Justia Environmental Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
Save North Petaluma River and Wetlands v. City of Petaluma
In 2003, JCJIC proposed a 312-unit apartment complex on 15.45 acres of vacant land along the Petaluma River. In 2008, after starting a draft environmental impact report (DEIR), for compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code 21000), Petaluma adopted General Plan 2025. In response, JCJIC submitted an application for a 278-unit complex. After conducting site visits, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service identified the issues the EIR should address. A “Habitat Mitigation Monitoring Plan” was incorporated. In 2018, the DEIR was published. JCJIC provided consultant studies regarding environmental impacts, including on “Special Status Species.” The Planning Commission considered traffic impacts, floodplain impacts, and decreased quality of neighborhood life. City Council members requested supplemental documentation and authorized the preparation of a final EIR. JCJIC further reduced the proposal to 205 units; reduced the height of buildings; increased setbacks from the River; and implement a “Traffic Calming Plan.” The Final EIR concluded the revisions eliminated or reduced several potential significant impacts. In 2020, JCJIC submitted another plan with 180 units.Objectors disputed the adequacy of the EIR’s special status species analysis and failure to analyze emergency evacuations. The City Council certified the EIR and approved zoning amendments. The trial court and court of appeal upheld the approvals. View "Save North Petaluma River and Wetlands v. City of Petaluma" on Justia Law
Am. Chemistry Council v. Dept. of Toxic Substances Control
This case involves an appeal and cross-appeal following the trial court’s determination that the Department of Toxic Substances Control (the Department) acted within its authority and properly complied with the California Administrative Procedure Act (APA; Gov. Code, Section 11340 et seq.) but violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA; Pub. Resources Code, Section 21000 et seq.) when it enacted a regulation listing spray polyurethane foam systems containing unreacted methylene diphenyl diisocyanates (spray foam systems) as a priority product under California’s “Green Chemistry” law. Appellants, in this case, American Chemistry Council (ACC) and General Coatings Manufacturing Corp. (General Coatings) challenge the Department’s actions on two grounds. First, listing spray foam systems as a priority product was in excess of the Department’s authority under the Green Chemistry law. Second, the Department violated the APA in multiple ways when enacting the listing regulation. The Fifth Appellate District reversed the trial court’s finding of a CEQA violation on the ground that the claim was untimely under the statute of limitations. The court held that the judgment is affirmed with respect to the first, second, and third causes of action seeking relief based on allegations the Department exceeded its authority through the listing determination and allegations the Department violated the APA. The judgment is reversed with respect to the fourth cause of action, under CEQA, and remanded with instructions that the trial court dismiss the claim as untimely. View "Am. Chemistry Council v. Dept. of Toxic Substances Control" on Justia Law
Saint Ignatius Neighborhood Association v. City & County of San.Francisco
The school's athletic stadium seats 2,008 persons and is surrounded by single-family homes. The school sought approval to add four permanent 90-foot tall outdoor light standards to enable its nighttime use. The planning department determined that the project was categorically exempt from review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code 21000). The planning commission approved a permit, limiting the hours during which the lights could be used, and prohibiting use by groups unaffiliated with the school. The permit required the distribution of a large-event management plan and a code of conduct for students and others attending events. The board of supervisors affirmed, further restricting the hours that the lights could be used, requiring the school to report the dates and times the lights are turned on, dimmed, and turned off, requiring that for certain events, the school provide off-site parking, and requiring that trees be installed for screening.The court of appeal reversed. The project is not exempt from CEQA under the class 1 exemption for “existing facilities.” The project will significantly expand the nighttime use of the stadium. Nor does the class 3 exemption, entitled “New Construction or Conversion of Small Structures,” apply. View "Saint Ignatius Neighborhood Association v. City & County of San.Francisco" on Justia Law
Save Our Capitol v. Dept. of General Services
Defendant Department of General Services and real party Joint Committee on Rules of the California State Senate and Assembly (collectively DGS) prepared an environmental impact report (EIR) to determine the environmental effects of a project they proposed that would "significantly" affect the California State Capitol Building in Sacramento (Historic Capitol). Plaintiffs Save Our Capitol! and Save the Capitol, Save the Trees filed petitions for writ of mandate contending the EIR did not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The trial court denied the petitions. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing: (1) the EIR lacked a stable project description; (2) the EIR did not adequately analyze and mitigate the project’s impacts on cultural resources, biological resources, aesthetics, traffic, and utilities and service systems; (3) the EIR’s analysis of alternatives to the project was legally deficient; and (4) DGS violated CEQA by not recirculating the EIR a second time before certifying it. After review, the Court of Appeal reversed in part and affirmed in part. The Court found the EIR’s project description, analyses of historical resources and aesthetics, and analysis of alternatives did not comply with CEQA. View "Save Our Capitol v. Dept. of General Services" on Justia Law
