Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Tulare Lake Canal Company (TLCC) filed a petition for writ of mandate alleging Stratford Public Utility District (SPUD) failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it granted an easement for a 48-inch water pipeline to Sandridge Partners, L.P. (Sandridge). TLCC applied for a preliminary injunction to halt the construction and operation of the pipeline pending CEQA compliance. The trial court determined TLCC was likely to prevail on the CEQA claim but concluded the relative balance of harms from granting or denying injunctive relief favored denying the injunction. TLCC appealed.   The Fifth Appellate District reversed. The court concluded it is a near certainty that SPUD failed to comply with CEQA when it granted the easement. The construction and operation of the proposed pipeline qualify as a discretionary project approved by SPUD, a public entity. As a result, SPUD was required by CEQA to conduct a preliminary review before granting the easement. This strong showing of likely success on the CEQA claims reduces the showing of relative harms needed to obtain the injunction. Second, the court concluded that the trial court erred in stating there was no evidence of harm to the public generally in allowing the proposed project to go forward. Third, the court found that there is a reasonable probability the preliminary injunction would have been granted if the trial court had identified the harm to the public interest in informed decision-making and included it in balancing the relative harms. View "Tulare Lake Canal Co. v. Stratford Pub. Util. Dist." on Justia Law

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The Regional Water Quality Control Board, Los Angeles Region (Regional Board) renewed permits allowing four publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) to discharge millions of gallons of treated wastewater daily into the Los Angeles River and Pacific Ocean. The Regional Board issued the permits over the objections of Los Angeles Waterkeeper (Waterkeeper). Waterkeeper sought a review of the permits before the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board), and the State Board declined to review. Waterkeeper then filed petitions for writs of mandate against the State and Regional Boards (collectively, the Boards). Waterkeeper further alleged the Regional Board issued the permits without making findings required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The trial court issued four judgments and four writs of mandate directing the State Board to evaluate whether the discharges from each of the four POTWs were reasonable and to develop a factual record to allow for judicial review of whatever decision the State Board reached.   The Second Appellate District affirmed the trial court’s judgments in favor of the Boards and reversed judgments and writs of mandate against State Board. The court agreed with the trial court that the Regional Board had no duty to evaluate the reasonableness of the POTWs’ discharges when issuing the permits. The Regional Board’s purview is water quality, not reasonable use, and the Legislature has not authorized the Regional Board to determine whether a POTW’s discharges could be put to better use. The court further held that Waterkeeper has not adequately pleaded entitlement to mandamus against the State Board, and the trial court should have sustained the State Board’s demurrer. View "L.A. Waterkeeper v. State Water Resources Control Bd." on Justia Law

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The Sativa Water District was created in 1938 under the County Water District Law to provide potable drinking water to the residents living in a neighborhood in the unincorporated community of Willowbrook and parts of the City of Compton within Los Angeles County. On July 9, 2018, four named individuals— (collectively, Plaintiffs)—filed a putative class action lawsuit against the Sativa Water District. The Sativa Water District moved to dismiss Plaintiffs’ entire lawsuit. Following a briefing, a hearing, and supplemental briefing, the trial court granted the motion. Plaintiffs asserted that the trial court erred in (1) granting the Sativa Water District’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, (2) denying Plaintiffs’ motion to vacate the order dismissing the County as a defendant, and (3) decertifying their class as to the nuisance claim.   The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court explained that the Reorganization Act grants a LAFCO discretion whether to permit a district to wind up its own affairs or whether instead to appoint a successor agency responsible for doing so. Because the LAFCO, in this case, took the latter route, Plaintiffs’ class action lawsuit against the dissolved district must be dismissed. The court further concluded that the trial court’s dismissal of the successor agency was proper because Legislature expressly granted civil immunity to that agency. View "Barajas v. Satvia L.A. County Water Dist." on Justia Law

