Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Plaintiff and the Coalition filed a petition for writ of mandate, seeking a peremptory writ directing the City to set aside various land use approvals, as well as determinations and documents approved under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The trial court sustained the demurrers of real parties and the Coalition without leave to amend and dismissed the Coalition's petition.The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that the Coalition's CEQA claims are time-barred because they were filed more than 30 days after the City filed a facially valid Notice of Determination. To the extent the Coalition argues on appeal that the agency lacked authority to make any determinations under CEQA or lacked authority to approve the project, while such claims could have been considered as part of a timely action, the court held that they are also time-barred. View "Coalition for an Equitable Westlake/MacArthur Park v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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In 2017, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) released a final environmental impact report (FEIR) for the construction of two freeway interchange ramps connecting Interstate 5 and State Route 56 (SR 56) (the Project). However, before the public comment period for the FEIR commenced and without issuing a notice of determination (NOD), Caltrans approved the Project a few days later and then filed a notice of exemption (NOE) two weeks later. The NOE stated that the Project was exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) pursuant to Streets and Highways Code section 103,1 which was enacted January 1, 2012. Citizens for a Responsible Caltrans Decision (CRCD) did not become aware of the NOE filing until after the 35-day statute of limitations period for challenging the NOE had run. CRCD filed a petition for writ of mandate and declaratory relief alleging, inter alia, that Caltrans erroneously claimed the Project was exempt from CEQA under section 103 and that Caltrans is equitably estopped from relying on the 35-day statute of limitations for challenging notices of exemption. Caltrans demurred to the petition on the grounds that the causes of action were barred by the applicable statute of limitations and that the Project was exempt from CEQA under section 103. CRCD opposed the demurrer. On appeal, CRCD contended the trial court erred by sustaining Caltrans's demurrer to the petition because: (1) section 103 did not exempt Caltrans from complying with CEQA in its approval of the Project; and (2) the petition alleged facts showing equitable estoppel applies to preclude Caltrans from raising the 35-day statute of limitations. The Court of Appeal agreed that the court erred by sustaining Caltrans's demurrer and therefore reversed the judgment of dismissal. View "Citizens for Responsible Caltrans Decision. v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment, in a California Environmental Quality Act action, granting a peremptory writ of mandate directing the City to set aside its approval of a mixed-use development project, and to prepare an environmental impact report (EIR) for the project. The court held that petitioners did not forfeit their claim that they exhausted administrative remedies; at least one of the petitioners had standing under CEQA and thus the court has jurisdiction over the appeal; petitioners exhausted administrative remedies as to the cultural resource claims; an EIR is required to address the Project's impact on cultural resources; an EIR is required to address the Project's impacts on sensitive plant species; petitioners exhausted administrative remedies as to the oak tree claims; an EIR is required to address the Project's impacts on oak trees; and petitioners adequately exhausted administrative remedies as to each of their aesthetic resource claims and oak tree ordinance claims.The court also affirmed the trial court's post-judgment award of attorney's fees to petitioners as the successful parties in the CEQA action. The court held that CEQA's notice requirement does not preclude petitioners from recovering attorney's fees, and Appellant Gelfand is personally liable for his portion of the attorney's fee award. View "Save the Agoura Cornell Knoll v. City of Agoura Hills" on Justia Law

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Canyon Crest filed suit challenging the approval of a conditional use permit and an oak tree permit granted to real party in interest Stephen Kuhn. Canyon Crest, a nonprofit organization established by Kuhn's immediate neighbors, alleged that defendants violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by granting the permits. Kuhn subsequently requested that the county vacate the permit approvals, because he could not afford to continue the litigation.Canyon Crest then sought attorney fees under the private attorney general doctrine pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's finding that Canyon Crest failed to establish any of the requirements for a right to fees under the statute. In this case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the litigation did not enforce an important right affecting the public interest. Furthermore, Canyon Crest failed to establish that this action conferred a significant benefit on the general public. View "Canyon Crest Conservancy v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Defendants County of Sacramento and the County Board of Supervisors (the County) approved Cordova Hills, a large master planned community comprised of residential and commercial uses and including a university (the Project). Plaintiffs Environmental Council of Sacramento and the Sierra Club (Environmental Council) filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the Project, which the trial court denied. Environmental Council appealed, contending the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) contained a legally inadequate project description, an inadequate environmental impact analysis, failed to analyze impacts to land use, and the County failed to adopt feasible mitigation measures. Central to the Environmental Council’s appeal was the contention that the university was not likely to be built, and since the EIR assumed the buildout of a university, it was deficient in failing to analyze the Project without a university. We shall affirm the judgment. The Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court’s assessment, that the County, in drafting the EIR, was required to assume all phases of the Project, including the university, would be built. The Court affirmed the trial court in all respects. View "Environmental Council of Sacramento v. County of Sacramento" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the Board's approval of an ordinance to streamline the permitting process for new oil and gas wells and certification of an environmental report (EIR) as compliant with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The trial court found that the EIR inadequately analyzed the project's environmental impacts to rangeland and from a road paving mitigation measure, and rejected the other CEQA claims.In the published portion of the opinion, the Court of Appeal addressed CEQA violations involving water, agricultural land, and noise. In regard to water supplies, the court held that the mitigation measures for the project's significant impacts to water supplies inappropriately deferred formulation of the measures or delayed the actual implementation of the measures. Furthermore, the EIR's disclosures about the mitigation measures were inadequate and thus the adoption of a statement of overriding considerations did not render harmless these failures to comply with CEQA. The court also held that the project's conversion of agricultural land would be mitigated to a less than significant level is not supported by substantial evidence. Finally, in regard to the project's noise impacts, the court held that the EIR did not include an analysis, supported by substantial evidence, explaining why the magnitude of an increase in ambient noise need not be addressed to determine the significance of the project's noise impact. View "King and Gardiner Farms, LLC v. County of Kern" on Justia Law

