Developers and municipalities must now evaluate potential wildfire impacts from projects under recent amendments to CEQA, among other legislative changes.

By Marc Campopiano and Shivaun Cooney

Wildfires pose an increasingly serious threat to the public and environment in California with respect to air quality, climate change, and utility power shutoffs. The state’s string of historic wildfire seasons has prompted a number of changes to environmental policies. With recent amendments to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Developers and local jurisdictions must evaluate wildfire impacts, among other changes. Understanding how wildfire risk affects new development and infrastructure has never been so important.

New definition of “waters of the United States” takes effect June 22, 2020 everywhere except Colorado under split decisions.

By Janice M. Schneider and Peter R. Viola

In the closely watched battle over the scope of the Clean Water Act (CWA), a federal court in California has denied a motion brought by a coalition of states to stay the Trump Administration’s rule narrowing the law’s reach. However, the federal court in Colorado has enjoined the rule in that state, and litigation in these and other courts will continue — including an anticipated appeal of the California decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Governor has issued an Executive Order that permits commandeering of hotels and other places of temporary residence for the state’s response to COVID-19.

By Winston P. Stromberg, Lucas I. Quass and Cody M. Kermanian

As part of California’s continued response to the COVID-19 outbreak, on March 12, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-25-20, which, among other measures, permits the state to commandeer real property, such as hotels, for the treatment and quarantine of COVID-19 patients. Specifically, the Executive Order provides as follows:

The California Health and Human Services Agency and the Office of Emergency Services shall identify, and shall otherwise be prepared to make available — including through the execution of any necessary contracts or other agreements and, if necessary, through the exercise of the State’s power to commandeer property — hotels and other places of temporary residence, medical facilities, and other facilities that are suitable for use as places of temporary residence or medical facilities as necessary for quarantining, isolating, or treating individuals who test positive for COVID-19 or who have had a high-risk exposure and are thought to be in the incubation period.

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.

Online alcohol sellers should ensure compliance with the new Prop 65 warning label requirements.

By Michael G. Romey, Lucas I. Quass, and James A. Erselius

On August 30, 2018, new regulations governing the implementation of California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (Prop 65) went into effect. The new regulations apply to all products manufactured after that date and require updated warnings that must appear on product labels in addition to other substantive changes. For an overview of the amendments, please refer to Latham’s four-part “How To Prepare” blog series. One provision of the recent amendments, concerning the warning requirements for the sale of alcoholic beverages, has triggered a notices of violation. In the first quarter of 2019, more than 50 notices alleging failure to comply with Prop 65 have been sent to online retailers of alcoholic beverages.

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 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.