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CEQA Updates

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

Posts Tagged ‘Michele Tong’


Court of Appeal Views Appellants’ Failure to Present and Discredit Evidence favorable to the Agency as a Concession that Substantial Evidence Does In Fact Support Agency

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

In an unpublished decision, El Pueblo Para El Aire Y Agua Limpio v. Kings County Board of Supervisors, 2012 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 4984, Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice and El Pueblo Para El Aire y Agua Limpio (collectively appellants) sued the Kings County Board of Supervisors (County) alleging that the County’s approval of a project to expand an existing hazardous waste disposal facility violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Appellants also presented civil rights causes of action under Government Code sections 11135, 12955, and 65008. The Fifth Appellate District Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court, finding that the CEQA claim was properly rejected and upholding demurrers to the civil rights causes of action.

The court first concluded that appellants’ claims of CEQA noncompliance were not persuasive. Appellants attacked the County’s final subsequent environmental impact report (FSEIR) in three respects: (1) the health-related impacts were not sufficiently analyzed; (2) the daily truck traffic baseline used was inflated; and (3) the cumulative impacts analysis did not include all the relevant information and was thus underestimated. Pertaining to the first claim, appellants alleged that the County did not have sufficient information to judge the project’s true impacts on public health, the County should have conducted an additional health survey, and the County had an obligation to reexamine the project’s impacts due to new information brought to light by the Greenaction health study.

The court first explained that appellants had waived their claims by failing to adhere to the well-established principle that when an appellant is challenging an EIR for insufficient evidence, the appellant must lay out the evidence favorable to the other side and then show why it is lacking. Appellants’ failure to present all the evidence was viewed by the court as a “concession” that there was, in fact, substantial evidence to support the County’s findings.

The court next held that the County properly refused to conduct an additional health test as requested by appellants. “CEQA does not require a lead agency to conduct every test … recommended or demanded by commentors” (El Pueblo Para El Aire Y Agua Limpio v. Kings County Board of Supervisors, 2012 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 4984 at 47). Since the court found that the FSEIR reflected an adequate, good faith effort to ascertain the project’s potential impacts on public health, the court concluded that the County did not need to conduct an additional test. The court further explained that the county’s response to the requests for an additional test adequately explained why the County had refused to conduct another test, supporting the County’s decision with substantial evidence.

Lastly, the court explained that the County did not need to recirculate its EIR. Appellants’ argument rested on their belief that the Greenaction health survey presented new information, thus changing the environmental setting of the project from the one analyzed in the FSEIR. However, using the CEQA definition of “environmental setting,” which is “the surrounding physical conditions such as topography, air quality, plant life and water resources,” the court concluded that since the information from the survey was about birth defects, there was no change in the project’s environmental setting. (Id. at 61-62). There was no new information presented, therefore the County’s decision not to recirculate the DSEIR was supported by substantial evidence as well.

Appellants’ second and third claims that the truck traffic baseline and the cumulative impacts analyses were inadequate under CEQA were both rejected by the court under the exhaustion doctrine. By failing to raise the two claims either during the administrative proceedings or in the appeal letter, the court explained that these claims were forfeited due to appellants’ failure to exhaust all the available administrative remedies before bringing the suit to court.

The court also addressed non-CEQA, civil rights causes of action under Government Code sections 11135, 12955, and 65008. All three of these causes of action were rejected. The court explained that the appellants were trying to use the statutes in situations that were beyond their scope as defined by each statute itself along with interpretations used by other courts in previous cases. Therefore, the trial court’s holding and the County’s approval of the expansion of the hazardous waste site were reaffirmed.

Written By: Tina Thomas, Ashle Crocker and Grant Taylor (law clerk)
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For questions relating to this blog post or any other California land use, environmental and/or planning issues contact Thomas Law Group at (916) 287-9292.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Thomas Law Group, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.