Save Lafayette v. City of Lafayette
O’Brien submitted an application in March 2011 for approval of a 315-unit residential apartment development. O’Brien’s application was deemed complete in July 2011, including 14 residential buildings, a clubhouse, a leasing office, parking in carports and garages, and internal roadways on a 22.27-acre site. The site was then designated Administrative/Professional/Multi-Family Residential on the city’s general-plan land-use map and was zoned Administrative/Professional. The city certified an environmental impact report (EIR) in 2013. Before the project was approved, O’Brien and the city suspended processing the original project while O’Brien pursued an alternative, smaller proposal.In 2018, when it proved impossible to proceed with the alternative project, O’Brien and the city revived the original proposal, with some modifications. The city finally approved the resumed project in 2020, after the preparation of an addendum to the original EIR. A citizen’s group claimed that the project conflicted with the city’s general plan as it existed when the project was revived in 2018, that the EIR was inadequate, and that a supplemental EIR is required. The court of appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of the mandamus petition. Despite the lengthy delay between certification of the EIR and project approval, the city properly applied the general plan standards in effect when the application was deemed complete. The court rejected challenges to the EIR. View "Save Lafayette v. City of Lafayette" on Justia Law
Dept. of Finance v. Commission on State Mandates
This appeal centered whether Section 6 of the California Constitution required the state to reimburse the defendant local governments (collectively permittees or copermittees) for costs they incurred to satisfy conditions which the state imposed on their stormwater discharge permit. Defendant-respondent Commission on State Mandates (the Commission) determined that six of the eight permit conditions challenged in this action were reimbursable state mandates. They required permittees to provide a new program. Permittees also did not have sufficient legal authority to levy a fee for those conditions because doing so required preapproval by the voters. The Commission also determined that the other two conditions requiring the development and implementation of environmental mitigation plans for certain new development were not reimbursable state mandates. Permittees had authority to levy a fee for those conditions. On petitions for writ of administrative mandate, the trial court upheld the Commission’s decision in its entirety and denied the petitions. Plaintiffs, cross-defendants and appellants State Department of Finance, the State Water Resources Board, and the Regional Water Quality Board, San Diego Region (collectively the State) appealed, contending the six permit conditions found to be reimbursable state mandates were not mandates because the permit did not require permittees to provide a new program and permittees had authority to levy fees for those conditions without obtaining voter approval. Except to hold that the street sweeping condition was not a reimburseable mandate, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Dept. of Finance v. Commission on State Mandates" on Justia Law
Bull Field, LLC v. Merced Irrigation Dist.
Appellants Bull Field, LLC, Barley, LLC and Colburn Hills Ranch, LLC (Appellants) appeal from a judgment denying their petition for a writ of mandate (Petition). Appellants sought an order compelling respondent Merced Irrigation District (District) to sell them surplus surface water for the 2019 water year. Appellants’ farmland is outside the District, but within the same groundwater basin as the District’s service area. The District authorized the sale of surplus water to out-of-district users for 2019 but denied Appellants’ application to purchase such water. The District claimed, and the trial court found, that the District’s general manager denied Appellants’ applications to purchase surplus surface water because the District had a history of difficult dealings with Appellants’ manager. Substantial evidence supports that finding. The Second Appellate District affirmed, finding that District acted within its discretion in making its decision on this ground. The court explained that the court may not interfere with the District’s discretionary decision that denying Appellants’ applications to purchase surplus water was in its best interest. The court may not substitute its judgment for the District about how its interests would best be served. So long as the District actually exercised such discretion, this court may not issue a writ contravening the District’s decision. View "Bull Field, LLC v. Merced Irrigation Dist." on Justia Law
Atlantic Richfield Co. v. California Regional Water Quality etc.
