure on the premise the environmental effects of relicensing the dam concern the operation of the dam and that jurisdiction to review the matter lies in the state courts pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act. They claimed that a CEQA document offered to support the DWR’s application to FERC failed to consider the impact of climate change on the operation of the dam for all the purposes served by the dam. The superior court dismissed the complaint on the ground that predicting the impact of climate change is speculative. The plaintiffs appealed. A federal license is required by the Federal Power Act for the construction and operation of a hydroelectric dam. The license is issued by FERC. With one relevant exception, the FPA occupies the field of licensing a hydroelectric dam and bars review in the state courts of matters subject to review by FERC. Plaintiffs did not seek federal review as required by 18 C.F.R part 4.34(i)(6)(vii)(2003). The Court of Appeal concluded it lacked jurisdiction to hear this case. It returned the case to the trial court with an order to dismiss. View "County of Butte v. Dept. of Water Resources" on Justia Law

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Georgetown was a "quaint unincorporated Gold Rush-era hamlet" in rural El Dorado County (the County, including defendant Board of Supervisors). Developer SimonCRE Abbie, LLC and its principals wanted to erect a Dollar General chain discount store on three vacant Main Street lots. Local residents acting through plaintiff Georgetown Preservation Society (Society) objected, claiming this would impair the look of their town. After the real parties slightly modified the project, the County adopted a mitigated negative declaration, finding there was no basis to require an environmental impact report (EIR). In response to the Society’s mandamus petition, the trial court duly applied Pocket Protectors v. City of Sacramento, 124 Cal.App.4th 903 (2004), and found the Society’s evidence supported a fair argument that the project may have a significant aesthetic effect on the environment, but rejected the Society’s claims about traffic impacts and pedestrian safety, and declined to address the Society’s claim the project was inconsistent with planning and zoning norms. Accordingly, the court issued a writ of mandate compelling the County to require an EIR. On appeal, the County and real parties, supported by the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties (which together filed one amicus curiae brief), contended the trial court erred in finding an EIR was needed. They principally relied on the fact that the County applied its Historic Design Guide principles and found the project met aesthetic standards. The Court of Appeal disagreed with this proposed method of bypassing CEQA and instead reinforced Pocket Protectors, holding that the Society’s evidence of aesthetic impacts was sufficient to trigger the need for an EIR. "A planning or zoning decision may be entitled to greater deference than a mitigated negative declaration, but such a determination is no more than it purports to be and is not a CEQA determination." View "Georgetown Preservation Society v. County of El Dorado" on Justia Law

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By a stipulated decree issued in 1920, the Tehama County Superior Court adjudicated water rights in Mill Creek. It declared the natural flow of the water up to a total rate of 203 cfs had been appropriated by the parties appearing before it for use upon their and other persons’ lands. The decree entitled these original owners of the water rights and their successors to continue diverting from Mill Creek a total of 203 cfs of water, and it allotted them shares in the amount of water each could divert. It entitled the owners to use or dispose of their share of water in any manner, at any place, or for any purpose, or in accordance with whatever agreement the owners may make with any other person or entity. As part of the decree, the court also appointed a water master of Mill Creek to implement its order. The decree gave the water master exclusive authority to divert and apportion the water during the irrigation season according to the decree’s terms, measure the diversions, and control and superintend the diversions and the gates and ditches used to divert the water. The owner of an appropriative right to water in Mill Creek sought declaratory relief to determine whether, under the judicial decree that established the right, it could: (1) use water appropriated to it on a year around basis and not only during the irrigation season; (2) use or transfer its water outside of the creek’s watershed; and (3) make these changes in the use and location of use without obtaining prior approval of the creek’s water master or the superior court. The trial court declared the decree did not give the owner these rights. The Court of Appeal agreed with the Orange Grove Irrigation District that the trial court’s holding was incorrect: the court created a condition that did not exist in the decree, and it did so based on a misunderstanding of the extent of control the decree granted to Los Molinos Mutual Water Company and of the operation of Water Code section 1706. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded the trial court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Orange Cove Irrigation Dist. v. Los Molinos Mutual Water Co." on Justia Law