Newly Published Appellate Decision Holds Analysis of Parkland Impacts for Campus Master Plan Fails to Comply with CEQA

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

The City of Hayward v. Board of Trustees of the California State University, 2012 Cal. App. LEXIS 761, publication status was recently changed from unpublished to published on June 28, 2012. The Board of Trustees of the California State University (Trustees) approved a master plan to guide the expansion of the Hayward campus. The City of Hayward (City) sued claiming the Trustees’ environmental impact report (EIR) violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by failing to analyze the impacts of the master plan on fire protection and public safety, traffic and parking, air quality, and parklands. The California First Appellate District Court found that Trustees’ EIR was adequate under CEQA in all respects except with regard to the analysis of impacts on surrounding parklands.

Trustees’ master plan requires an increase of fire services, either with the expansion or construction of a firehouse. The court held that the EIR adequately analyzed the impacts of the construction. Due to the small area required for a new firehouse along with its urban location, the court also held that the EIR appropriately concluded that the environmental impacts of expanded fire services would be less than significant. Therefore, the court explained, no mitigation measures were required. The court further concluded that it found no deficiency in the EIR’s analysis of cumulative impacts on public services.

The court next addressed the issues of traffic and parking. With the expansion of the college campus comes the need for more faculty. The Trustees’ master plan acknowledged the high cost of housing in California, and therefore explored potential locations to build affordable faculty housing. The EIR conducted an analysis and concluded that construction of faculty housing will not have a significant environmental impact as a result of increased traffic or parking. The court held this conclusion and analysis as sufficient under CEQA, explaining that since the Trustees prepared a program EIR as opposed to a project EIR, they properly evaluated cumulative impacts but deferred site-specific analysis of possible impacts on traffic until a later time. The court next examined the Trustees’ mitigation measures. With the main goal of shifting commuters out of single-occupant cars and into cleaner modes of transportation, the court found “no deficiency” in the way the EIR considered impacts of the master plan on parking and traffic, incorporated mitigation measures, and reached the conclusion that some environmental impacts are unavoidable. Lastly, the City claimed that the Trustees’ EIR failed to include a “mitigation measure … providing for the University to pay its fair share of traffic improvements.” City of Hayward, 2012 Cal. App. LEXIS 761 at 61. Since the City did not raise this issue in its opening brief, the court declined to address it because the argument had been waived.

Pertaining to impacts on air quality, the court supported the Trustees’ EIR. While the EIR concluded that the master plan would produce long-term emissions of pollutants, it presented transportation mitigation measures that would reduce some, though not all, emissions to a less than significant level. Since neither the trial court nor the City suggested other mitigation measures, the court held this portion of the Trustees’ EIR to be sufficient.

Analysis of the impacts on parklands was the one area the court found the EIR to be inadequate. Due to the proximity of two parks to the campus, the court explained that the EIR must do more than simply reference insignificant impacts on the East Bay Regional Park System. The Trustees’ EIR should rather analyze impacts on the two parks specifically. The court also held that the Trustees’ reliance on “long-standing use patterns” was done in error. Since the EIR made no attempt to determine the extent to which the current student body uses the parks or to extrapolate from that data as to what park usage might be in the future, there was no evidence to support Trustees’ assumption that the student use of the parks would remain nominal even after campus expansion.

Key Point:

The court found that the Trustees’ EIR inadequately analyzed the master plan’s impacts on parklands because, due to the proximity of the two parks, an analysis of impacts on the regional park system in general was too broad. The court also made clear that to support findings and analyses in an EIR, there needs to be concrete evidence; the Trustees should have attempted to ascertain the overall usage and capacity of the two nearby parks.

Written By: Tina Thomas, Chris Butcher and Holly McMannes (law clerk)
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For questions relating to this blog post or any other California land use, environmental and/or planning issues contact Thomas Law Group at (916) 287-9292.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Thomas Law Group, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.

