Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
by
In 2016, Placer County, California (the County) approved a project to develop a resort on about 94 acres near Lake Tahoe. Sierra Watch challenged the County’s approval in two lawsuits, both of which were appealed. In this case, Sierra Watch challenged the County’s environmental review for the project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In particular, Sierra Watch contended the County: (1) failed to sufficiently consider Lake Tahoe in its analysis; (2) insufficiently evaluated the project’s impacts on fire evacuation plans for the region; (3) inadequately evaluated and mitigated the project’s noise impacts; (4) failed to allow for sufficient public review of the project’s climate change impacts; (5) failed to consider appropriate mitigation for the project’s climate change impacts; (6) overlooked feasible mitigation options for the project’s traffic impacts; and (7) wrongly relied on deferred mitigation to address the project’s impacts on regional transit. The trial court rejected all Sierra Watch’s arguments. But because the Court of Appeal found some of Sierra Watch’s claims had merit, judgment was reversed. View "Sierra Watch v. County of Placer" on Justia Law

by
Three appeals against respondent Department of Water Resources all involved litigation related to changes in long-term water supply contracts brought about by the “Monterey Agreement” and “Monterey Amendment.” In the first case, Central Delta Water Agency, et al. (collectively, Central Delta) appealed the trial court’s decision on a petition for writ of mandate challenging the adequacy of the “Monterey Plus” environmental impact report (Monterey Plus EIR) issued in 2010 and the validity of the Monterey Amendment. In the second, Center for Biological Diversity (Biological Diversity) appealed the trial court’s denial of attorney fees incurred in connection with its writ petition against DWR involving the Monterey Plus EIR and Monterey Amendment. In the third case, Center for Food Safety, et al. (collectively, Food Safety) appealed the trial court’s denial of a petition for writ of mandate challenging DWR’s revised environmental impact report on the Monterey Plus project (Revised EIR). Finding no reversible error in any of the three cases, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Central Delta Water Agency v. Dept. of Water Resources" on Justia Law

by
The Department regulates the use of pesticides, including 1,3-Dichloropropene (1,3-D), which is used in agriculture. Only Dow produces 1,3-D for use in California As a condition of Dow’s continued registration of 1,3-D products, the Department maintains a “township cap program,” which limits the amount of the pesticide that may be used each year to reduce cancer risks to bystanders. Plaintiffs filed a petition for a writ of mandate, claiming that the township cap program was an underground regulation in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and fails to incorporate recommendations from the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment as required under the Food and Agriculture Code.The trial court granted summary judgment, declaring the township cap program void and directing the Department to engage in formal rulemaking to replace it. The court of appeal affirmed, agreeing that the program is an underground regulation. A regulation subject to the APA may exist even if the agency never promulgates a written policy setting forth the rule. The fact that Dow happens to be the only registrant of 1,3-D does not mean the Department can informally regulate the pesticide at will while its rules are implemented as conditions of Dow’s registration; the township cap program is a rule of general application. The program governs how 1,3-D will be used, not how the Department will register pesticides, and clearly implements and makes specific the law the Department administers. View "Vasquez v. Department of Pesticide Regulation" on Justia Law

by
Objectors challenged the Watershed Conservation Authority's (WCA) certification of the environmental impact report (EIR) for a project in the Angeles National Forest (California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Pub. Resources Code, 21000). The Project comprises 198 acres along 2.5-miles of the East Fork of the San Gabriel River and will involve the development of new picnic areas, pedestrian trails, river access points and upgrades to existing facilities; improvements to roadways, parking, restrooms, and refuse disposal; restoration of riparian and upland vegetation communities; and implementation of a Forest Closure Order to prohibit overnight camping. The EIR addressed the usual range of potential impacts on the environment, on biological resources, cultural resources, water quality, air quality, and more.The trial court rejected claims that CEQA required WCA to consider additional project alternatives, and that the project was inconsistent with applicable land use plans, but issued a writ of mandate requiring WCA to “articulat[e] and substantiat[e] an adequate parking baseline” for the project, and to reassess the significance of the impacts resulting from the parking reduction. The court later awarded plaintiff attorney fees. The court of appeal reversed as to the parking issue and attorneys’ fees. The trial court erred in its analysis of the parking issue and should have denied the petition in its entirety. View "Save our Access San Gabriel Mountains v. Watershed Conservation Authority" on Justia Law

by
The County appeals from a judgment and issuance of a peremptory writ of mandate in a proceeding under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).In the published portion of the opinion, the Court of Appeal addressed the exhaustion of administrative remedies and the interpretation of the existing facilities exemption. The court concluded that the issue exhaustion requirement does not apply to challenges to the exemptions because the county did not provide adequate notice that CEQA exemptions would be considered at the public hearing held by its Board of Supervisors. Consequently, the county did not provide an opportunity for members of the public to raise objections to its reliance on those exemptions. The court resolved the ambiguity by interpreting the word "facilities" to exclude unlined landfills and therefore concluded that the county misinterpreted the Guidelines and violated CEQA when it concluded the existing facilities exemption applied to the project. The court affirmed the judgment. View "Los Angeles Department of Water and Power v. County of Inyo" on Justia Law