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In 1998, the State Lands Commission granted Hanson’s predecessor 10-year leases, authorizing commercial sand mining from sovereign lands, owned by the state subject to the public trust, and managed by the Commission, under the Central San Francisco Bay, Suisun Bay, and the western Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. In 2006, Hanson requested extensions of several leases, but they expired before the Commission made its decision. The Commission granted four new 10-year leases covering essentially the same parcels in the San Francisco Bay. In 2012, opponents sought a writ of mandate to compel the Commission to set aside its approval of the project. In 2015, a different panel of the court of appeal found that the Commission’s environmental review of the project complied with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code 21000), but that the Commission violated the public trust doctrine by approving the project without considering whether the sand mining leases were a proper use of public trust lands. The Commission reapproved the project; the court discharged a writ of mandate. The court of appeal affirmed. While the Commission erred by concluding that private commercial sand mining constitutes a public trust use of sovereign lands, there is substantial evidence that the project will not impair the public trust. View "San Francisco Baykeeper, Inc. v. State Lands Commission" on Justia Law

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The Alliance challenged the approval of a project comprising a fuel station, convenience store, and quick serve restaurant on The Alameda and the adoption of a mitigated negative declaration for the project. The Alliance sought to compel the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code 21000). In March 2016, the trial court issued a “Peremptory Writ of Mandate of Interlocutory Remand for Reconsideration of Potential Noise Impacts,” requiring the city to set aside the resolutions, reconsider the significance of potential noise impacts, and take further action consistent with CEQA. The Alliance did not appeal from that decision but appealed from the December 2016 “Final Judgment on Petition for Writ of Mandamus,” which determined that the city’s supplemental return complied with the peremptory writ and with CEQA. The court of appeal affirmed, concluding that the March 2016 decision was the final judgment and the December 2016 decision was a post-judgment order. The court rejected claims that the city was required to prepare an EIR because there was substantial evidence in the record supporting a fair argument that the proposed project may have significant, unmitigated traffic and noise impacts and that the project violated the municipal code governing “formula retail businesses.” View "Alliance of Concerned Citizens Organized for Responsible Development v. City of San Juan Bautista" on Justia Law

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This case involved challenges by the High Sierra Rural Alliance (High Sierra) to the Plumas County’s general plan update and the final environmental impact report (EIR). All of High Sierra’s challenges related to these documents’ treatment of possible growth outside of the County’s planning areas. Specifically, High Sierra contended: (1) the County’s general plan update violated the California Timberland Productivity Act of 1982 (Timberland Act) by determining a residence or structure on a parcel zoned as a timberland production zone is necessarily compatible with timber operations; (2) the general plan update violated Government Code section 51104; (3) the County violated CEQA by failing to properly address the potentially significant impacts of allowing construction of multiple buildings covering up to two acres on a single parcel without any discretionary review or mitigation policies to protect the environment; (4) the County’s EIR was defective because it did not properly describe or disclose the potentially significant impacts of allowing new clustered subdivision development in rural areas under general plan update policy number LU1.1.4; and (5) the County should be required to recirculate the final EIR because the County added significant information regarding development after the close of the public comment period. The Court of Appeal concluded the County’s general plan update did not violate the Timberland Act by failing to recite the statutory language in Government Code section 51104. And the County’s EIR is not deficient for lack of study regarding the effects of section 51104 on the construction of residences and structures in timberland production zone parcels. The Court also concluded the EIR adequately analyzed reasonably foreseeable development within the County, including impacts that could be expected outside the planning areas. The Court agreed with the trial court that the County reasonably crafted the EIR as “a first-tier environmental document that assesses and documents the broad environmental impacts of a program with the understanding that a more detailed site-specific review may be required to asses future projects implemented under the program.” View "High Sierra Rural Alliance v. County of Plumas" on Justia Law