In this case's previous trip to the Court of Appeal, the Court reversed the trial court’s judgment overturning a cleanup order issued by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, Central Valley Region (Regional Board). The cleanup order directed Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) to remediate hazardous waste associated with an abandoned mine in Plumas County. The mine was owned by the Walker Mining Company, a subsidiary of ARCO’s predecessors in interest, International Smelting and Refining Company and Anaconda Copper Mining Company (International/Anaconda). The Court of Appeal held the trial court improperly applied the test articulated in United States v. Bestfoods, 524 U.S. 51 (1998) for determining whether a parent company is directly liable for pollution as an operator of a polluting facility owned by a subsidiary. On remand, the trial court entered judgment in favor of the Regional Board, concluding “[t]he record supported a determination of eccentric control of mining ‘operations specifically related to pollution, that is, operations having to do with the leakage or disposal of hazardous waste.’ ” ARCO appealed, contending: (1) the trial court improperly applied Bestfoods to the facts of this case, resulting in a finding of liability that was unsupported by substantial evidence; (2) the Regional Board abused its discretion by failing to exclude certain expert testimony as speculative; (3) the Regional Board’s actual financial bias in this matter required invalidation of the cleanup order for violation of due process; and (4) the cleanup order erroneously imposed joint and several liability on ARCO. Finding no reversible error to this order, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court. View "Atlantic Richfield Co. v. California Regional Water Quality etc." on Justia Law
Council for Education and Research etc. v. Starbucks Corp.
The Council for Education and Research on Toxics (CERT) brought these actions under Proposition 65 (Prop. 65) against Respondents, dozens of companies that roast, distribute, or sell coffee. CERT claimed that Respondents had failed to provide required Prop. 65 warnings for their coffee products based on the presence of acrylamide. While the litigation was pending, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (the Agency) adopted a new regulation providing that “exposures to chemicals in coffee, listed on or before March 15, 2019, as known to the state to cause cancer, that are created by and inherent in the processes of roasting coffee beans or brewing coffee do not pose a significant risk of cancer.” CERT moved for summary adjudication, challenging the regulation’s validity on various grounds. In opposing summary judgment, CERT also contended that regardless of the regulation, triable issues remained regarding the presence of acrylamide resulting from additives. CERT challenged the trial court’s grant of summary judgment for Respondents, its denial of its motion for fees, and its award of section 998. The Second Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s orders granting summary judgment and denying attorney fees. The court reversed the order denying CERT’s motion to tax costs. The court explained that Respondents’ assertion ignores claims beyond the scope of CERT’s actions that were to be released under the offers. Given that the proposed releases in section 998 offers covered this and other potential claims, the trial court could not have determined that the offers were more favorable than the judgment. Thus, the offers were invalid for purposes of section 998. View "Council for Education and Research etc. v. Starbucks Corp." on Justia Law
G.I. Industries v. City of Thousand Oaks
G.I. Industries, doing business as Waste Management (WM), provided solid waste management for the City of Thousand Oaks (City). The City was considering entering into a new exclusive solid waste franchise agreement with Arakelian Enterprises, Inc. doing business as Athens Services (Athens). A supplemental item was posted giving notice of the staff’s recommendation that the City find the agreement to be exempt from CEQA. Prior to the commencement of litigation under the Brown Act, WM sent the City a “cure and correct” letter. WM petitioned the trial court for a writ of mandate directing the City to vacate both its approval of the franchise agreement and its finding that the project is exempt from CEQA. Athens was joined as the real party in interest. The trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend. The court agreed with WM that the CEQA exemption is an item of business separate from the approval of the franchise agreement. The court also concluded that the Brown Act does not apply. The Second Appellate District reversed the finding that the trial court erred when it entered judgment. Section 54954.2 of the Brown Act, requires this CEQA finding of exemption to be listed on the agency’s agenda for its public meeting. The purpose of section 54960.1, subdivision (b) is to give the local agency notice of an alleged violation of the Brown Act so that it can avoid litigation by curing the violation. Here, the City council voted that the project is exempt, without the public notice required by the Brown Act. WM’s cure and correct letter adequately stated that point. View "G.I. Industries v. City of Thousand Oaks" on Justia Law