Public agencies prevailed in 71% of decisions involving the California Environmental Quality Act in 2022.

By Marc Campopiano, Lucas Quass, Natalie Rogers, and Kevin Homrighausen

Latham lawyers tracked key developments in California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) case law throughout 2022. On April 20, 2023, Latham lawyers held a webcast highlighting important cases from the past year, summarizing practical takeaways, and covering trends in CEQA. (See the webcast and the corresponding 2022 CEQA Year in Review presentation.) Below is a compilation of the information from that annual review and patterns that emerged.

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The California Supreme Court and the Courts of Appeal issued 50 published and unpublished opinions on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in 2022.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

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.

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.

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.