Articles Posted in Environmental Law

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This California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) dispute centered on whether an environmental impact report (EIR) must identify areas that might qualify as environmentally sensitive habitat areas (ESHA) under the California Coastal Act and account for those areas in its analysis of mitigation measures and project alternatives. The City of Newport Beach approved a project for the development of a parcel known as Banning Beach. Banning Ranch Conservancy (BRC) sought a writ of mandate to set aside the approval, alleging (1) the EIR was inadequate, and (2) the City violated a general plan provision by failing to work with the California Coastal Commission to identify wetlands and habitats. The trial court found the EIR sufficient but concluded that the general plan required the City to cooperate with the Coastal Commission before approving the project. The Court of Appeal (1) agreed that the EIR complied with CEQA requirements; but (2) reversed on the general plan issue. The Supreme Court reversed and granted BRC relief on its CEQA claim, holding (1) CEQA requires an EIR to identify areas that might qualify as ESHA under the Coastal Act; and (2) the City’s failure to discuss ESHA requirements and impacts was neither insubstantial nor merely technical. View "Banning Ranch Conservancy v. City of Newport Beach" on Justia Law

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In 1995, the Fish and Game Commission added to the list of endangered species coho salmon in streams south of San Francisco. In 2004, it joined this coho population with coho from San Francisco north to Punta Gorda. Since then, the Commission has included coho salmon south of Punta Gorda in its endangered species list. In this case, Plaintiffs filed a petition asking the Commission to delist coho salmon south of San Francisco from the list of endangered species, arguing that these fish did not qualify for listing because they were not “native” within the meaning of the California Endangered Species Act. The court of appeal denied relief on a procedural basis, concluding that Plaintiffs’ argument attacked the Commission’s final listing decisions in 1995 and 2004 as having no basis and that a petition to delist a species may not be employed to challenge a final determination of the Commission. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a delisting petition may, based upon new evidence, challenge an earlier listing decision; and (2) therefore, the court of appeal incorrectly limited the scope of the delisting petition. View "Central Coast Forest Ass’n v. Fish & Game Commission" on Justia Law

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In 2006, the San Mateo Community College District and its Board of Trustees (collectively, District) proposed a district-wide facilities improvement plan that called for demolishing certain buildings and renovating others. The District approved the plan, determining that it would have no potentially significant, unmitigated effect on the environment. In 2011, the District proposed changes to the plan. The District approved the changes, determining that they did not require the preparation of a subsequent or supplemental environmental impact report under Public Resources Code section 21166 and CEQA Guidelines section 15162. The Court of Appeal invalidated the District’s decision, ruling that the District’s proposal was a new project altogether and, therefore, subject to the initial environmental review standards of Public Resources Code section 21151 rather than the subsequent review standards of section 21166 and section 15162. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Court of Appeal erred in its application of the new project test. Remanded for further proceedings. View "Friends of College of San Mateo Gardens v. San Mateo Cmty. College Dist." on Justia Law

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The Regional Water Quality Control Board, Los Angeles Region, a state agency, issued a permit authorizing local agencies (collectively, Operators) to operate storm drain systems. Permit conditions required that the Operators take various steps to maintain the quality of California’s water and to comply with the federal Clean Water Act. Some Operators sought reimbursement for the cost of satisfying the conditions. The Commission on State Mandates concluded that each required condition was mandated by the state, rather than by federal law, and therefore, the Operators were entitled to reimbursement for the associated costs. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that the permit conditions were federally mandated and thus not reimbursable. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the permit conditions were imposed as a result of the state’s discretionary action, and therefore, the conditions were not federally mandated and were reimbursable. View "Dep’t of Fin. v. Comm’n on State Mandates" on Justia Law

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Defendant was charged by criminal complaint with unpermitted use of a suction dredge. Suction dredging is a technique used by miners to remove matter from the bottom of waterways, extract minerals, and return the residue to the water. Defendant demurred, arguing (1) state law aimed at environmental conservation effectively banned suction dredging in California, thereby preventing him from using the only commercially practicable method of extracting gold from his mining claim; and (2) because federal law promoted mining on federal land, the state’s contrary legislation should be preempted. The trial court overruled the demurrer. The Court of Appeal reversed and remanded for consideration of additional evidence and argument. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Congress did not guarantee miners a right to mine immunized from exercises of the states’ police powers. View "People v. Rinehart" on Justia Law