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The city approved an agreement with PG&E which authorized and imposed conditions on the removal of up to 272 trees within its local natural gas pipeline rights-of-way. The staff report stated that the removal of protected trees constituted a Major Tree Removal Project, requiring tree removal permits and mitigation. PG&E was willing to provide requested information and applicable mitigation but claimed that an exemption from obtaining any discretionary permits. The city agreed to process the project under Lafayette Municipal Code section 6-1705(b)(S), which allows the city to allow removal of a protected tree “to protect the health, safety and general welfare of the community.” The trial court dismissed a challenge. The court of appeal reversed in part. Claims asserted under the planning and zoning law (Government Code 65000), the city’s general plan, and the city’s tree protection ordinance are barred by Government Code 65009(c)(1)(E), as not timely-served. The statute requires that an action challenging a decision regarding a zoning permit be filed and served within 90 days of the decision; the original petition was timely filed on June 26, 2017, but was not served until after the 90-day deadline. The claim under the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code, 21000) was timely filed and served under Public Resources Code 21167(a) and 21167.6(a). View "Save Lafayette Trees v. City of Lafayette" on Justia Law

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This case involved a challenge to a Water Code section 13269 waiver of waste discharge requirements for irrigated agricultural land. Discharge requirements could be waived “if the state board or a regional board determines . . . that the waiver is consistent with any applicable state or regional water quality control plan and is in the public interest.” In 2012, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board modified the waiver. Monterey Coastkeeper, San Luis Obispo Coastkeeper, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper (collectively Coastkeeper) petitioned for a writ of mandate, challenging the modified waiver. They contended it did not meet the requirements of the Water Code and applicable state water policies. The trial court agreed in part, and issued a peremptory writ of mandate directing the State Board to set aside the modified waiver and issue a new waiver consistent with its decision. The State Board and various agricultural interests as interveners appealed, contending the trial court erred in comparing the modified waiver (unfavorably) to a 2010 draft of the 2012 waiver, failing to defer to the State Board’s expertise and apply a presumption of correctness, and ignoring the appropriate reasonableness standard. They raised specific objections to several of the trial court’s findings. The Court of Appeal agreed with appellants as to two of their points; the trial court’s findings as to the inadequacy of the tiering and monitoring provisions of the modified waiver were not supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, the Court modified the judgment accordingly and otherwise affirmed. View "Monterey Coastkeeper v. Water Resources Control Board" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-respondent San Diego Unified Port District (District) unsuccessfully asked defendant-appellant California Coastal Commission (Commission) to certify an amendment of District's port master plan to authorize hotel development in the East Harbor Island subarea, including construction of a 175-room hotel by real party in interest Sunroad Marina Partners, LP (Sunroad). District filed a petition for peremptory writ of mandate challenging Commission's denial of certification, and the trial court in January 2017 issued the writ, finding Commission violated provisions of the California Coastal Act of 1976 and "impermissibly set policy" by setting a maximum rental rate or fixing room rental rates. Commission did not appeal that ruling, but reheard District's application and again denied certification, finding the master plan amendment lacked sufficient specificity to adequately protect lower cost visitor and public recreational opportunities, including overnight accommodations. On objections by District and Sunroad, the trial court in August 2017 ruled that Commission had essentially conditioned its certification on the provision of lower cost overnight accommodations, which "infring[ed] on the wide discretion afforded to the District to determine the contents of land use plans and how to implement those plans." The court ruled that Commission acted in excess of its jurisdiction and did not proceed in the manner required by law. Commission appealed the August 2017 postjudgment order, contending it complied with the writ, but afterwards, in the face of Port's and Sunroad's objections, the trial court expanded the writ's scope, thereby exceeding its jurisdiction. Commission asked the Court of Appeal to find it complied with the writ as issued, reverse the order sustaining District and Sunroad's objection, and direct the trial court to discharge the writ. Furthermore, the Commission contended it properly denied District's proposed amendment on remand. The Court of Appeal narrowly reviewed the correctness of the trial court's postjudgment ruling that Commission exceeded its jurisdiction or acted contrary to law in denying certification of District's proposed master plan amendment. Doing so, the Court held the trial court erred by relying in part on provisions of the Act governing a local government's authority and imposing limits on Commission's jurisdiction with respect to local coastal programs, which did not pertain to port master plans or master plan amendments. Furthermore, the Court concluded the lower court engaged in an impermissibly broad interpretation of a provision of the Act barring Commission from modifying a master plan amendment as a condition of certification. View "San Diego Unified Port Dist. v. Cal. Coastal Commission" on Justia Law