Ninth Circuit Requires 2004 EIS to Include Higher Level of Analysis of Environmental Impacts on Fish, While Finding the Analysis of Environmental Impacts on Amphibians Sufficient

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

In January 2001, the United States Forest Service (Forest Service) issued an environmental impact statement (EIS) recommending amendments to the Forest Plans in the Sierras Madre Mountains (2001 EIS) to conserve and repair the riparian and amphibian habitat. By November 2001, the Forest Service reviewed the 2001 EIS and its proposed alternatives, and made several substantial changes, issuing a new EIS (2004 EIS) and adopting a new alternative (2004 Framework). The Pacific Rivers Council brought suit in Pacific Rivers Council v. United States Forest Service, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 12553, claiming that the Forest Service’s 2004 EIS violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) by failing to take the requisite “hard look” at the environmental effects of the 2004 Framework on fish and amphibians. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the 2004 EIS was deficient in its analysis on fish, however, sufficient in its analysis on amphibians.

With respect to the analysis of environmental consequences on fish, the Forest Service argued that the 2004 Framework was nothing more than an amendment to the Forest Plans, and thus it was not reasonably possible to provide an analysis of the environmental consequences on individual fish species. The Forest Service also claimed that the 2004 EIS satisfied the required “hard look” by incorporating the biological assessments (BA) by reference. The court disagreed with both arguments.

Responding to the Forest Service’s first argument, the court held that, based on the detailed analysis of the environmental effects on individual fish species in the 2001 EIS, along with the detailed analysis of environmental effects on individual species of mammals, birds, and amphibians in the 2004 EIS, a detailed analysis of fish in the 2004 EIS was in fact “reasonably possible.” The court explained that while the 2004 EIS was not required to have the same level of detail as the 2001 EIS, its complete lack of analysis, along with the absence of any explanation as to why no analysis was even included, was a violation of NEPA.

The court disagreed with the Forest Service’s second argument for three reasons. First, the court explained that depending on the nature of the information and its importance, it should either be in the text of the EIS, in an appendix to the EIS, or incorporated by reference. If the BAs were to serve as the requisite analysis, as argued by the Forest Service, then they should not have simply been referenced. Nor should they be included as an appendix. Based on their importance, the BAs should have been described and analyzed in the text. Next, the court held that the BAs could not even serve as the requisite “hard look” because there was no analysis of the degree or the manner by which the 2004 Framework may have affected the fish. Lastly, the court found that the BAs applied only to one group of fish species, as opposed to the three groups analyzed in the 2001 EIS. Based on those three findings, the court held that the 2004 EIS’s analysis of environmental consequences on fish was inadequate and in violation of NEPA.

With respect to amphibians, the court found the Forest Service’s 2004 EIS sufficient under NEPA. The 2004 EIS contained an extensive analysis of individual amphibians, identified changes between the 2001 and 2004 Frameworks that were likely to affect the species, and discussed mitigation strategies to minimize the environmental consequences of the 2004 Framework on amphibians. The court held that, since the Forest Service’s 2004 Framework stated that additional NEPA analysis would occur at the project-level, the current level of analysis was sufficient since site-specific projects are not yet at issue. Therefore, the court found the 2004 EIS’s analysis of environmental impacts on amphibians sufficient under NEPA.

Key Point:

The importance of information determines where the information must be presented in an EIS. The most important information must be analyzed in the text, less important information can be put in the appendix, and the least important information need only be referenced. Also, if an amendment to an alternative is significant, a new EIS must be prepared to take the requisite “hard look” at environmental consequences. A “hard look” involves considering all foreseeable direct and indirect impacts, as well as discussing the adverse impacts that do not improperly minimize negative side effects.

Written By: Tina Thomas, Amy Higuera and Holly McMannes (law clerk)
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For questions relating to this blog post or any other California land use, environmental and/or planning issues contact Thomas Law Group at (916) 287-9292.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Thomas Law Group, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.

Court Holds CARB’s Scoping Plan Complies with AB 32

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

In Associated of Irritated Residents v. California Air Resources Board, (2012) ___ Cal.App.4th ___, the California Court of Appeal, First District, held that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) complied with the requirements of AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act, when it adopted its Climate Change Scoping Plan (Plan).

