Petitioner petitioned for a writ of mandate, claiming that the California State Lands Commission (Commission) failed to comply with CEQA and the public trust doctrine in approving Chevron’s lease renewal for a marine terminal. The Superior Court denied the petition. Petitioner appealed to the First District Court of Appeal, which upheld the lower court’s decision. The Appellate Court determined de novo whether the Commission complied with CEQA requirements and gave great deference to the Commission’s substantive factual conclusions. In addressing the adequacy of the environmental baseline used in the EIR, the Court held the Commission correctly included the current and operative conditions of the terminal in the baseline even though those existing conditions had not previously been evaluated under CEQA. The Court further held that during the CEQA process, agencies can and should be allowed to make adjustments to its CEQA determinations, including determinations concerning the baseline. The Petitioner raised other issues with the Commission’s EIR, all of which the Court struck down.
The decision reiterates that prior illegal development is properly included as part of the environmental baseline because “[h]ow present conditions come to exist… is irrelevant to CEQA baseline determinations—even if it means preexisting development will escape environmental review under CEQA.”