Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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Fremont approved a development project in its Niles historical district, which is characterized by unusual trees and historic buildings. The historic overlay district was intended to preserve its “small town character.” The six-acre site was vacant; the developer proposed building 85 residential townhomes in its southern portion and mixed residential and retail in the northern portion. Opponents objected that some three-story buildings might block hill views; to the architectural style and choice of colors and materials on building exteriors; and to the Project’s density as a generator of traffic and parking problems. The city adopted a mitigated negative declaration under the California Environmental Quality Act, rather than prepare an environmental impact report, finding the Project as mitigated would have no significant adverse environmental impact. The trial court granted the objectors’ petition and ordered the city to vacate its approvals "absent compliance with CEQA in the preparation of an EIR.” The court of appeal affirmed, stating the Project’s compatibility with the historical district is properly analyzed as aesthetic impacts. Substantial evidence supports a fair argument of a significant aesthetic impact and a fair argument of significant traffic impacts, notwithstanding a professional traffic study concluding the anticipated adverse impacts fell below the city’s predetermined thresholds of significance. View "Protect Niles v. City of Fremont" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment sustaining respondents' demurrer in an action seeking a writ of mandate to declare the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and O'Shaughnessy Dam unreasonable methods of diverting water under article X, section 2 of the California Constitution. The trial court concluded that petitioners' claims were preempted by the Raker Act, federal legislation granting certain rights-of-way to San Francisco subject to various conditions. The court held that the savings clause contained in the Raker Act does not preclude a finding of conflict between the asserted claims of this case and the express determination by Congress to divert water on a permanent basis at the site of the O’Shaughnessy Dam. Therefore, petitioners' claims failed under preemption principles and the court need not reach the trial court's alternative holding that the claims were time barred. View "Restore Hetch Hetchy v. City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law

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The Network petitioned for a writ of mandate to compel the County to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) before issuing well permits. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the petition on demurrer, holding that the well permits were ministerial actions under Chapter 8.40 of the San Luis Obispo County Code exempt from review under CEQA. The court reasoned that, if an applicant meets fixed standards, the County must issue a well permit. On the other hand, the ordinance did not require use of personal or subjective judgment by County officials. Therefore, there was no discretion to be exercised and CEQA was inapplicable. View "CA Water Impact Network v. County of San Luis Obispo" on Justia Law

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LandWatch filed a petition for writ of administrative mandate, alleging that the District, in approving an emergency water supply project, failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). LandWatch elected to prepare the administrative record, but the District ended up preparing the record. After the District prevailed, it moved for costs that included the costs of preparing the administrative record and an appendix. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's finding that the agency acted properly in preparing the record and appendix and held that the trial court had the discretion to award the agency costs for preparing the record notwithstanding the petitioner's election under Public Resources Code 21167.6, subdivision (b)(2). Finally, the court held that the trial court did not err by awarding fees for the appendix and for fees to CourtCall for 12 telephonic appearances. View "LandWatch San Luis Obispo County v. Cambria Community Services District" on Justia Law

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Petitioner sought an administrative writ and declaratory relief, contending that the lease replacement between PG&E and the Commission should not have been subject to the existing facilities exemption, and that even if it was, the unusual circumstances exception to the exemption should apply. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's rejection of petitioner's contentions and denied the writ and declaratory relief. The court held that the record supported the Commission's application of the existing facilities exemption where the lease replacement would not expand the existing use of the plant. In this case, PG&E has leased the same land from the Commission for nearly 50 years, and the lease replacement maintained rather than expanded the plant's current operational capacity. The court also held that the Commission properly applied the fair argument standard in considering possible effects on the environment due to any unusual circumstances. The court rejected petitioner's remaining arguments. View "World Business Academy v. California State Lands Commission" on Justia Law

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The state formed BBGHAD to restore 46 acres of Malibu's Broad Beach. The project requires 300,000 cubic yards of sand initially, with subsequent deposits at five-year intervals, and supplemental deposits as needed. Each of the five major deposits will generate 44,000 one-way truck trips, primarily from quarries adjacent to State Highway 23 between Fillmore and Moorpark. Moorpark officials expressed concern that truck traffic would negatively impact residents. A settlement prohibited sand trucks from using certain roads and from stopping in specific areas. The Coastal Commission approved a coastal development permit, including the settlement agreement. The trial court found the project exempt from environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Pub. Resources Code, 21000(a) but that BBGHAD improperly contracted away to Moorpark its police power in prohibiting BBGHAD from modifying haul routes in response to changed circumstances. The court of appeal held that the beach restoration, including the agreement, is a single “project” that is exempt from CEQA review as an “improvement” (section 26505) undertaken by a geologic hazard abatement district “necessary to prevent or mitigate an emergency.” The agreement's traffic restrictions are not preempted by the Vehicle Code, nor do they constitute extraterritorial regulations; they represent a valid exercise of Moorpark’s contracting authority. The court agreed that BBGHAD abdicated its police power in portions of the agreement. View "County of Ventura v. City of Moorpark" on Justia Law