AB 32 requires, among other things, that CARB adopt a “scoping plan[,] as that term is understood by [CARB], for achieving the maximum technologically feasible and cost-effective reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from sources or categories of sources of greenhouse gases by 2020.” The Plan must identify and recommend emission reduction measures and alternatives, as well as evaluate total benefits to California’s economy, environment, and public health. The legislation also specifies that greenhouse gas emissions be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020, with the ultimate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. On May 7, 2009, CARB adopted a Plan designed to: (1) expand and strengthen existing energy efficiency programs and building and appliance standards, (2) achieve a statewide renewable energy mix of 33%, (3) implement a cap-and-trade program, (4) establish targets for transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions and incentives to meet those targets, (5) implement measures pursuant to existing state laws such as the low carbon fuel standard, and (6) create targeted fees to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Association of Irritated Residents (AIR) believed CARB’s Plan did not satisfy AB 32’s requirements and initiated a lawsuit wherein the trial court ruled in favor of CARB. On appeal, the court reviewed CARB’s Plan for compliance with AB 32 under the abuse of discretion standard and addressed AIR’s arguments as follows.

The court first addressed AIR’s contention that AB 32’s Section 38561 requires CARB to adopt a Plan designed to achieve “maximum technologically feasible and cost effective reductions in greenhouse gas emissions” and that CARB failed to do so. AIR interpreted use of the word “maximum” to require CARB’s Plan to facilitate the greatest feasible greenhouse gas emissions reductions. In rejecting this contention, the court explained the Legislature intended that CARB create a Plan designed to achieve 1990 greenhouse gas emission levels by 2020 as a step toward achieving a longer-term climate goal of an 80% reduction below 1990 greenhouse gas emission levels by 2050. Thus, CARB’s Plan properly seeks to achieve 1990 greenhouse gas emission levels by 2020, and doing so is related to achieving the maximum reductions required by Section 38561. Moreover, in formulating the Plan, CARB extensively analyzed numerous measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as they related to achieving “maximum technologically feasible and cost effective reductions[.]” Through such analysis, CARB decided to adopt a cap-and-trade system, as well as numerous additional measures to achieve 1990 greenhouse gas emissions levels by 2020. Accordingly, CARB’s adoption of the Plan was supported by substantial evidence and could be neither arbitrary nor capricious with regard to the means chosen to satisfy AB 32’s goals.

Next, the court rejected AIR’s argument that CARB’s Plan failed to create and apply valid standard criteria for cost-effectiveness by which to compare alternative measures. As defined by AB 32’s Section 38505, cost-effectiveness is “the cost per unit of reduced emissions of greenhouse gasses adjusted for its global warming potential.” This definition does not provide criteria to assess cost effectiveness, nor does it define how costs are to be measured. Working with that definition, CARB considered four possible approaches for measuring cost-effectiveness, and ultimately adopted the “Cost of a Bundle of Strategies” approach. In the Plan, however, CARB explained in detail that a valid comparison of measures is not possible as limitations of modeling tools prevent a direct comparison of market-based measures (ie. cap-and-trade) with direct regulation measures (ie. technology forcing). As such, CARB did not directly compare certain measures in terms of cost-effectiveness because doing so would provide misleading results. The court was satisfied with CARB’s efforts to determine cost-effectiveness, and concluded those efforts were within the Legislature’s directive.

The last of AIR’s major claims was that the Plan did not do enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector. Though the record indicated CARB extensively analyzed measures designed to reduce such emissions, the Plan only encourages capture of methane at dairies and plans to reassess the measure after five years. It goes on to explain the scientific knowledge and technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the agriculture sector does not exist because 82% of the sector’s emissions result from complex biological processes. The court upheld this reasoning, finding that adopting premature mandates could be excessively costly and have environmental drawbacks.

Key Point:

CARB’s Plan is a first step toward achieving the maximum goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in California to 80% of the state’s 1990 emissions. The Plan reflects substantial technical analysis and scientific research with which the court was hesitant to interfere by substituting its own judgment over CARB’s.

