In Saltonstall v. City of Sacramento, 2014 Cal. App. LEXIS 1053, the California Third District Court of Appeal affirmed the constitutionality of a legislative amendment to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that shortened the deadlines for review of a sports arena project in downtown Sacramento. The court also affirmed the trial court’s denial of a preliminary injunction seeking to stop construction of the Sacramento arena project.
The NBA required completion of a new arena by 2017 in order to keep the Kings basketball team in Sacramento. To meet the deadline, the legislature enacted Public Resources Code Section 21168.6.6, which modified CEQA review deadlines exclusively for the Sacramento arena project, but did not otherwise substantively modify CEQA.
Individuals opposed to the arena project sued, contending Section 21168.6.6 represented an unconstitutional intrusion of the legislative branch on the courts. Plaintiffs also requested a preliminary injunction, which was denied by the trial court.
Although arguably moot pending resolution of the merits by the trial court, the court of appeal evaluated and upheld the constitutionality of Section 21168.6.6.
Section 21168.6.6 established specific factors for a court to consider in determining whether to enjoin construction or operation of the downtown arena. Under Section 21168.6.6, a court could not issue an injunction unless it found that construction or operation of the downtown arena presents an imminent threat to public health and safety, or would permanently and adversely impact unforeseen important historical, archaeological, or ecological resources. Thus, Section 21168.6.6 changed the general injunction standard for purposes of the Sacramento arena. However, the court held it was within the legislature’s authority and not a violation of separation of powers for the legislature to determine which interests should be weighed against the benefits of a new Sacramento arena. Furthermore, the court explained environmental review under CEQA was a statutory right created by the legislature, so the legislature had the authority to amend or even eliminate the right altogether.
The court next rejected Plaintiffs’ argument that section 21168.6.6 imposed impossible timelines on the courts that prevented courts from effectively fulfilling their adjudicatory duties. Although section 21168.6.6 sets a 270-day time limit for judicial review, it only requires the challenges be resolved within that timeframe “to the extent feasible.” It does not impose any penalty for review that exceeds the 270 days and as a result, the court held the amendment did not “cross the line from reasonable regulation to a material impairment of the courts’ exercise of power[.]”
Finally, the court held the trial court did not err in denying Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction. Plaintiffs failed to meet their burden of showing an imminent threat to public health and safety or to previously unknown historical, archaeological, or ecological values. Instead, Plaintiffs improperly argued a preliminary injunction would not cause harm to respondents.
Although the California Constitution includes an express separation of powers clause, the legislature does not violate the separation of powers when it amends a right that was created by statute and does not impair a core function of one of the branches of government. Accordingly, the legislature has the authority to establish the interests for courts to consider in deciding whether to issue an injunction pursuant to CEQA.
Section 21168.6.6 was established by Senate Bill (SB) 743. SB 743 also included separate statutory revisions for expedited review of environmental leadership development projects certified by the Governor. (See section 21185.) Section 21185, like section 21168.6.6, includes 270 days for judicial review. However, unlike section 21168.6.6, section 21185 does not provide that the 270-day requirement is applicable “to the extent feasible.” Thus, a petitioner may still argue – due to the absence of the feasibility language – that section 21185 is unconstitutional despite the court’s holding concerning section 21168.6.6.