CEQA Chronicles

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In an opinion filed on February 1, 2021, the First Appellate District in Schmid v. City and County of San Francisco found that petitioners challenging the City of San Francisco’s decision to remove a controversial sculpture had failed to exhaust their administrative remedies by not appealing the CEQA determination by the San Francisco Historic Preservation Committee (“HPC”) to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (“Board of Supervisors”). The challenge involved the unelected HPC’s decision to remove a sculpture facing criticism for “displaying a racist attitude towards Native Americans,” a dispute that the court described as “a local version of the…
On December 11, 2019, the California Supreme Court granted review of the Third District’s decision in County of Butte v. Department of Water Resources, dismissing a CEQA challenge to DWR’s relicensing application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the Oroville Dam on the basis that the claim was preempted by federal law. The Court of Appeal held the Federal Power Act (FPA) exclusively occupies the field of dam licensing and preempts state regulation, and accordingly found that it had no jurisdiction to consider the case. The Court of Appeal’s decision came on the heels of a lengthy and…
On February 18, 2021, the First Appellate District issued an opinion in Sweeney et al. v. California Regional Water Quality Control Bd., San Francisco Bay Region et al. (Case No. A153583) (“Sweeney”).  The opinion is much anticipated given its relevance to the continued validity of the State Water Resources Control Board’s recently adopted State Procedures for Discharges of Dredged and Fill Material (“Procedures”).  The Appellate Court reversed the lower court in the entirety, substantially deferring to the actions and prosecutorial discretion of the State Water Resources Control Board (“State Water Board”) and San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board…
On his first day in office on January 20, 2021, President Biden signed an Executive Order titled, “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis” (the Order). The Order directed federal agencies to immediately begin a review of federal regulations and regulatory action over the last four years. The Order directed agency heads to consider revision, rescission, or suspension of regulations rather than directing any particular course of action. However, the Order illuminates the Biden Administration’s priorities with respect to the regulatory landscape for energy and the environment. The Order’s Policy Statement The policy…
On December 17, 2020, the Sacramento County Superior Court substantially limited the scope of waters to which the State Procedures for Discharges of Dredged and Fill Material (“Procedures”) apply through its decision in San Joaquin Tributaries Authority v. State Water Resources Control Board (Case No. 34-2019-80003133).  According to the Court, the State Water Resources Control Board (“State Water Board”) exceeded its policy-making and water quality control plan development authority, resulting in the restriction of the Procedures to those waters regulated under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act or Clean Water Act (“CWA”) and State “ocean waters.”  The Court’s decision significantly…
In an opinion filed on December 29, 2020, the First Appellate District in Santa Clara Valley Water District v. San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board upheld a Responsible Agency’s imposition of additional mitigation more than a year after it had issued an initial approval for the project.  Although the court was careful to say that it was addressing “unique circumstances” that would “seldom arise,” the decision is potentially problematic for project proponents, and especially for public agencies trying to pursue necessary public-infrastructure projects. In January 2016, the Santa Clara Valley Water District (the “Water District”) certified an environmental…
In an opinion published on August 17, 2020, the Third Appellate District in Martis Camp Community Association v. County of Placer ruled that Placer County had violated CEQA by adopting an addendum to support abandonment of a roadway. Despite the statutory presumption against subsequent review under CEQA, the Third District determined that the County had abused its discretion in relying on the wrong EIR as a basis for analysis. Martis Camp and Northstar Retreat Subdivision EIRs and Later Unauthorized Use of Mill Site Road In January 2005, Placer County had certified an EIR for the Martis Camp Project, a residential…
On August 27, 2020, in Protecting Our Water and Environmental Resources v. County of Stanislaus, Case No. S251709 (“Protecting Our Water”), the California Supreme Court held that the County in that instance could not categorically classify its issuance of groundwater well construction permits as ministerial decisions exempt from environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) (Pub. Resources Code, §§ 21000 et seq.).  While the Court’s Opinion does not state that all well permits must undergo CEQA review, it narrows the grounds on which the ministerial exemption may apply.  And since county well ordinances across the State comprise similar…
In a ruling that should send shivers up the spine of any public agency in California needing to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), the Fourth District Court of Appeal on July 30 held that any email correspondence related to a project and its compliance with CEQA must be retained as part of the agency’s record of administrative proceedings, even if the agency’s document retention policy states otherwise.  This marks the first ruling (or statute or regulation) to impose such a duty. Golden Door Properties, LLC v. Superior Court of San Diego, Lead Case No. D076605, stems…
Willow Glen Trestle Bridge (Photo by Don DeBold, via Flickr) The Sixth Appellate District, in Willow Glen Trestle Conservancy v. San Jose (2020) 49 Cal.App.5th 127, held that seeking a new Streambed Alteration Agreement (“SAA”) from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (“CDFW”) for a previously approved project does not constitute a “further discretionary approval” within the meaning of CEQA Guidelines section 15162 and therefore does not require supplemental review. In 2014, the City of San Jose approved a project to demolish the Willow Glen Railroad Trestle, a railroad bridge over Los Gatos Creek, and replace it with a…