Written By: Tina Thomas, Amy Higuera and Grant Taylor (law clerk)
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For questions relating to this blog post or any other California land use, environmental and/or planning issues contact Thomas Law Group at (916) 287-9292.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Thomas Law Group, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.

CSU Board of Trustees’ EIR for Campus Expansion was Held as Sufficient, with the Exception of its Analysis on Impacts to Surrounding Parklands

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

In an unpublished decision, City of Hayward v. Board of Trustees of the California State University, 2012 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 4097, the Board of Trustees of the California State University (Trustees) wished to expand its Hayward campus in order to meet its assigned enrollment ceiling.  In 2009, the Trustees approved a master plan to guide campus development for the next 20-30 years.  The City of Hayward (City) sued claiming the Trustees’ environmental impact report (EIR) failed to adequately analyze impacts on fire protection and public safety, traffic and parking, air quality, and parklands.  The California First Appellate District reversed the trial court’s holding and found that the Trustees’ EIR was adequate, with the exception of parklands.  The court therefore modified the writ of mandate ordering the Trustees to revise the analysis of potential environmental impacts to surrounding parklands.

Based on the Trustees’ analysis on fire protection and public services, the court came to four conclusions.  First, the court found substantial evidence to support the Trustees’ conclusion that additional and expanded fire facilities will not have a significant environmental impact.  Second, the court held that the Trustees did not have to provide mitigation measures for the new fire facilities since they concluded that more fire protection services would not result in significant environmental impacts.  Third, the court stated that the Trustees do not need to fund the expansion of the fire department services but rather the city has a constitutional duty to provide such services.  Lastly, the court found that the EIR sufficiently analyzed the impact of the campus expansion on the city’s public services and properly came to the conclusion that the “cumulative effect would be less than significant.”

The court next addressed the issue of traffic and parking.  The court first held that the Trustees’ analysis of potential sites for faculty housing was sufficient.  Since the Trustees prepared a program EIR as opposed to a project EIR, they properly deferred site-specific analysis of possible environmental effects of building faculty housing until a later time.  The court next examined the Trustees’ mitigation measures.  With the main goal of shifting commuters out of single-occupant cars and into carpools, transit, biking, and walking, the court found “no deficiency” in the way the EIR considered impacts of the master plan on parking and traffic, incorporated mitigation measures, and reached the conclusion that some environmental impacts are unavoidable.  Lastly, the City claimed that the Trustees’ EIR failed to include a “mitigation measure … providing for the University to pay its fair share of traffic improvements.”  (City of Hayward, 2012 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 4097 at 60.)  Since the City did not raise this issue in its opening brief, the court declined to address it and held it as waived.

Pertaining to impacts on air quality, the court supported the Trustees’ EIR.  While the EIR concluded that the master plan would produce long-term emissions of pollutants, it presented transportation mitigation measures that would reduce some, though not all, emissions to a less than significant level.  The court also explained that since neither the trial court nor the City suggested further mitigation measures the Trustees should consider, then that portion of the Trustees’ EIR was sufficient and did not need to be reexamined.

Impacts on parklands was the one area with which the court agreed with the City and the lower court.  The court explained that the Trustees’ reliance on “long-standing use patterns” of the students as opposed to factual evidence was “nominal” and did not prove a meaningful enough  analysis to inform or analyze the extent of the impact the master plan was likely to have on surrounding parks.  Therefore, the court ordered the Trustees to reanalyze those impacts prior to certifying a revised EIR.

Written By: Tina Thomas, Ashle Crocker and Holly McMannes (law clerk)
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For questions relating to this blog post or any other California land use, environmental and/or planning issues contact Thomas Law Group at (916) 287-9292.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Thomas Law Group, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.

Attorney General Releases Report Interpreting CEQA to Require Consideration of Environmental Justice Issues at the Local and Regional Levels

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

On May 8, 2012, the California Attorney General’s office released a report entitled  “Environmental Justice at the Local and Regional Level – Legal Background” (Report) which interprets existing law to impose environmental justice obligations that local governments must consider when approving specific projects and planning for future development.

