Okay, maybe slightly longer than 60 seconds.  The point being, though, that CEQA case updates really should not read like law school case briefs.  Long discussion of the lower court’s findings?  No thank you.  Point/counterpoint for each and every argument made by petitioners?  No one has time for that.  Get in, get out and move on with some useful knowledge — that’s the goal for this update on CEQA cases in the first quarter of 2017.

If we had to pick a theme for first quarter CEQA cases, it would be simple: don’t stick your head in the sand, do explain yourself, and all will be fine.  Why this theme?  Continue reading and find out in these case summaries.
Continue Reading First Quarter CEQA Update in Under 60 Seconds

On Thursday, December 10, environmental organizations filed a complaint against Kern County in California Superior Court alleging that the County violated the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) by preparing a “grossly inadequate” Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) for its new oil and gas rules.  The Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (jointly “the Sierra Club”), along with several other local organizations, take issue with the programmatic approach of the EIR, and urge a well-by-well environmental analysis.  This lawsuit comes as no surprise to the County.  Environmental groups have a long history of opposing oil and gas development in Kern County, which produces over 70% of all the oil in California.

This lawsuit comes in reaction to a Kern County zoning ordinance amendment which harnessed broad local support.  On November 9, 2015, the Kern County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved amendments to Title 19 of the Kern County Zoning Ordinance which provides a streamline permitting process for oil and gas operations.  Notably, the new ordinance encourages oil and gas producers to work with surface owners to agree on a development plan, promoting cooperation and transparency.  The amendments also required the County to conduct an extensive environmental analysis pursuant to CEQA.  The Board of Supervisors certified the Final EIR after holding multiple public Scoping Meetings and reviewing various mitigation measures.Continue Reading Environmental Challenge Blasts Kern County Oil and Gas Rules

Today, July 30, the Center for Biological Diversity (“CBD”) filed a complaint in Sacramento County Superior Court against the Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”). CBD claims, among other things, that DOGGR failed to comply with Senate Bill 4 (“SB 4”) by releasing its Final EIR regarding oil and gas well stimulation treatment prior to the release of a state-mandated Independent Study.

This lawsuit strikes us as more of a shout out to the Legislature and the Governor to highlight CBD’s ongoing disappointment with SB 4, more than anything else. CBD mistakenly construes SB 4 to require DOGGR to analyze and incorporate the Independent Study’s findings into its Final EIR, when no such requirement is found in the law. Indeed, by its terms, SB 4 only requires DOGGR to comply with the following requirements relating to the EIR:

  • The EIR shall be certified by the division as the lead agency, no later than July 1, 2015.
  • The EIR shall address the issue of activities that may be conducted as defined in Section 3157 and that may occur at oil wells in the state existing prior to, and after, the effective date of this section.
  • The EIR shall not conflict with an EIR conducted by a local lead agency that is certified on or before July 1, 2015.

(Pub. Resources Code, § 3161.) The Legislature, not the Sacramento County Superior Court, is the proper body to which this additional request should be made, as there is currently no law mandating it.
Continue Reading Activists ask Court to Scrap EIR and Stop Fracking

In Saltonstall, et al. v. City of Sacramento, No. C077772 (Cal. Ct. App. 3rd Dist., Feb. 18, 2015), the Third Appellate District affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court in holding that the City of Sacramento did not violate the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) by beginning construction of the downtown arena. This appeal comes just months after the Third Appellate District rejected the same petitioners’ arguments that expedited CEQA timelines were unconstitutional. (Saltonstall et al., v. City of Sacramento, No. C077031 (Cal. Ct. App. 3rd Dist., Nov. 20, 2014) (Saltonstall I).)
Continue Reading Sacramento Kings – 2, Opponents – 0: Court Rules that the Downtown Arena Satisfies Environmental Review Requirements

In Citizens for a Sustainable Treasure Island v. City & County of San Francisco, No. A137828 (Cal. Ct. App. 1st Dist., July 7, 2014), the First Appellate District upheld an environmental impact report (“EIR”) for the renovation of Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay.  Citizens for a Sustainable Treasure Island (“CSTI”) argued that the City and County of San Francisco (“City”) and Treasure Island Development Authority (“TIDA”) should have prepared a program EIR for the Treasure Island/Yerba Buena Island Project (the “Project”).

The Project includes up to 8,000 homes, 25 percent of them classified as below-market affordable housing, along with commercial and office buildings, 500 hotel rooms, a ferry terminal, and 300 acres of parks, playgrounds and open space, and is scheduled to take 15 to 20 years to complete.

