Public agencies prevailed in 71% of CEQA cases analyzed.

By James L. Arnone, Daniel P. Brunton, Marc T. Campopiano, Shivaun A. Cooney, Benjamin J. Hanelin, John C. Heintz, Maria Pilar Hoye, Aron Potash, and Winston P. Stromberg

Latham & Watkins is pleased to present its third annual CEQA Case Report. Throughout 2019 Latham lawyers reviewed each of the 45 California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) appellate cases, whether published or unpublished. Below is a compilation of the information distilled from that review and a discussion of the patterns that emerged from those cases. Latham has continued to monitor CEQA cases throughout 2020 and regularly posts key summaries to this blog.

A local air district is developing a rule that would require both existing and proposed warehouses to reduce trucking emissions or pay a mitigation fee.

By Joshua T. Bledsoe

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD or District) is developing a so-called Indirect Source Rule (ISR) that would require Southern California warehouses to reduce emissions associated with trucking activity and on-site equipment. Proposed Rule 2305, recently released by the District in discussion draft form, would establish the Warehouse Actions and Investments to Reduce Emissions (WAIRE) Program — which would apply to owners and operators of warehouses located in the South Coast Air Basin (Basin) with greater than 100,000 square feet of indoor space in a single building. If the SCAQMD’s development timeline holds, Proposed Rule 2305 will phase in on July 1, 2020.

A new webcast reveals the latest trends and approaches to CEQA compliance as the development and environmental communities react to changing law.

By Marc T. Campopiano, Christopher W. Garrett, and Jennifer K. Roy

On July 24, 2019, Latham & Watkins’ Project Siting & Approvals Practice hosted a 60-minute webcast, “Friant Ranch: Impact of California Supreme Court’s Landmark Decision on CEQA Compliance,” to zero in on the landmark decision and its ramifications. Seven months on from the Court’s decision

2018 Year in Review: Public agencies prevailed in 65% of CEQA cases analyzed.

By James L. Arnone, Marc T. Campopiano, Christopher W. Garrett, and Lucinda Starrett

Over the course of 2018, Latham & Watkins lawyers reviewed all 57 California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) cases, both published and unpublished, that came before California appellate courts. These cases covered a variety of CEQA documents and other topics. Below is a compilation of information from the review and a discussion of the patterns that emerged in these cases. Latham will continue to monitor CEQA cases in 2019, posting summaries to this blog.

The California Court of Appeal heard 55 CEQA cases, while the California Supreme Court heard one case: Sierra Club v. County of Fresno. This case concerned what constitutes sufficient detail in an environmental impact report (EIR) and has implications for the preparation of EIRs as well as judicial review of agency decisions certifying EIRs.

In addition to the 56 state cases, one federal CEQA case, AquAlliance v. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, was heard by the Eastern District of California.

CEQA Case Report: Understanding the Judicial Landscape for Development[I]

By Christopher W. Garrett, Daniel Brunton, James Erselius, and Derek Galey

In a published decision issued June 12, 2018, County of Ventura v. City of Moorpark, Case No. B282466, the California Court of Appeal rejected part of the County of Ventura and the City of Fillmore’s (Petitioners’) appeal and affirmed the trial court’s decision that a beach restoration project undertaken by Broad Beach Geologic Hazard Abatement District (BBGHAD) and a related settlement agreement with the City of Moorpark (City) were exempt from CEQA review.

In summary, the court determined:

  • Two separate activities can constitute one “project” under CEQA so long as those activities serve a single purpose, have the same proponents, and are inextricably linked.
  • Courts do not balance the policies served by statutory exemptions against the goal of environmental protection because the legislature has already determined that the policy benefits of the exemption outweigh the benefits of environmental review.

The trial court determined that the beach restoration project and the related settlement agreement between BBGHAD and City were a single statutorily exempt project. Petitioners appealed on the grounds that even if the beach restoration was exempt, the settlement represented a separate, non-exempt project that was not properly reviewed under CEQA.

California Natural Resources Agency adopts final amendments to CEQA Guidelines, providing additional clarifying revisions to GHG impacts, baseline, and deferral of mitigation amendments.

By Marc Campopiano, Winston Stromberg, and Samantha Seikkula

The California Office of Administrative Law recently approved a suite of amendments to the CEQA Guidelines, which are now in effect. Latham wrote about these amendments last year, when the Natural Resources Agency began the rulemaking process under the Administrative Procedures Act. During this rulemaking process,

CEQA Case Report: Understanding the Judicial Landscape for Development[I]

By Marc T. Campopiano, Christopher W. Garrett, Nathaniel L. Glynn, and Natalie C. Rogers

In a published opinion issued December 24, 2018, Sierra Club v. County of Fresno, Case No. S219783, the California Supreme Court determined that an environmental impact report (EIR) prepared and certified by Fresno County (County) for a development project failed to include certain information and analysis required by CEQA. The California Supreme Court held that the EIR did not adequately discuss potential health consequences that could be caused by a significant increase in pollutants resulting from the development project. In summary, the California Supreme Court determined:

  • A discussion of potential environmental impacts in an EIR must include sufficient detail to enable those who did not participate in its preparation to understand and to meaningfully consider the issues raised by the proposed project.
  • The issue of whether a discussion in an EIR is sufficient is a mixed question of law and fact subject to de novo review, though underlying factual determinations in an EIR are subject to a more deferential standard.
  • An EIR must either make a reasonable effort to correlate a project’s significant air quality impacts to potential health consequences, or explain why providing such an analysis is not feasible.
  • A lead agency does not impermissibly defer mitigation if it leaves open the possibility of employing better mitigation efforts consistent with improvements in technology.
  • A lead agency may adopt mitigation measures that do not reduce a project’s significant and unavoidable impacts to a less-than-significant level, so long as the agency can demonstrate in good faith that the mitigation measures will be at least partially effective in mitigating impacts.

CEQA Case Report: Understanding the Judicial Landscape for Development[i]

By Christopher H. Norton, Lucas I. Quass and Megan K. Ampe

In a published opinion issued on October 23, 2018, Save Lafayette Trees v. City of Lafayette, Case No. A154168, the California Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s decision to grant a demurrer without leave to amend with respect to challenges to the substantive and procedural requirements of applicable planning and zoning laws, but reversed with respect to a challenge brought pursuant to CEQA, concluding that the 180-day statute of limitations applicable to CEQA claims applied to the claim filed by Save Lafayette Trees, Michael Dawson, and David Kosters (together Petitioners) alleging non-compliance with CEQA.

In summary, the Court of Appeal determined:

  • If two statutes of limitation of equal authority apply to a claim brought pursuant to CEQA — one contained in a general state planning and zoning law and the other contained in a statute specific to CEQA — and the two cannot be reconciled, the more specific limitations period pursuant to CEQA prevails.

Petitioners filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the City of Lafayette’s (City’s) approval of a letter agreement allowing a public utility company to remove trees without obtaining a permit. City filed a demurrer, claiming that the petition was time-barred under the 90-day limitations period applicable to zoning and planning decisions under state law. The trial court agreed, sustaining the demurrer without leave to amend. Petitioners appealed.

CEQA Case Report: Understanding the Judicial Landscape for Development[i]

By Christopher W. Garrett, Daniel P. Brunton, Kimberly D. Farbota, and Natalie C. Rogers

In an unpublished opinion issued May 3, 2018, Endangered Habitats League, Inc. v. City of San Marcos, Case No. D072404, the California Court of Appeal determined that the Endangered Habitats League (Petitioner) substantially complied with procedural provisions of CEQA that require a petitioner to file a written request for a hearing, and the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s decision to dismiss Petitioner’s suit.

In summary, the court determined:

  • An oral request for a hearing on the merits of a CEQA petition, followed by written notice to all parties, fulfills the objectives of CEQA’s procedural requirement that a petitioner file a written request for a hearing, such that the substantial compliance doctrine applies.

The trial court dismissed the action based on its belief that the court was foreclosed from applying the substantial compliance doctrine to CEQA’s procedural requirements. Petitioner had orally requested a hearing on the merits of its CEQA action, provided timely written notice to City of San Marcos (City) and the real parties in interest (Real Parties). Petitioner had additionally filed and served a declaration attesting to the request for hearing, but had failed to file a document entitled, “request for a hearing.” Petitioner appealed the dismissal.

CEQA Case Report: Understanding the Judicial Landscape for Development[i]

By Christopher W. Garrett, Daniel P. Brunton, Lauren Glaser, and Natalie C. Rogers

In an unpublished opinion issued June 19, 2018, Center for Biological Diversity v. County of Los Angeles, Case No. B284427, the California Court of Appeal rejected the Center for Biological Diversity’s (Petitioner) appeal and affirmed the trial court’s denial of a petition for writ of mandate to require the County of Los Angeles (County) to set aside its approval of the modified Antelope Valley Area Plan (Plan) and certification of a program environmental impact report (EIR).

In summary, the court determined:

  • When modifications to an area plan do not constitute “significant new information” or “substantial changes” as compared to the original area plan, an agency need not revise the EIR before certification, recirculate the EIR, prepare a subsequent or supplemental EIR, or prepare an addendum to the EIR.
  • When modifications to a plan do not require an agency to recirculate an EIR, or prepare a supplemental EIR or addendum, the agency is not required to make further CEQA findings or provide an updated statement of overriding considerations.

Petitioner sought a writ of mandate to compel the County to set aside its approval of the modified Plan and certification of the EIR. The trial court denied the petition, finding that the modifications at issue were not significant and that the EIR’s findings related to project impacts remained valid. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of the petition.