California Supreme Court

We analyze the key CEQA cases from 2022 and how they have impacted development in California.

By Marc Campopiano, Winston Stromberg, Daniel Brunton, Lauren Glaser, Kevin Homrighausen, and Natalie Rogers

The California Supreme Court and the Courts of Appeal issued 50 published and unpublished opinions on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in 2022. We review these cases in our forthcoming “CEQA Case Report: Understanding the Judicial Landscape for Development.”

Our annual comprehensive report summarizes

Public agencies prevailed in 68% of CEQA cases analyzed.

By James L. Arnone, Daniel P. Brunton, Nikki Buffa, Marc T. Campopiano, and Winston P. Stromberg

Latham & Watkins is pleased to present its fourth annual CEQA Case Report. Throughout 2020 Latham lawyers reviewed each of the 34 California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) appellate cases, whether published or unpublished. Below is a compilation of the information distilled from that annual review and a discussion of the patterns that emerged. Latham’s webcast discussing this publication and the key CEQA cases and trends of 2020 is available here.

California appeals court decision increases the potential for CEQA challenges to power plant projects under the CEC’s jurisdiction.

By Marc T. Campopiano, Charles C. Read, and Kevin A. Homrighausen

In Communities for a Better Environment v. Energy Resources Conservation & Development Commission, the California First District Court of Appeal recently held that the State Legislature violated the California Constitution by limiting the scope of judicial review for California Energy Commission (CEC) decisions involving power plant siting to the California Supreme Court. Although the California Constitution gives the Legislature express authority to limit the scope of judicial review for California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) decisions, the court found there is no similar authority regarding appeals of CEC decisions.

The Supreme Court has rarely, if ever, agreed to hear CEQA challenges of CEC power plant decisions. Now, developers seeking to construct new power plants or modify existing power plants under the CEC’s jurisdiction may see an increase in legal challenges — including California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) challenges — in California’s trial courts. As a result, CEQA challenges to power plants may closely resemble other land use challenges in the state.

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 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

By James Arnone, Lucinda Starrett, Marc Campopiano, and Christopher Garrett

California higher courts rule in favor of public agencies on small majority of environmental impact report cases.

Over the course of 2017, Latham lawyers reviewed all 46 California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) cases, both published and unpublished, that came before California appellate courts. These cases covered a wide variety of CEQA documents and other topics. Below is a compilation of information from the review and a discussion

By James ArnoneLucinda Starrett, Marc Campopiano, and Christopher Garrett

California higher courts rule in favor of public agencies on small majority of environmental impact report cases.

Over the course of 2017, Latham lawyers reviewed all 46 California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) cases, both published and unpublished, that came before California appellate courts. These cases covered a wide variety of CEQA documents and other topics. Below is a compilation of information from the review and a discussion

By Christopher Garrett, Daniel Brunton and Shannon Lankenau

On May 4, 2016, the California Supreme Court heard oral argument in Friends of the College of San Mateo Gardens v. San Mateo County Community College District (Case No. S214061), which addresses the standard of review that applies when a lead agency decides that changes or additions to a previously approved project can be treated as a modified version of the original project instead of as an entirely new project. Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a modified version of a project will often be analyzed with an expedited “addendum” to the previous CEQA document while an entirely new project may require starting the CEQA review from the beginning.  The Supreme Court’s opinion will likely provide important guidance on this frequently encountered situation. The Court is expected to issue its opinion by early August.

Factual and Procedural Background

Friends of the College of San Mateo Gardens (Friends) challenged the San Mateo County Community College District’s (the District) decision to demolish a building complex on the District’s College of San Mateo campus. The District previously approved a project plan to renovate ten campus buildings and demolish sixteen others, using a mitigated negative declaration to address the project’s environmental impacts. The District later revised its plans to include demolition of one building that had been set for renovation and renovation of two buildings previously slated for demolition. The District evaluated the possible environmental consequences of the change in plans, concluded that the revisions were not extensive enough to require preparation of a subsequent Environmental Impact Report (EIR), and adopted an addendum to the previously approved mitigated negative declaration.

By Christopher Garrett, James Arnone and Joshua Bledsoe,

On Monday November 30, 2015, the California Supreme Court overturned the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (the Department) Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Department’s approvals of the Newhall Ranch project. The Newhall Ranch project includes plans to develop almost 12,000 acres along the Santa Clara River west of the City of Santa Clarita, with up to 20,885 dwelling units housing nearly 58,000 residents as well as areas for commercial

By Chris Garrett, Shivaun Cooney and Shannon Lankenau

On October 7, 2015, the California Supreme Court heard oral argument in California Building Industry Association v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District (Supreme Court Case No. S213478), a case which calls into question the “continued vitality” of a line of appellate cases holding that the “reverse application” of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is inconsistent with the statute’s language and intent. While the California Building Industry Association’s (CBIA) challenge to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s (BAAQMD) guidelines raised numerous legal issues, the Supreme Court’s order granting review in the matter expressly limited briefing and argument to the following issue: “Under what circumstances, if any, does the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.) require an analysis of how existing environmental conditions will impact future residents or users (receptors) of a proposed project?” In other words, is CEQA review limited to an analysis of a project’s impact on the existing environment, or does it also require an analysis of the existing environment’s impact on the project and its future occupants and users?

CBIA’s Challenge to BAAQMD’s Thresholds of Significance

On November 29, 2010, CBIA filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging BAAQMD’s 2010 thresholds of significance for certain air contaminants (Thresholds), adopted pursuant to Section 15064.7 of the CEQA Guidelines. The trial court agreed with CBIA that BAAQMD should have conducted an environmental review under CEQA before issuing the Thresholds, but declined to address CBIA’s remaining arguments, including that the Thresholds were arbitrary and capricious to the extent they required an evaluation of the impacts the environment would have on a given project (referred to by some as CEQA in reverse).[i]