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In 1989, the predecessor to the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), the agency charged with implementing California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act (Proposition 65) (Health & Saf. Code 25249.5), adopted a regulation setting a “maximum allowable dose level” (MADL) for lead as a reproductive toxicant. In 2015, Mateel sought to compel OEHHA to repeal regulations setting a MADL for lead as a reproductive toxicant and to invalidate the “safe harbor” level for lead. The court of appeal affirmed judgment in favor of OEHHA, rejecting Mateel’s argument that OEHHA failed to comply with Proposition 65's mandate that the MADL be based on an exposure having “no observable effect” when it utilized a “surrogate” “no observable effect level” (NOEL) derived from the “permissible exposure limit” (PEL) for lead set by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The court also rejected arguments that even if the OSHA blood lead level should be maintained for people who wished to plan pregnancies were appropriate to consider as a NOEL, thHA PEL was not set at a level to achieve this target; that OEHHA failed to make a downward adjustment to account for this disconnect between the PEL and the target NOEL; and that nothing in the record indicates OEHHA considered this issue in setting the MADL. View "Mateel Environmental Justice Foundation v. Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment" on Justia Law

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The California Court of Appeal consolidated cases to address a novel question regarding jurisdiction under the unique and complex cooperative federalism scheme of the federal Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 7401 et seq.) (Act). The Act authorized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Agency) to promulgate national primary and secondary ambient air quality standards. States, however, have the “primary responsibility for assuring air quality” and must each devise, adopt, and implement a state implementation plan (SIP) specifying how the state will achieve and maintain the national air quality standards. The SIP is submitted to the Agency’s administrator (Administrator) for approval. The cases here sought the same relief and practical objective: to invalidate and render unenforceable, in whole or in part (albeit on different grounds), a state regulation known as the Truck and Bus Regulation (Regulation), which was approved by the Administrator as part of and incorporated into California’s SIP. Plaintiff Jack Cody argued the Regulation violated the dormant commerce clause of the United States Constitution because it discriminated against out-of-state truckers by imposing a disproportionate compliance burden on them. Plaintiff Alliance for California Business (Alliance) argued the Regulation was unlawful because part of its mandate conflicted with state and federal safety laws. Defendants, including the California Air Resources Board (Board), raised lack of subject matter jurisdiction under section 307(b)(1) of the Act in both cases on appeal. The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeal's review centered on whether section 307(b)(1) vested exclusive and original jurisdiction over these challenges to the Regulation incorporated into and approved as part of California’s SIP in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court concluded it did and affirmed the judgments for lack of jurisdiction. View "Alliance for Calif. Business v. State Air Resources Bd." on Justia Law

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Santa Rosa decided to turn a 69-bed defunct hospital into the "Dream Center" to house 63 people, ages 18-24, and provide individual and family counseling, education and job training, a health and wellness center serving the community for ages five through 24, and activities for residents, including a pottery throwing area, a half-court basketball area, and a garden. Neighbors challenged the project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code 21000), arguing that noise impacts required preparation of an environmental impact report (EIR). The city issued a negative declaration, indication that the project would not have a significant environmental effect and an EIR would not be required. On appeal, the neighbors focused on traffic noise from the south parking lot adjacent to the Dream Center, and noise from the residents’ outdoor recreational activities. The court of appeal affirmed, finding no substantial evidence that there would be a significant noise impact from those sources. The predicted parking lot noise impacts are largely hypothetical, given the city’s parking restrictions in that lot; neighbors' impact calculations were based on data from a different project that cannot reasonably be applied to the Dream Center. An argument that the noise from residents’ outdoor activities would constitute a significant environmental impact was also based on a flawed analysis. View "Jensen v. City of Santa Rosa" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-homeowners alleged the copper piping in their homes was damaged by a chemical the defendant water districts added to tap water. Adding the chemical was authorized by regulation, however, and it was undisputed that the water districts complied with all statutory and regulatory standards. After a bifurcated bench trial on certain legal issues, the trial court entered judgment for the water districts, finding plaintiffs’ causes of action for nuisance and inverse condemnation were preempted by federal and state laws, and otherwise insufficient on the merits. The plaintiff homeowners appealed. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded plaintiffs’ causes of action failed on the merits, and thus affirmed. View "Williams v. Moulton Niguel Water Dist." on Justia Law