Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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In 2014, the Board adopted proposed modifications to the Truck and Bus Regulation, extending certain deadlines for small fleet operators to comply with the regulations. Respondents filed a writ petition against the Board and others, alleging that the 2014 modifications were improper under both the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and California's Administrative Procedures Act (APA). The Court of Appeal held that the trial court correctly determined that the Board's actions violated CEQA, but that the violations were narrower than found by the trial court. The court also found that the Board's conduct violated the APA, voiding the modified regulations. View "John R. Lawson Rock & Oil, Inc. v. State Air Resources Bd." on Justia Law

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In a challenge to an update of the City's general plan, which included an update to areas designated "Neighborhood Commercial," plaintiff claimed that the City violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by failing to analyze the potential for the land use policy to cause a phenomenon called urban decay. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment denying plaintiff's petition for a writ of mandate, holding that plaintiff failed to present substantial evidence from which a fair argument could be made that there was a reasonable possibility physical urban decay would result from the general plan; the general plan was not intentionally inconsistent; and the City did not violate the planning and zoning law by failing to provide 10 days notice of the October 14 meeting. View "Visalia Retail, LP v. City of Visalia" on Justia Law

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The Ventura River watershed is home to Southern California steelhead trout, a species listed as endangered since 1997. San Buenaventura has been diverting water from the Ventura River since 1870. Channelkeeper sued, alleging that the city’s current diversions are “unreasonable” because of the effect they have on the fish during summer months when water levels are low. The city holds water rights that would otherwise allow it to divert this water, but under the California Constitution there “is no property right in an unreasonable use” of water. The city cross-complained against other entities that draw water from the Ventura River watershed, alleging that their water use is unreasonable. The court of appeal held that the trial court abused its discretion in striking the city’s cross-complaint because the water that the cross-complaint seeks to prevent cross-defendants from using is effectively the same water that Channelkeeper asserts the city must leave in the river for the fish. View "Santa Barbara Channelkeeper v. City of San Buenaventura" on Justia Law

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BNSF Railway proposed a new railyard approximately four miles from the Port of Los Angeles. Environmental analysis of the project began no later that 2005. The final environmental impact report (FEIR) prepared pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code 21000) exceeds 5,000 pages. The trial court held that the Attorney General, who intervened in the City of Long Beach petition, was entitled to assert objections to the sufficiency of the FEIR that were not raised by any party in the administrative proceedings. BNSF challenged the trial court’s conclusion that the FEIR was deficient for failing to analyze the impact of rendering capacity at BNSF’s existing Hobart yard in the City of Commerce, 24 miles from the port, available to handle additional traffic. The court of appeal affirmed, first holding that the exhaustion requirement that generally apply to parties contesting the adequacy of an environmental impact report do not apply to the Attorney General. The FEIR failed to adequately consider air quality impacts of the project, particularly impacts to ambient air pollutant concentrations and cumulative impacts of such pollutant concentrations. View "City of Long Beach v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Halus owned land in a San Leandro industrial zone, where it designed and manufactured wind turbines. It proposed to install a 100-foot-tall wind turbine to generate energy and conduct research and development; it sought a variance from zoning restrictions on height. San Leandro conducted an analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code 21000) (CEQA). The turbine would have been within the San Francisco Bay Estuary, a major refuge for many species, including threatened or endangered species, and 500 feet from a residential development. The city proposed a mitigated negative declaration (MND) allowing the project to go forward with mitigation measures. In response to comments and objections, San Leandro released a revised MND adding mitigation or monitoring recommended by the Department of Fish and Game, without requiring an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). HOA filed suit. The court held that San Leandro failed to comply with CEQA. San Leandro set aside its approval. The project did not proceed. The court granted HOA attorneys’ fees, Code of Civil Procedure 1021.5. The court of appeal affirmed, finding that the action resulted in the enforcement of an important right affecting the public interest, a significant benefit was conferred on the general public or a large class of persons, and the necessity and financial burden of private enforcement made the award appropriate. View "Heron Bay Homeowners Association v. City of San Leandro" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Clews Land and Livestock, LLC; Barbara Clews; and Christian Clews (collectively, CLL) appealed a judgment in favor of defendant City of San Diego (City) on CLL's petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief, violation of procedural due process, and equitable estoppel. CLL challenged the City's approval of a project to build a private secondary school on land neighboring CLL's commercial horse ranch and equestrian facility and the City's adoption of a mitigated negative declaration (MND) regarding the project. CLL contended the City should not have adopted the MND because the Cal Coast Academy project would cause significant environmental impacts in the areas of fire hazards, traffic and transportation, noise, recreation, and historical resources, and because the MND identified new impacts and mitigation measures that were not included in the draft MND. CLL further argued the City should not have approved the project because it is situated in designated open space under the applicable community land use plan and because the City did not follow the provisions of the San Diego Municipal Code (SDMC) applicable to historical resources. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded CLL's challenge to the MND was barred because it did not exhaust its administrative remedies in proceedings before the City. In doing so, the Court rejected CLL's argument that the City's process for administrative appeals (at least as implicated by this project) violated the California Environmental Quality Act by improperly splitting the adoption of an environmental document (e.g., the MND) from the project approvals. In addition, the City complied with all applicable requirements of the SDMC regarding historical resources and the City's approval of the project did not conflict with the open space designation because the project would be located on already-developed land. View "Clews Land & Livestock, LLC v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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In 1998, Modesto, its Sewer District, and its Redevelopment Agency (RDA) sued retail dry cleaning businesses operating in Modesto, the manufacturers of dry cleaning equipment used at those establishments, and the manufacturers and distributors of dry cleaning solvent, alleging that the city’s groundwater, sewer system and easements, and the soil of property within the RDA project area were contaminated with perchloroethylene, a “toxic chlorinated solvent” and seeking recovery for past, present and future costs of investigation and remediation. The Polanco Redevelopment Act (Health & Saf. Code, 33459), which authorized redevelopment agencies to remediate contamination found in property, including private property, located in a redevelopment project area, and to recover costs from the “responsible parties” was central to the suit. After 14 years of litigation, with three appeals, a final judgment awarded damages with respect to three dry cleaning sites, including an award of punitive damages against three defendants; as to all other claims, judgment was entered in favor of defendants. The court of appeal vacated, holding that no special causation standard applies to Polanco Act claims. The court also: remanded with directions to deny motions for summary adjudication on the nuisance claims; reversed a punitive damages award; and vacated a directed verdict regarding property damage. View "City of Modesto v. Dow Chemical Co." on Justia Law

