Justia Environmental Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
Preservation Action Council of San Jose v. City of San Jose
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
Durkin v. City and County of San Francisco
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
County of Butte, et al. v. Dept. of Water Resources
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
East Oakland Stadium Alliance, LLC v. City of Oakland
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
California Manufacturers etc. v. Off. of Environmental Health etc.
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
Environmental Law Foundation v. State Water Resources Control Bd.
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
L.A. Waterkeeper v. State Wat. Resources Control Bd.
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), an environmental advocacy organization. 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), naming the cities that owned the four POTWs as real parties in interest. The Second Appellate District affirmed judgments of dismissal in favor of the Regional Board. The court dismissed the judgments and writs of mandate. Finally, the court reversed the order granting Los Angeles Waterkeeper attorney fees. The court wrote that Waterkeeper has failed adequately to plead causes of action under Article C, section 2 and Water Code Sections 100 and 275. Further, the court explained that the Regional Board does not have a duty to evaluate whether discharges of treated wastewater are an unreasonable use of water. Moreover, Waterkeeper has not adequately pleaded a cause of action against the State Board. Additionally, the court found that Public Resources Code Section 21002 does not apply to wastewater discharge permits. View "L.A. Waterkeeper v. State Wat. Resources Control Bd." on Justia Law
Make UC a Good Neighbor v. Regents of University of California
Objectors challenged the adequacy of an environmental impact report (EIR) for the long-range development plan for the University of California, Berkeley through the 2036-2037 academic year and the university’s immediate plan to build student housing on the site of People’s Park, a historic landmark and the well-known locus of political activity and protest.The court of appeal remanded. The court rejected arguments that the EIR was required to analyze an alternative to the long-range development plan that would limit student enrollment; that the EIR improperly restricted the geographic scope of the plan to the campus and nearby properties, excluding several more distant properties; and that the EIR failed to adequately assess and mitigate environmental impacts related to population growth and displacement of existing residents. However, the EIR failed to justify the decision not to consider alternative locations to the People’s Park project and failed to assess potential noise impacts from student parties in residential neighborhoods near campus, a longstanding problem. The court noted that its decision does not require the abandonment of the People’s Park project and that the California Environmental Quality Act allows an agency to approve a project, even if the project will cause significant environmental harm if the agency discloses the harm and makes required findings. View "Make UC a Good Neighbor v. Regents of University of California" on Justia Law
Committee to Relocate Marilyn v. City of Palm Springs
The City of Palm Springs closed off one of its downtown streets to all vehicular traffic for a period of three years to allow a tourism organization to install and display a large statue of Marilyn Monroe in the middle of the street. A citizens’ group called the Committee to Relocate Marilyn ("the Committee") petitioned for a writ of administrative mandate challenging the street closure, alleging the City did not have the statutory authority to close the street. Additionally, the Committee alleged the City erroneously declared the street closure categorically exempt from environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The City demurred to the petition for writ of administrative mandate, arguing it had the authority to close the street for three years under Vehicle Code section 21101(e), and its local equivalent, Palm Springs Municipal Code section 12.80.010. The City claimed the street closure was temporary, and therefore permissible. Further, the City argued the CEQA cause of action was untimely. The trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend and entered a judgment of dismissal in favor of the City. After its review, the Court of Appeal concluded the Committee pleaded allegations sufficient to establish: (1) the City exceeded its authority under the Vehicle Code and Municipal Code; and (2) the timeliness of its CEQA cause of action. After the notice of exemption was filed, the City abandoned its plan to vacate vehicular access to the street and elected to close the street instead. Because the City materially changed the project after it filed its notice of exemption, and it did not afford the public an opportunity to consider the revised project or its environmental effects, the notice of exemption did not trigger a 35-day statute of limitations. Instead, the CEQA cause of action was subject to a default statute of limitations of 180 days, measured from the date the Committee knew or should have known about the changed project. The Court determined the Committee timely filed its CEQA cause of action. In light of these conclusions, the Court reversed the judgment of dismissal, vacated the demurrer ruling, and instructed the trial court to enter a new order overruling the demurrer as to these three causes of action. View "Committee to Relocate Marilyn v. City of Palm Springs" on Justia Law
Arcadians for Environmental Preservation v. City of Arcadia
After the Arcadia City Council approved J.W.’s application to expand the first story of her single-family home and add a second story (“the project”), Arcadians for Environmental Preservation (AEP), a grassroots organization led by J.W.’s next-door neighbor, filed a petition for writ of administrative mandamus challenging the City’s decision. AEP’s petition primarily alleged the city council had erred in finding the project categorically exempt from the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and CEQA’s implementing guidelines. The superior court denied the petition, ruling as a threshold matter that AEP had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies. The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court held that AEP failed to exhaust its administrative remedies on the question of whether the project fell within the scope of the class 1 exemption. Further, the court found that AEP’s general objections to project approval did not satisfy the exhaustion requirement. Moreover, the court wrote that AEP has not demonstrated the City failed to proceed in a manner required by law when it impliedly found no exception to the exemption applied. Finally, the court held that AEP has not demonstrated the City erred in concluding the cumulative effects exception did not apply. View "Arcadians for Environmental Preservation v. City of Arcadia" on Justia Law