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In 2005, the Regents adopted a long-range development plan (LRDP) for UC Berkeley through the year 2020. An Environmental Impact Report (EIR, California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code, 21000) noted the LRDP “represents a maximum amount of net new growth.” which the University could substantially exceed only by amending the LRDP. In 2018, the Regents approved a new development for additional academic space and campus housing and certified a Supplemental EIR, which established an updated population baseline.SBN challenged decisions to increase enrollment beyond the level described in the 2005 EIR without further CEQA review. On remand, the trial court found that parts of the SEIR did not comply with CEQA and ordered the Regents to revise the SEIR and suspend enrollment increases. The Regents cited its certification of a 2021 LRDP and related EIR and Senate Bill 118, which modifies section 21080.09 to clarify that “Enrollment or changes in enrollment, by themselves, do not constitute a project” under CEQA and limit the remedies available if a court finds deficiencies in an environmental review based on enrollment.The court of appeal vacated, holding that certification of the 2021 EIR and S.B. 118 moot SBN’s challenge to the enrollment increases and make unenforceable the orders suspending enrollment increases. The SEIR’s project description complied with CEQA and there was no error in the discussion of mitigation measures for historic resources. View "Save Berkeley's Neighborhoods v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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The eight-acre San Jose City View Plaza contained nine buildings, including the Bank, built in 1971, which later housed the County Family Court. The Bank was eligible for listing on the California Register of Historic Resources and National Register of Historic Places. The site development permit provided for the demolition of all structures, followed by the construction of three, 19-story office towers, 65,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, and five levels of underground parking.The city council certified the Downtown Strategy 2040 final environmental impact report under the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code 21000 (CEQA)), finding that the Plaza required a supplemental environmental impact report (SEIR). The draft SEIR identified the proposed demolition of the buildings as a “significant unavoidable impact” and presented mitigation measures, to document the structures, advertise their availability for relocation, and otherwise make the structures available for salvage. The city voted not to designate the Bank as a city landmark and approved the permit, certifying the Final SEIR and rejecting project alternatives as infeasible because the “anticipated economic, social, and other benefits” of the project outweighed its “significant and unavoidable impacts.”After the trial court denied a mandate petition filed by opponents, the Bank was demolished. The court of appeal affirmed. The Final SEIR’s discussion of mitigation for the unavoidable loss of significant historic resources complied with CEQA. San Jose did not abuse its discretion by briefly considering and rejecting additional mitigation measures. View "Preservation Action Council of San Jose v. City of San Jose" on Justia Law

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After the San Francisco Planning Commission approved a final mitigated negative declaration for the owner’s proposed renovation of a residence, Kaufman, the owner of an adjacent property, appealed the matter to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which reversed the approval. The owner filed a petition for writ of mandate against the City and County, the Board, the Planning Commission, and the Planning Department, naming Kaufman as a real party in interest. In response,Kaufman filed a special motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) law (Code Civil Procedure 425.16), arguing that the petition arose from his protected petitioning activity and lacked minimal merit. The trial court granted the anti-SLAPP motion and awarded Kaufman attorney fees as the prevailing party. The court of appeal reversed. The trial court erred in finding the mandamus petition arose from Kaufman’s protected conduct, as the activities that form the basis for the petition’s causes of action are all acts or omissions of the Board. That Kaufman’s administrative appeal preceded or even triggered the events leading to the petition’s causes of action against the Board did not mean that the petition arose from Kaufman’s protected conduct within the contemplation of the anti-SLAPP law. View "Durkin v. City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law