“Environmental justice” is defined in the Government Code as “the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, and incomes with respect to the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”  (Gov. Code, § 65040.12, subd. (e).)  The Report defines “fairness” in this context to mean that “the benefits of a healthy environment should be available to everyone, and the burdens of pollution should not be focused on sensitive populations or on communities that already are experiencing its adverse effects.”

The Report first asserts that Government Code section 11135, which prohibits discrimination by any state agency, requires local governments to consider the same issues of “fairness” in the planning context.  The Report notes that, if a local government is found to have violated Government Code section 11135 which, according to the Report, may occur if environmental justice issues are not considered, then state funding can be “curtailed” and a civil action may be brought.

The Report then interprets the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and its implementing Guidelines to require lead agencies to consider the public health burdens of a project as they relate to environmental justice for certain communities.    While the Report acknowledges that there is no mention of “environmental justice” within CEQA, the Report notes that CEQA’s main purpose is to evaluate whether a project may have a significant effect on the physical environment, and asserts that “human beings are an integral part of the environment.”

The Report provides several examples of specific provisions of CEQA and its Guidelines that the Attorney General asserts require local lead agencies to consider how the environmental and public health burdens of a project might specially affect certain communities.  Specifically, the Report cites the requirement that the environmental setting of a project be considered and notes that a project that is ordinarily insignificant in one setting may be significant in another.  The Report also cites the requirement that agencies assess the cumulative impacts of a project by examining a project’s effects in connection with the effects of past, current, and probable future projects, along with effects on nearby communities.  In addition, the Report cites the provisions of CEQA that recognize the potential relevance of social and economic impacts, even though the main focus of CEQA is on environmental impacts.

Under CEQA, agencies are prohibited from approving projects with significant environmental effects if there are feasible alternatives or mitigation measures that would lessen or avoid those effects.  The Report adds that, “where a local agency has determined that a project may cause significant impacts to a particular community or sensitive subgroup, the alternative and mitigation analyses should address ways to reduce or eliminate the project’s impacts to that community or subgroup.”

Finally, the Report acknowledges that local agencies have discretion to approve a project, even one with unavoidable environmental impacts.  However, the Report asserts that, if the benefits of a project will be enjoyed widely, but the environmental burdens of a project will be felt particularly by the neighboring communities, then that balance the agency has struck should be set out plainly in the statement of overriding considerations.

A copy of the Report can be found at:

http://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/pdfs/environment/ej_fact_sheet_final_050712.pdf

Written By: Tina Thomas, Amy Higuera and Holly McMannes (law clerk)
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For questions relating to this blog post or any other California land use, environmental and/or planning issues contact Thomas Law Group at (916) 287-9292.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Thomas Law Group, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.

Governor Brown Seeks to Insulate California High Speed Rail From CEQA Challenges

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Governor Brown’s office has proposed new legislation that would modify the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to limit the circumstances under which a court could issue an injunction or other stop work order on the California High Speed Rail (HSR) project pending the outcome of CEQA litigation.  The proposed legislation aims to protect the HSR project from a halt in construction that could result from recently filed CEQA litigation, including lawsuits filed by the City of Chowchilla and the County of Madera and Madera and Merced County Farm Bureaus, challenging the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the portion of the proposed HSR line that will traverse through the Central Valley.  The Legislature will likely consider the proposal in the next month.

For more information on the Governor’s proposal visit: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/06/02/4532775/jerry-brown-moves-to-protect-high.html

Written By: Tina Thomas, Amy Higuera and Grant Taylor (law clerk)
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For questions relating to this blog post or any other California land use, environmental and/or planning issues contact Thomas Law Group at (916) 287-9292.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Thomas Law Group, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.

Court Denies Attorney’s Fees Where Successful Petitioner Does Not Confer a Significant Benefit to Public and Discharges Writ of Mandate After Compliance

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

In an unpublished opinion, California Oak Foundation v. County of Tehama (2012) 2012 Cal. App. Unpub. Lexis 3970, the California Third District Court of Appeal affirmed a decision denying petitioner’s request for attorney’s fees on the basis that their successful challenge to a golf course community project, which Tehama County approved in 2006, did not significantly benefit the general public. The court also affirmed the order to discharge a writ of mandate requiring Tehama County to consider certain evidence as it related to I-5 mitigation fees to be imposed on the project.