CSTI asserted the EIR should have been a program EIR, not a project-level EIR, because there is insufficient detail about various aspects of the Project, including remediation of hazardous materials, building and street layout, historical resources and tidal trust resources, for “project-level” review.Continue Reading Treasure Island Update: San Francisco EIR Specific Enough

In Citizens Against Airport Pollution v. City of San Jose, No. H038781 (Cal. Ct. App. 6th Dist., June 6, 2014), Citizens Against Airport Pollution (“CAAP”) appealed the trial court’s ruling that the City of San Jose’s (“City”) approval of the eighth addendum to the 1997 Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) for the Airport Master Plan did not require a supplemental EIR (“SEIR”) under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”).  The Sixth District Court of Appeal  affirmed the trial court’s decision and determined that the eighth addendum’s conclusion that changes to the Airport Master Plan would not cause any new significant environmental impacts was supported by substantial evidence.  

The City began updates to the 1980 Airport Master Plan for the San Jose International Airport in 1988.  The EIR for the updated Airport Master Plan was certified in 1997, a SEIR was certified in 2003, and eight successive addenda to the EIRs analyzed the environmental impacts of amendments to the Airport Master Plan.  The eighth (and most recent) amendment was approved in 2010, and was due largely to a decrease in projections for air travel and air cargo.  The three major changes analyzed in the eighth addendum were adjustment in size and location of planned air cargo facilities, addition of general aviation facilities, and modifications to the taxiways.

CAAP claimed that the City was required to prepare a SEIR instead of an addendum for the eighth amendment to the Airport Master Plan because the amendments were so significant as to constitute a new project as a matter of law, for which a SEIR, not an addendum, was required.  CAAP further claimed that the City should have prepared a SEIR because the changes to the Airport Master Plan would cause significant, unstudied impacts on “noise, greenhouse gas emissions, toxic air contaminants, and the burrowing owl habitat.”  (Slip Op. at p. 4.)  Finally, CAAP argued that the addendum did not comply with regulations adopted in 2010 that address how to analyze greenhouse gas and climate change impacts under CEQA.Continue Reading Ground Control to Major Tom: Appeals Court Shuts Down CEQA Challenge to San Jose Airport Master Plan

In Sierra Club v. County of Fresno (Cal. Ct. App. 5th Dist. May 27, 2014), the Fifth Appellate District found fault with the County of Fresno’s (County)  review of the Friant Ranch Project (Project) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The appellate court concluded that the County’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) did not sufficiently correlate the Project’s air quality impacts with impacts on human health, and did not sufficiently define mitigation measures designed to address air quality impacts. With respect to correlating air emissions to human health impacts, it is worth noting that the court did not address the extent to which this is possible. Initial reactions from air consultants who have reviewed this decision is that it is not technically possible to calculate this correlation with such specificity, leaving open the question of how lead agencies will respond to this decision in future CEQA documents.
Continue Reading What’s a ROG and Can It Hurt Me? EIR Overturned For Failure to Explain Air Quality Impacts to Human Health

In San Francisco Beautiful v. City and County of San Francisco, No. CPF11511535, (Cal. Ct. App. 1st Dist. May 30, 2014), the First Appellate District upheld San Francisco’s application of a categorical exemption to exempt from CEQA review the installation by AT&T of 726 utility cabinets on public sidewalks.

AT&T applied for a categorical exemption for its “Lightspeed” project (the Project), which is intended to upgrade broad band Internet speed and capabilities. The majority of the utility cabinets would be approximately 48 inches high, 51.7 inches wide, and 26 inches deep. (Slip Op. at p. 2.) Although AT&T had not determined precisely where the new utility cabinets would be located, the new cabinets would be “paired” with or placed within 300 feet of existing AT&T utility cabinets. (Ibid.) In response to community concerns, AT&T also promised to affix a 24-hour-a-day contact number for reporting graffiti directly to AT&T and a system in which AT&T personnel would remove the graffiti. (Ibid. at p. 3.) In 2010, AT&T submitted a revised application for a categorical exemption pursuant to section 15303(d) of the CEQA Guidelines (Guidelines), and the San Francisco Planning Department (SFPD) determined that the Project was categorically exempt from CEQA, leading to the present litigation. The trial court denied plaintiffs’ challenge, and they appealed.
Continue Reading Court Finds No CEQA Necessary For Utility Cabinets on San Francisco Sidewalks

In Trisha Lee Lotus v. Caltrans (Jan. 30, 2014), the First District Court of Appeal reversed a Humboldt County Superior Court decision, and ruled that a California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) environmental impact report (EIR) failed to adequately analyze the significance of the project’s impacts to old-growth redwood root systems in a state park.

Caltrans prepared the EIR for the realignment of a 1-mile segment of U.S. Route 101 that passes through Richardson Grove State Park, which is home to old growth California redwoods.  The project’s goal is to accommodate standard-sized trucks that have been restricted from using the road due to its size and configuration.  Petitioners-appellants, including the Environmental Protection Information Center, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (jointly, “Lotus”), challenged the adequacy of the EIR on several grounds, and won on appeal on one issue.Continue Reading Caltrans EIR Analysis of Impacts to Redwoods Found Inadequate