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This case concerned California’s efforts to relicense its hydropower facilities at Oroville Dam. Before the license expired, California’s Department of Water Resources (DWR) began the process for relicensing these facilities. It also, in connection with this effort, prepared a statement of potential environmental impacts, known as an environmental impact report or EIR, under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Three local governments - Butte County, Plumas County, and Plumas County Flood Control and Water Conservation District (together, the Counties) - filed writ petitions challenging the sufficiency of DWR’s EIR. The trial court found none of the Counties' arguments persuasive and entered judgment in DWR’s favor. On appeal, the Court of Appeal considered this case for the third time. In its first decision, the Court found the Counties’ challenge largely preempted by the Federal Power Act, but the California Supreme Court vacated that decision and asked the appellate court to reconsider in light of one of its precedents. In the appeals court's second decision, it again found the Counties’ challenge largely preempted. But the Supreme Court, taking up the case a second time, reversed the appellate court's decision in part. While the Supreme Court agreed that some of the remedies the Counties sought were preempted, it found they could still challenge the sufficiency of DWR’s EIR. It thus remanded the matter to the appeals court for further consideration. Turning to the merits for the first time since this appeal was filed over a decade ago, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "County of Butte, et al. v. Dept. of Water Resources" on Justia Law

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The Oakland Waterfront Ballpark District Project proposes the redevelopment of Howard Terminal, a 50-acre site within the Port of Oakland, and five contiguous acres. It includes a 35,000-seat ballpark for the city’s Major League Baseball team, construction of 3,000 residential units, 270,000 square feet of retail space, 1.5 million square feet for other commercial uses, a performance venue, and up to 400 hotel rooms. There will be parking for 8,900 vehicles; nearly 20 acres will be set aside as publicly accessible open space. Howard Terminal borders an estuary. Portions of the site are currently used for various commercial maritime activities, but most of the land is devoted to truck parking and container storage. A rail line serving passenger and freight traffic runs down the northern border of Howard Terminal.Oakland issued a draft environmental impact report (EIR) under the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code 21000) in 2021 and certified the final EIR a year later. A statement of overriding considerations concluded that the project’s benefits outweighed several significant environmental impacts that could not be fully mitigated. Excepting one wind mitigation measure, the trial court rejected challenges. The court of appeal affirmed. The court noted that the soil at the project site is contaminated from long years of industrial use; the ballpark and development will generate substantial new pedestrian and vehicle traffic in the neighborhood; and the site’s existing uses must be relocated but found the EIR adequate. View "East Oakland Stadium Alliance, LLC v. City of Oakland" on Justia Law

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At issue here was the 2015 “public health goal” (PHG) defendant Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) set for the contaminant perchlorate, a chemical found in rocket fuel. After OEHHA set the PHG for perchlorate at 1 part per billion (ppb), plaintiff California Manufacturers & Technology Association (CMTA) filed a petition for a writ of mandate ordering OEHHA to withdraw the PHG. The trial court denied the petition. On appeal, CMTA argued: (1) OEHHA violated the statutory mandate in arriving at the PHG; and (2) the PHG was void based on the common law conflict of interest doctrine because its author, Dr. Craig Steinmaus, had a conflict of interest. The Court of Appeal concluded OEHHA complied with the statutory requirements under Health & Safety Code section 116365 (c)(1)(A), and that the common law conflict of interest doctrine did not apply here. View "California Manufacturers etc. v. Off. of Environmental Health etc." on Justia Law

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Some of the practices that have made California's Central Valley an "agricultural powerhouse" have also adversely impacted the region’s water quality and environmental health. Respondents State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) and Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (Central Valley Water Board) are responsible for regulating waste discharges from irrigated agricultural operations in the Central Valley. The State Water Board adopted order WQ 2018-0002 (Order) in February 2018. Environmental Law Foundation (Foundation), Monterey Coastkeeper (Coastkeeper), and Protectores del Agua Subterranea (Protectores) (collectively, appellants) brought petitions for writs of mandate challenging various aspects of the Order. The trial court consolidated the cases and granted a motion for leave to intervene by the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition (Coalition) and others (cumulatively, the Coalition). Following a hearing on the merits, the trial court denied the petitions. Appellants appealed, advancing numerous claims of error. Ultimately, the Court of Appeal rejected these arguments and affirmed the judgments. View "Environmental Law Foundation v. State Water Resources Control Bd." on Justia Law