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Respondents-petitioners Central Coast Forest Association and Big Creek Lumber Company asked the Fish and Game Commission to remove (delist) coho salmon south of San Francisco from the list of endangered species in California. Petitioners owned and harvested timber from lands in the area of the coho salmon spawning streams in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Timber harvesting is in part responsible for declining coho salmon populations. The petitioners argued: (1) there never were wild, native coho salmon in streams south of San Francisco, a requirement of being listed as endangered; (2) if there were, they were extirpated by environmental conditions unfavorable to the species; and (3) the salmon currently present in the streams are hatchery plants, implying that the fish are not members of the CCC ESU, and consequently are not deemed wild or native to California. They tender evidence in support of the petition, which they claim “may . . . warrant[]” delisting by the Commission. If sufficient scientific evidence contained in the petition, considered in the light of the department’s scientific report and the department’s expertise, would justify delisting of the species, then the Commission might consider delisting. The Court of Appeal concluded, however, that the evidence presented here did not meet that threshold. The Court concluded the petition did not contain sufficient scientific evidence, considered in light of the department’s scientific report and expertise, to justify delisting the coho salmon south of San Francisco; therefore, there was insufficient evidence that the delisting may be warranted. View "Central Coast Forest Assn. v. Fish & Game Com." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of the Conservancy's petition for a writ of mandate to compel the City of West Hollywood to set aside the City's approval of a real estate development project. The court held that the environmental impact report's (EIR) analysis of alternatives to the project was adequate. Although the EIR did not include a conceptual design of Alternative 3, the Conservancy did not cite any legal authority requiring an EIR to include design plans for project alternatives, and the court declined to so hold. Furthermore, the imprecision inherent in the estimates of space reduction did not render the EIR defective. The court also held that the EIR's response to public comments was adequate, and there was substantial evidence to support the finding of infeasibility of Alternative 3. View "L.A. Conservancy v. City of West Hollywood" on Justia Law

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In Department of Finance v. Commission on State Mandates, 1 Cal.5th 749 (2016) ("Department of Finance"), the California Supreme Court upheld a Commission ruling that certain conditions a regional water quality control board imposed on a storm water discharge permit issued under federal and state law required subvention and were not federal mandates. The Supreme Court found no federal law, regulation, or administrative case authority expressly required the conditions; the federal requirement that the permit reduce pollution impacts to the “maximum extent practicable” was not a federal mandate, but rather vested the regional board with discretion to choose which conditions to impose to meet the standard. The permit conditions resulting from the exercise of that choice were state mandates. In this appeal, the Court of Appeal faced the same issue: the parties and the permit conditions were different, but the legal issue was the same - whether the Commission correctly determined that conditions imposed on a federal and state storm water permit by a regional water quality control board are state mandates. The Commission reached its decision by applying the standard the Supreme Court later adopted in "Department of Finance." The trial court, reviewing the case before "Department of Finance" was issued, concluded the Commission had applied the wrong standard, and it remanded the matter to the Commission for further proceedings. The Court of Appeal concluded here the Commission applied the correct standard and the permit requirements were state mandates. View "Dept. of Finance v. Commission on State Mandates" on Justia Law