In No Wetlands Landfill Expansion v. County of Marin (2012) 2012 Cal.App.LEXIS 330, the First Appellate District reversed the trial court’s determination that CEQA required the Marin County Board of Supervisors to hear an administrative appeal from the Marin County Environmental Health Services’s (Marin EHS) approval of a solid waste facilities permit for the expansion of a landfill. Petitioners argued the Board of Supervisors was the decisionmaking body for the purposes of CEQA because Marin County Guidelines required the Planning Commission to review the EIR and Planning Commission decisions are reviewable by the Board of Supervisors. Petitioners also argued the Board of Supervisors was the decisionmaking body because the Integrated Waste Management Act authorizes the Board of Supervisors to appoint a hearing panel or officer in the event a non-mandatory administrative appeal is filed, and that the Board of Supervisors may even appoint three of its own members as the panel.
The Court was not persuaded and concluded that because the Board of Supervisors is not the entity with the ultimate decisionmaking power to approve the EIR it was of no consequence that the Planning Commission reviewed, and provided recommendation on, the EIR. The Court also explained that the existence of an appeal panel that may include some, but not all, members of the Board of Supervisors, did not provide the Board as a whole with some form of decisionmaking power concerning the EIR or permit. Therefore, the Court remanded the matter to the trial court and directed the court to address the petitioners’ challenges to the EIR on its merits.
The Court declined the City’s request for the Court to address the merits of the petitioners’ CEQA claims because the Court concluded the causes of action challenging the adequacy of the EIR are properly committed to the trial court for its resolution. Article VI, Section 10, of the California Constitution provides the Supreme Court, courts of appeal, and superior courts with original jurisdiction in proceedings for extraordinary relief in the nature of mandamus. Therefore, a court of appeal could elect to resolve substantive CEQA claims that a trial court has not previously addressed. Such review by a court of appeal would serve to facilitate the Legislature’s goal that CEQA litigation “be quickly heard and determined.” (Pub. Resources Code, § 21167.1, subd. (a).)
Written By: Tina Thomas and Chris Butcher
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