Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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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

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In 2012, the County of Amador (County) certified a final environmental impact report (EIR) and approved the Newman Ridge Project (Project), an aggregate quarry and related facilities near Ione owned by real parties in interest Newman Minerals and others (Applicants). Ione Valley Land, Air, and Water Defense Alliance, LLC (LAWDA) filed a petition for writ of mandate under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) challenging the certification and approval. The trial court granted the petition as to traffic impacts because the 2012 draft EIR did not accurately portray the data from the traffic impact study and did not disclose traffic information in a manner reasonably calculated to inform the public and decision-makers. The errors required correction and recirculation of the EIR as to traffic issues only. As to all other issues, the petition was denied. After the County issued a partially recirculated draft EIR in 2014, certified the partially recirculated EIR, and again approved the Project, LAWDA again filed a petition for writ of mandate. The trial court denied the petition, and LAWDA appealed, contending the trial court erred by denying the petition: (1) as to impacts other than traffic impacts; and (2) as to traffic impacts. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded: (1) the arguments relating to impacts other than traffic impacts were precluded by res judicata; and (2) LAWDA failed to establish that CEQA statutes and guidelines required reversal as to traffic impacts. View "Ione Valley Land, Air, and Water etc. v. County of Amador" on Justia Law

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Hany Dimitry obtained a coastal development permit (CDP) from the City of Laguna Beach (the City) to demolish his Laguna Beach house. Mark Fudge challenged the permit, appealing to the California Coastal Commission (the Commission), and at court, to attach the merits of the City’s decision to grant Dimitry the CDP. The Commission accepted Fudge’s appeal, which meant it would hear that appeal “de novo.” Because the Commission’s hearing would be “de novo,” the trial court followed Kaczorowski v. Mendocino County Bd. of Supervisors, 88 Cal.App.4th 564 (2001) and McAllister v. County of Monterey, 147 Cal.App.4th 253 (2007) in concluding that there was no relief that Fudge might be able to obtain in his court action. The trial court concluded Fudge’s challenge to Dimitry’s CDP was entirely in the hands of the Commission, and dismissed the civil action. Fudge appealed, arguing the Commission’s hearing was not going to be truly “de novo” because the Commission would use different rules and procedures than the City used. When it comes to a local coastal entity’s decision on a CDP, the Court of Appeal determined the Legislature constructed a system in which appeals to the Commission would be heard de novo under the Coastal Act even though the original local decision was decided under CEQA. “Fudge’s mistake lies in his belief the Legislature was bound by the Collier court’s observation about de novo hearings being conducted in ‘the same manner’ as the original. We must disagree. It’s the other way around.” The Court determined the Legislature was not bound by the California Supreme Court’s observation about the common law nature of “de novo” hearings. Rather the courts were bound by the intent of the Legislature as to what the hearings would look like – plainly expressed in Public Resources Code section 21080.5. Therefore, the Court affirmed dismissal of the state court action. View "Fudge v. City of Laguna Beach" on Justia Law

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The city approved the agreement with Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), authorizing the removal of up to 272 trees within its local natural gas pipeline rights-of-way. The staff report explains that this is a Major Tree Removal Project, requiring a tree removal permit and mitigation for the removed trees. PG&E was willing to provide requested information and mitigation but claimed to be exempt from obtaining any discretionary permits. “To ensure that the [community pipeline safety initiative] can move forward and to protect the public safety, PG&E and City staff have agreed to process the ... project under [Code] section 6-1705(b)(S). This section allows the city to allow removal of a protected tree ‘to protect the health, safety and general welfare of the community.’“ Opponents sued, alleging violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code 21000), the planning and zoning law, the general plan, and the tree ordinance, and the due process rights of the petitioners by failing to provide sufficient notice of the hearing. PG&E argued that the suit was barred by Government Code 65009(c)(1)(E), which requires an action challenging a decision regarding a zoning permit to be filed and served within 90 days of the decision. The original petition was timely filed but not served until after the deadline. The trial court dismissed without leave to amend. The court of appeal affirmed as to the ordinance claims but reversed with respect to CEQA. View "Save Lafayette Trees v. City of Lafayette" on Justia Law

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Berkeley approved the construction of three houses on adjacent parcels in the Berkeley Hills, citing the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Pub. Resources Code, 21000 exemption for “up to three single-family residences” in urbanized areas. Plaintiffs opposed the approval, citing the “location” exception: “a project that is ordinarily insignificant in its impact ... may in a particularly sensitive environment be significant … where the project may impact on an environmental resource of hazardous or critical concern where designated.” The projects were within the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zone and in a potential earthquake-induced landslide area mapped by the California Geologic Survey. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the petition for writ of mandate. Giving meaning to the phrase “environmental resource,” the location exception was not intended to cover all areas subject to such potential natural disasters as a matter of law; it applies “where the project may impact on an environmental resource.” The exception reflects a concern with the effect of the project on the environment, not the impact of existing environmental conditions (such as seismic and landslide risks) on the project or future residents Plaintiffs produced no evidence that construction of the three proposed residences would exacerbate existing hazardous conditions or harm the environment View "Berkeley Hills Watershed Coalition v. Berkeley" on Justia Law

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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