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In 2010, the Bar Area Air Quality Management District passed a resolution adopting new thresholds of significance for air pollutants and published new California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) air quality guidelines. The California Building Industry Association (CBIA) filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging these thresholds. The superior court entered judgment in favor of CBIA, concluding that the District’s promulgation of the 2010 thresholds was a “project” subject to CEQA review, and the District was bound to evaluate the thresholds’ potential impact on the environment. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that the promulgation of the 2010 thresholds was not a project subject to CEQA review. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) CEQA does not generally require an agency to consider the effects of existing environmental conditions on a proposed project’s future users or residents except in specific instances; and (2) because the Court of Appeal’s analysis of CBIA’s petition for writ relief did not address potentially important arguments for and against such relief in light of CEQA’s requirements as interpreted in this opinion, this case is remanded so the court may have an opportunity to address those issues. View "Cal. Building Ind. Ass’n v. Bay Area Air Quality Mgmt. Dist." on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was the adequacy of an environment impact report certified by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) for a land development in northwest Los Angeles County. Plaintiffs challenged DFW’s actions by a petition for writ of mandate, raising several claims under the California Environmental Quality Act. The superior court granted the petition. The Court of Appeal reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the environmental impact report did not validly determine that the development would not significantly impact the environment by its discharge of greenhouse gases; (2) the report’s mitigation measures adopted for protection of a freshwater fish, a fully protected species under the Fish and Game Code, constituted a prohibited taking of the fish under the Code; and (3) Plaintiffs exhausted their administrative remedies regarding certain claims of deficiency. Remanded. View "Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. Cal. Dep’t of Fish & Wildlife" on Justia Law

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At dispute in this case was an environmental impact report (EIR) certified by the Board of Trustees (Board) of the California State University (CSU) that concerned the Board’s project to expand the campus of San Diego State University (SDSU) to accommodate more than 10,000 additional students. The SDSU project will contribute significantly to traffic congestion off-campus in the City of San Diego. The Board declined to use any of its budgeted funds, or any of CSU’s financial resources, for off-site environmental mitigation, finding that mitigation was infeasible. The Court of Appeal directed the Board to vacate its certification of the EIR. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the EIR in this case did not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act where the Board erroneously assumed that a state agency may contribute funds for off-site environmental mitigation only through earmarked appropriations, to the exclusion of other available sources of funding. View "City of San Diego v. Bd. of Trs. of Cal. State Univ." on Justia Law

Posted in: Environmental Law

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The City of Berkeley approved a permit application to build a 6,478-square-foot house with an attached 3,394-square-foot garage. In approving the permit, the City relied on two class exemptions making the project exempt from the restrictions set forth in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The Court of Appeal invalidated the permit approval, concluding that the proposed project may have a significant environmental impact, and therefore, the exemptions the City invoked did not apply under the Guidelines for Implementation of CEQA section 15300.2(c). Section 15300.2(c) provides: “A categorical exemption shall not be used for an activity where there is a reasonable possibility that the activity will have a significant effect on the environment due to unusual circumstances.” The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a proposed project’s potential significant effect on the environment is not alone sufficient to trigger the unusual circumstances exception; and (2) remand for application of the standards the Court announced today was necessary. View "Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley" on Justia Law

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Pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority (Expo Authority) approved a project to construct a light-rail line from Culver City to Santa Monica. Plaintiffs, Neighbors for Smart Rail, petitioned for a writ of mandate, alleging that Expo Authority's approval of the project violated CEQA in several respects. The superior court denied the petition, and the court of appeal affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Expo Authority abused its discretion by examining certain environmental impacts only on projected future conditions, and not on existing environmental conditions, but the abuse of discretion was non prejudicial; and (2) the Expo Authority's mitigation measure adopted for possible impacts on street parking near planned transit stations satisfied CEQA's requirements. View "Neighbors for Smart Rail v. Exposition Metro Line Constr. Auth. " on Justia Law