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Appellants Baldwin & Sons, Inc.; Baldwin & Sons, LLC; Sunranch Capital Partners, LLC; USA Portola Properties, LLC; Sunrise Pacific Construction; USA Portola East, LLC; USA Portola West, LLC; and SRC-PH Investments, LLC, all appealed an order compelling compliance with administrative subpoenas issued by the State Water Resources Control Board. Appellants were involved (or believed to be involved) in the construction of a large-scale development in the Portola Hills Community in Lake Forest, California. The State Board initiated an investigation into alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act and California's Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act occurring during construction activities. In connection with its investigation, the State Board issued subpoenas seeking Appellants' financial records. When Appellants refused to produce the requested financial records, the State Board sought a court order compelling compliance with the subpoenas. With the exception of tax returns, the trial court concluded that the information sought was relevant to the State Board's investigation and subject to disclosure pursuant to the investigative subpoenas. Appellants argued on appeal: (1) their financial records were not reasonably relevant to the State Board's investigation; (2) compelling production of their financial records violated their right to privacy; and (3) the protective order did not adequately protect against disclosure of their private financial information to third parties. The Court of Appeal rejected these claims and affirmed the challenged order compelling production of the Appellants' financial records subject to a protective order. View "State Water Resources Control Bd. v. Baldwin & Sons, Inc." on Justia Law

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Petitioners challenged the adequacy of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to accurately estimate the amount of Reactive Organic Gas (ROG) emissions and to adopt all feasible mitigation measures. The challenge arises from the approval of a geothermal plant to be located on fedeal land in Mono County, California. Petitioners also claimed the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District (District) was not the proper lead agency to undertake preparation of the EIR. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the District was the proper lead agency, and that the permit limiting the daily ROG emissions was sufficient evidence of the amount of the emissions. However, the Court determined the District did not adequately analyze whether the additional mitigation measures proposed by petitioners were feasible to limit ROG emissions. Therefore, the Court reversed the part of the judgment relating to the District’s consideration of the proposed mitigation measures, but affirmed in all other respects. View "Covington v. Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control Dist." on Justia Law

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Defendant the City of Sacramento (City) approved and adopted a 2035 General Plan in March 2015. At the same time, the City certified the environmental impact report (EIR) for the 2035 General Plan in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act. Plaintiff Citizens for Positive Growth & Preservation (Citizens) filed a petition for writ of mandate and injunctive relief and a complaint for declaratory relief (petition) against the City and its city council seeking to set aside both administrative actions. The trial court denied the petition, upholding both actions; Citizens appealed, challenging the validity of the 2035 General Plan and the EIR. It contends the Court of Appeal should vacate the trial court’s ruling regarding the 2035 General Plan and order the City to rescind its approval thereof because a sentence in the introductory paragraph violated and conflicted with state planning laws. Citizens also argued the Court should do the same as to the EIR because the City’s analyses pertaining to traffic, greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, cyclist safety, and the “no project” alternative failed to comply with CEQA, and the City was required to recirculate the EIR after releasing substantial supplemental changes shortly before the city council’s public hearing. Finding no merit in Citizens’s arguments, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Citizens for Positive Growth & Preservation v. City of Sacramento" on Justia Law

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Stephen Taylor was convicted by jury of numerous sex offenses against his adopted daughters, Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2. In total, the jury convicted him on 12 counts. The trial court sentenced him to prison for a one-year determinate term and an aggregate indeterminate term of 165 years to life. On appeal, Taylor argued the trial court erred by admitting expert testimony on child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome, and instructing the jurors that they could use that evidence to evaluate the victims’ credibility. He also claimed the court made several sentencing errors: (1) by imposing two indeterminate terms under the former “One Strike” law for two offenses that occurred during a single occasion; (2) by imposing multiple punishments for four counts of aggravated sexual assault and four counts of lewd acts arising from the same facts; and (3) by imposing a restitution fine and court operations and facilities fees without an ability to pay hearing. The Court of Appeal agreed that the court erred by imposing multiple punishments on four counts of aggravated sexual assault (counts 1 through 4) and four counts of forcible lewd acts (counts 5 through 8) that arose from the same conduct. Accordingly, Taylor’s sentence was stayed on counts 5 through 8. The Court also agreed the court should hold an ability to pay hearing, at least as to the court operations and facilities fees. Therefore, the Court reversed the order imposing those fees and remanded for a hearing on Taylor’s ability to pay them. As to the restitution fine, Taylor forfeited his contention. The Court otherwise rejected Taylor’s arguments and affirmed. View "Holden v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law