Thomas Law Blog

CEQA Updates

Keeping You Up-to-Date on the California Environmental Quality Act

Posts from February, 2015


Appellate Court Reverses Injunction for La Jolla Hillside Revegetation Project

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

In an unpublished opinion in CREED-21 v. City of San Diego, the California Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed in large part the trial court decision granting an injunction and other relief for violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) relating to emergency repair and subsequent revegetation of a hillside and storm drain in La Jolla.

The City of San Diego (City) initially proposed a project that included replacing a damaged storm drain pipe and revegetating of the surrounding hillside. Before the environmental review was complete, the storm drain failed, causing significant erosion of the hillside. Due to public health and safety concerns and the need for immediate repairs, the City issued an emergency determination of environmental exemption.

The emergency repair of the storm drain did not include revegetation of the steep hillside. The City concluded the revegetation project would result in no significant environmental impacts and therefore qualified for the common sense exemption from CEQA. CREED filed a writ petition alleging the project was not exempt from CEQA, and the trial court granted an injunction stopping the revegetation project pending further environmental review.

The appellate court held that baseline conditions existed at the point in time after the emergency repair, not at the time the City initially proposed the storm drain repair project. The court reasoned the emergency repair was an “intervening and superseding event” and the existing environment under CEQA is comprised of the physical conditions that “will be affected by the proposed project.” Because the emergency repair project was exempt from CEQA, any future work on the site was required to consider the environment the project would actually affect, which in this case was the post-repair hillside.

After holding CREED only had standing to challenge the CEQA exemption for the revegetation project and not the storm drain repair project, the court held substantial evidence supported the City’s determination that the common sense CEQA exemption applied to the revegetation project. The revegetation project consisted of planting native plants on an otherwise bare hillside. As a result, there was no possibility the revegetation project would have a significant adverse effect on the environment. The court also held CREED did not meet its burden of showing the unusual circumstances exception applied to the CEQA exemption in this case.

In the final portions of the court’s opinion, the court held the City did not violate CREED’s due process right when responding to its California Public Records Act request. The court upheld the trial court’s denial of the City’s untimely and incomplete request for judicial notice of a City ordinance authorizing an appeal fee and required the City refund CREED’s $100 appeal fee.  The court also declined to impose sanctions on the City.

Thomas Law Group Adds Oakland Office to Growing Environmental Law Practice

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

The Thomas Law Group announced today the opening of a new office at the Kaiser Building in Oakland. The expansion comes on the heels of the law firm’s hiring of four new attorneys in 2014 to support the growing environmental and land use law firm.

The new office will be led by Thomas Law Group Of Counsel Todd Smith and enable the firm to establish closer ties with its Bay Area clients. Firm Founder Tina Thomas will continue to oversee all of the firm’s work at the existing Sacramento office and new office in Oakland. The Thomas Law Group is one of California’s top environmental law firms concentrating on land use issues and assisting clients to navigate the challenges of the California Environmental Quality Act and other environmental regulations.

The Thomas Law Group signed the lease on the new office space this month and will officially open the office for daily business in April.

“With several of our clients pursuing new projects in the Bay Area this year, the timing is right for us to establish a more formal presence in Oakland,” said Tina Thomas. “The Bay Area has always been a leader in environmental policy so it is a natural fit for the firm and the direction the firm will go in the next few years.”

The new office is the latest development for the flourishing law firm, which added four attorneys to its staff in 2014. Prior to joining the Thomas Law Group last year, Todd Smith spent five years with Ragghianti Freitas LLP in San Rafael, CA and seven years as Counsel with Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP in San Francisco advising public entities and private developers in environmental, land use, and natural resources law. Angela McIntire joined the firm after several years as corporate counsel for an environmental consulting firm where she oversaw the environmental review process for a variety of energy, agricultural, urban, and rural development projects. Holly McMannes, who graduated U.C. Davis law school and interned for the Thomas Law Group in 2012, also joined the firm last year. The Thomas Law Group also added Natalie Kuffel, who will begin her work later this year after completing a one-year clerkship with the Hon. Morrison England in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California.

Tina Thomas founded the Thomas Law Group in 2011 after nearly three decades at a separate environmental law firm in Sacramento. Thomas co-authored “Guide to the California Environmental Quality Act,” which is in its 11th edition, and has argued successfully before the California Supreme Court, California Appellate Courts and Federal District Court with many of her cases establishing new case law to guide future decisions in environmental law.

Media coverage of the new office news includes:

The Sacramento Business Journal: http://www.bizjournals.com/sacramento/news/2015/01/28/thomas-law-group-grows-adds-oakland-office.html
Sacramento Bee: http://www.sacbee.com/news/business/article8216358.html

The contact information for the new office is:

Thomas Law Group
One Kaiser Plaza, Suite 875
Oakland, California 94612
E-mail: info@thomaslaw.com
Telephone (916) 287-9292
Fax: (916) 737-5858