Justia Environmental Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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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

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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

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In 2010, the City of Irvine adopted a plan to guide development of the Irvine Business Complex (the IBC), which covered roughly 2800 acres in the City. It also prepared and approved a program environmental impact report (the 2010 PEIR) that studied the effects of the development plan under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Several years later, real party in interest and appellant Gemdale 2400 Barranca Holdings, LLC (Gemdale), submitted a plan to redevelop a 4.95-acre parcel in the IBC. The City determined all the environmental effects of the proposed project had been studied in the 2010 PEIR, and it found the project would have no further significant environmental effects. It approved the project over the objections of Hale Holdings, LLC, the managing member of plaintiff IBC Business Owners for Sensible Development (petitioner). Petitioner then filed a petition for writ of mandate. The trial court granted the writ and entered judgment in favor of petitioner. The City and Gemdale appealed, arguing the City correctly approved the project. The Court of Appeal disagreed with the contentions made on appeal: (1) there was insufficient evidence showing the project’s greenhouse gas emissions were within the scope of the 2010 PEIR; and (2) no exemption applied because the project involved unusual circumstances which could cause significant environmental effects. As such, the Court affirmed the judgment. View "IBC Business Owners for Sensible Development v. City of Irvine" on Justia Law

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Livermore adopted a General Plan and a Downtown Specific Plan in 2004, for which it certified an environmental impact report (EIR). A subsequent EIR (SEIR) was certified in 2009, after amendments to the Downtown Specific Plan increased the amount of development allowed. In 2018, Livermore approved a plan for redeveloping city-owned sites in the “Downtown Core” with park space, retail buildings, cultural facilities, multifamily workforce housing, a public parking garage, and a hotel. Livermore selected Eden to develop the housing. Addenda to the SEIR were prepared. The proposed housing project comprised two four-story buildings with 130 affordable housing units. . Livermore’s Planning Commission approved Eden’s application. The city approved design review and a vesting tentative parcel map, finding that no substantial changes were proposed that would require major revisions to the previous EIR, SEIR, or addenda and that the project was exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code 21000) as consistent with a specific plan for which an EIR had been certified and as infill development.The trial court required SLD to file an undertaking of $500,000 in its challenges to the approvals, finding that the action was brought for the purpose of delaying affordable housing and that the undertaking would not cause SLD undue economic harm. The court of appeal rejected arguments that the project was inconsistent with the planning and zoning law and that further review of the environmental impacts was necessary and upheld the requirement that SLD post a bond. View "Save Livermore Downtown v. City of Livermore" on Justia Law

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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 which would significantly affect the California State Capitol Building in Sacramento (Historic Capitol). DGS would demolish the State Capitol Building Annex attached to the Historic Capitol and replace it with a larger new annex building, construct an underground visitor center attached to the Historic Capitol’s west side, and construct an underground parking garage east of the new Annex. 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 the judgment, 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. The Court of Appeal reversed in part, finding the EIR’s project description, analyses of historical resources and aesthetics, and analysis of alternatives did not comply with CEQA. Judgment was affirmed in all other respects. View "Save Our Capitol! v. Dept. of General Services" on Justia Law

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The Jenkinses bought a one-bedroom home, built in 1909, with a small accessory cottage in San Anselmo. Following conversations with an architect, contractors, and the Town Planning Director, they sought permits to demolish the existing structures and build a new home with a detached studio. The Planning Commission approved the project. The Jenkinses nevertheless worked with neighbors to accommodate their concerns and submitted revised plans, which were also approved. Four individuals unsuccessfully appealed to the Town Council. Attorney Brandt-Hawley filed a mandamus petition on behalf of an unincorporated association and an individual, alleging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), although the appeal did not include any CEQA claim and CEQA has a categorical exemption for single-family homes, and “violation of the Town Municipal Code,” without citation.The trial judge denied the petition, criticizing aspects of Brandt-Hawley’s briefing and advocacy. Petitioners appealed, then offered to dismiss the appeal for a waiver of fees and costs. The Jenkinses rejected the offer. On the day the opening brief was due, Brandt-Hawley dismissed the appeal. The Jenkinses sued Brandt-Hawley for malicious prosecution. The court denied Brandt-Hawley’s special anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion to strike. The court of appeal affirmed. The Jenkinses met their burden under step two of the anti-SLAPP procedure demonstrating a probability of success on their complaint. View "Jenkins v. Brandt-Hawley" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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