by
In 2018, faced with the “impending loss of the Raiders to Las Vegas and the Golden State Warriors to San Francisco,” the Legislature sought to facilitate “a new baseball park” at the Howard Terminal site in Oakland. The Project would create many high-wage, highly skilled jobs and present “an unprecedented opportunity to invest in new and improved transit and transportation infrastructure and implement sustainability measures.”Assembly Bill 734 is special legislation applicable solely to the Project. Pursuant to Public Resources Code section 21168.6.7, the baseball park and any nonresidential construction in the Project must achieve LEED gold certification, and residential construction must achieve either LEED gold certification or “the comparable GreenPoint rating, including meeting sustainability standards for access to quality transit.” The project must also achieve greenhouse gas neutrality, reduce by 20 percent the collective vehicle trips, and offer a “comprehensive package of community benefits.” Section 21168.6.7 requires certification by the Governor that the Project meets all those criteria to qualify for expedited administrative and judicial review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Objectors argued that the Governor’s authority to certify the project expired on January 1, 2020. The trial court and court of appeal upheld the Governor’s ongoing certification authority. On February 11, 2021, the Governor certified the Howard Terminal Project for expedited CEQA review. View "Pacific Merchant Shipping Association v. Newsom" on Justia Law

by
On March 21, 2017, following a public hearing, East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) committed to accept Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) funding for “[e]nvironmental [r]estoration and [m]aintenance at Briones Regional Park and LafayetteMoraga Regional Trail.” A staff report explained that PG&E had determined that 245 trees near the gas transmission pipeline on EBRPD property needed to be removed for safety reasons, would pay $1,000 for each tree removed, and would provide replacement trees for 31 District-owned trees within the City of Lafayette, per the City’s ordinance. PG&E would also provide $10,000 for two years of maintenance. Days later EBRPD and PG&E signed an agreement. On June 27, EBRPD filed a Notice of Exemption under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Pub. Res. Code, 2100. On July 31, opponents and EBRPD entered into an agreement to “toll all applicable statutes of limitations for 60 days” PG&E did not consent.On September 29, opponents sued. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. The CEQA claim is barred by the 180-day limitation period. PG&E, a necessary and indispensable party to that claim, did not consent to tolling. The non-CEQA claims relating to the city and ABRPD ordinances cannot be amended to allege claims for which relief can be granted. Constitutional due process rights of notice and a hearing did not attach to EBRPD’s quasi-legislative acts. View "Save Lafayette Trees v. East Bay Regional Park District" on Justia Law

by
The California Water Resources Control Board (Board) promulgated a regulation setting the drinking water standard for TCP in 2017. Kern County Taxpayers Association and California Manufacturers and Technology Association (Association) challenged the regulation by petition for writ of ordinary mandate. The trial court denied the petition. The Association appealed, arguing the Board failed to comply with the Act’s requirement that new drinking water standards be “economically feasible.” The Association also argued the Board failed to comply with the economic impact assessment requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act. The Court of Appeal rejected both contentions and affirmed. View "Cal. Manufacturers & Tech. etc. v. State Water Resources Control Bd." on Justia Law

by
Real party in interest Poseidon Resources (Surfside) LLC (Poseidon) planned to establish a desalination plant at a site in Huntington Beach, California. In 2010, nonparty City of Huntington Beach (Huntington Beach), serving as lead agency performing environmental review of the proposed project pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), certified a subsequent environmental impact report (the 2010 subsequent EIR).However, the project did not move forward. Following changes in circumstances (including significant regulatory changes), Poseidon proposed modifications to the project, which it addressed in a proposed lease modification with defendant California’s State Lands Commission (Lands Commission). The Lands Commission determined that it needed to prepare a supplemental EIR to supplement Huntington Beach’s 2010 subsequent EIR. In 2017, the Lands Commission certified its final supplemental EIR. Plaintiffs petitioned for mandamus relief, claiming, among other things, that the Lands Commission failed to comply with the requirements of CEQA. The trial court denied the petition. On appeal, Plaintiffs asserted the Lands Commission prejudicially abused its discretion; the Lands Commission and Poseidon argued that the true issues on appeal were whether the Lands Commission properly proceeded with supplemental review and the results of that review, factual matters subject to substantial evidence review. The Court of Appeal concluded the Lands Commission properly elected to prepare a supplemental EIR, did not err in refusing to assume lead agency status, and did not unlawfully piecemeal or segment environmental review. View "California Coastkeeper Alliance v. State Lands Commission" on Justia Law

by
In Dow v. Lassen Irrigation Co. 216 Cal.App.4th 766 (2013, "Dow I"), the Court of Appeal resolved an ambiguity as to the “or” in the a portion of paragraph 21 of the 1940 Susan River Water Right Decree (decree) : “except further, that Lassen Irrigation Company shall be entitled to divert, or store up to the present capacity of its reservoirs, estimated at 31,500 acre-feet, from the natural flow of Susan River between March 1 and July 1 of each year when the flow of said Susan River is in excess of 20 cubic feet per second . . . .” The Court concluded the “or” was intended to function as a disjunctive connector. In this case, the Court was again called on to resolve a second ambiguity created by the same “or.” Jay Dow, as trustee for the Dow-Bonomini 2013 Family Trust, appealed the trial court’s denial of the trust’s motion challenging the decision of Honey Lake Valley Resources Conservation District, serving as the watermaster administering the decree, finding Lassen Irrigation Company could simultaneously exercise its rights to divert and store water, as provided in the paragraph 21 exception. The trust argued the watermaster’s and trial court’s interpretation of the paragraph 21 exception conflicted with the principles of law espoused in Dow I and was unreasonable given the plain language of the decree, resulting in absurdity and unfairness. The trust believed the “or” had to be read in the exclusive sense such that the Irrigation Company could exercise only one of its rights at a time. The Court of Appeal concluded the “or” in the paragraph 21 exception was appropriately interpreted to apply in the inclusive sense. Thus, the Court affirmed. View "Dow v. Honey Lake Valley Resource Conservation Dist." on Justia Law