The court had previously issued a writ of mandate requiring the county to comply with CEQA by considering evidence brought forth by the county’s economic consultant pertaining to I-5 traffic mitigation fees. In 2010, the county reapproved the project without any changes, on the apparent basis that the decline in home prices between 2006 and 2010 made higher fees to mitigate I-5 traffic infeasible.

After the county reapproved the project, petitioner brought suit seeking attorney’s fees incurred during the first case, and also arguing that the trial court improperly discharged the writ because the county employed flawed reasoning when it considered I-5 mitigation fees. The court denied petitioner’s attorney’s fees request. Because the county reapproved the project without any changes, petitioner’s lawsuit conferred no significant benefit to the general public. Because no significant benefit to the general public resulted from their lawsuit, petitioner failed to satisfy a requirement for attorney’s fees to be awarded in such a case. Next, the court held the county acted reasonably when it concluded the lower home prices in 2010 made higher I-5 traffic mitigation fees infeasible. Because the county articulated reasonable grounds for its conclusion that higher I-5 mitigation fees were infeasible, the county complied with CEQA and the writ of mandate was properly discharged.

Written By: Tina Thomas, Chris Butcher and Grant Taylor (law clerk)
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For questions relating to this blog post or any other California land use, environmental and/or planning issues contact Thomas Law Group at (916) 287-9292.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Thomas Law Group, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.

Court Finds No Vested Right Where Prior Mine Owner Did Not Assert One

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

In an unpublished opinion, McMillan v. County of Siskiyou (2012) 2012 Cal.App.Unpub. Lexis 3791, the Third District Court of Appeal held a property owner does not have a vested right to mine his property where the previous owner did not assert a vested right to engage in mining activities.

Petitioner acquired property in Siskiyou County in 1967 and transferred it to a corporation, which he established to conduct lawful mining activities without a permit. Subsequently, the county adopted an ordinance in 1974 requiring a permit for mining operations. California later enacted the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA), which took effect in 1976 and required, among other things, mines in California to operate under a permit. Because the mine owned by petitioner’s corporation began operations without a permit before one was required, it could have continued operating without one pursuant to its vested right to do so. Despite this, the corporation’s mine began operating under a five-year renewable use permit, which was first issued in 1979 and renewed a total of three times, the last time being in 1993 though the permit was not actually issued until 1998. In 2003, Petitioner established a new corporation to conduct the mining operations, and the mineral rights to the property were transferred to the new corporation. Eventually, the Department of Conservation issued an order to the company requiring compliance with SMARA. Petitioner challenged the order, arguing that the corporation had a vested right to mine that did not require compliance with SMARA.

The court of appeal found no vested right. Relying on a 1976 Attorney General opinion pertaining to SMARA, the court explained the creation of a vested right is a “personal process” rooted in theories of equitable estoppel, and a successor in interest to a property may only claim a vested right where the prior owner established a vested right. Petitioner’s first corporation owned the mine prior to 1976, when any vesting of the right to operate without a permit could have occurred, but instead operated pursuant to a permit. Thus, the corporation did not establish its vested right to operate without a permit. Accordingly, when the property was transferred to a new corporation in 2003, that corporation could not claim a vested right to mine the property without a permit.

Written By: Tina Thomas, Amy Higuera and Grant Taylor (law clerk)
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For questions relating to this blog post or any other California land use, environmental and/or planning issues contact Thomas Law Group at (916) 287-9292.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Thomas Law Group, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.

Contents of an Administrative Record: Who is in “Control”?

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Preparation of the administrative record for CEQA litigation is governed by Public Resources Code section 21167.6, subdivision (e).  In Consolidated Irrigation District v. The Superior Court of Fresno County, (2012) ___ Cal.App.4th_____, the court provided important guidance regarding the proper contents of the record and sets some limitations on an agency’s responsibility to respond to Public Records Act requests.

The court first considered whether the files of subconsultants retained to prepare an EIR for a lead agency are (1) “public records” that the lead agency must provide in response to a Public Records Act request and/or (2) part of the administrative record for purposes of CEQA litigation.  In both instances, the court looked to the contract between the lead agency and the primary EIR consultant and determined that the City’s “control” over the consultant was contractually limited and did not extend to the services performed by subconsultants.  Thus, for purposes of the Public Record Act, the subconsultant’s files were not “in the possession of the agency” and therefore did not need to be included in the City’s response to petitioner’s Public Records Act request.  For purposes of CEQA, the contract established that the subconsultant’s files were not owned, controlled or in the possession of the City.  The court held such files were not considered part of the record under Public Resources Code section 21167.6, subdivision (e)(10) which requires inclusion of documents “included in the …public agency’s files on the project….”

Importantly, however, the court did not establish a bright line rule that subconsultant files never qualify for inclusion in the record; if a subconsultant’s documents were made available consistent with CEQA’s requirements, such documents would properly be in the record (e.g., documents cited or referenced in the EIR and made available for public review).  In this case, where the subconsultant’s documents were not made available to the City, the court found that it was improper to compel production of such documents for inclusion in the record.

The court next considered whether the City was required to include transcripts of hearings and/or audio files of public hearings in the record.  Although transcripts are clearly “written” materials and should generally be included in the record, in this case the City had not prepared written transcripts of several hearings and therefore could not produce such documents. The court held that Public Resources Code section 21167.6, subdivision (e)(4)’s requirement that the administrative record include “[a]ny transcript or minutes” does not compel a lead agency to prepare transcripts that do not otherwise exist.  However, the court held that audio recordings of the hearings constitute “other written materials” under subdivision (e)(4) and therefore must be included in the administrative record if transcripts are not available.  The court explained that this broad interpretation of the words “written materials” best promotes CEQA’s purposes of accountability and informed self-government.

Finally, the court considered whether certain documents cited within a comment letter constitute “written comments received” by the agency and/or “written evidence submitted” to the agency and thus warrant inclusion in the record under section 21167.6, subdivisions (e)(6) and (e)(7).  As to the first issue, the court concluded that the term “comment” does not include documents cited to support the assertions made in the letter.  While these documents are considered evidence supporting the contentions in the letter, they “cannot be bootstrapped into the record of proceedings using the language in section 21167.6, subdivision (e)(6) that covers ‘written comments received.’”

As to the next issue, the court determined that “written evidence” has been “submitted to” a lead agency for purposes of section 21167.6, subdivision (e)(7) when the commenter has made the document readily available for use or study by lead agency personnel.  The court applied this test to four categories of “evidence”:

(1)   documents named in a comment letter and previously delivered to the City in connection with another project were made “readily available” for City personnel and therefore were part of the record under subdivision (e)(7);

(2)   documents named in the comment letter along with a reference to a general Web site through which the document could be located were too general in nature and would subject lead agency personnel to potentially time-consuming efforts to locate the specific Web page where the document is located; therefore, citations to general Web pages and home pages are not considered “readily available” to the City and are not part of the record under subdivision (e)(7);

(3)   documents named in a comment letter along with a citation to the specific Web page or URL containing the document were made “readily available to the City personnel” and therefore are part of the record under subdivision (e)(7);

(4)   documents named in comment letters without a citation to a Web site or Web page are too difficult to identify or obtain and therefore have not been “submitted to” the lead agency for purposes of subdivision (e)(7) and need not be included in the record.

Key Point:

This case confirms that, with limited exception, the scope of the administrative record in a CEQA case is very broad and agencies should be careful to include: (1) the materials in the EIR consultant’s project files, and subconsultant’s files to the extent the agency owns or exercises control over those files, (2) audio tapes of public hearings where no transcripts are available, and (3) all documents received by or submitted to the agency, including documents “submitted” as URL citations in comment letters.

Written By: Tina Thomas and Ashle Crocker
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