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Greatest Hits of 2014 Land Use Law, Pt. 1: CEQA

Feb 2, 2015

UCLA Extension convened its annual Land Use Law and Planning Conference last week in Los Angeles. As always, it was a bonanza of practical information and insights for lawyers and planners who navigate California's insanely complex web of laws and court cases that govern how we build -- and don't build -- in the state. 

As the panelists themselves noted, there was far too much news to convey -- about what happened in 2014 and what is on the horizon for 2015 -- than a single day's worth of presentations could cover. Nonetheless, they did an admirable job of presenting brief summaries of relevant guidelines, court decisions, and legislative actions that will affect planners in 2015. 

Below are selections from the conference's CEQA update, presented by Margaret Sohagi, Amy Bricker, and Michelle Oulette. Please refer to text of specific cases for full details. 

Exemptions

San Francisco Beautiful v. City and County of San Francisco 226 Cal.App.4th 2012
Categorical exemption for small structures applies to installation of metal cabinets on city sidewalks. 

Tuolumne Jobs and Small Business Alliance v. Superior Court 59 Cal.App.4th 1059
A city can directly adopt a voter-sponsored initiative without conducting review under CEQA. 

North Coast Rivers Alliance vs. Westlands Water District 227 Cal.App.4th 832
Interim contract to provide water exempt because they are considered pre-CEQA projects and continued operation of existing facilities. 

Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians v. Brown 229 Cal.App.4th 1416
Tribe claimed that governor did not comply with CEQA in approving casino development of competing tribe; court ruled that governor is not a "public agency" under CEQA. 

Types of CEQA Documents

Citizens Against Airport Pollution vs. City of San Jose 227 Cal.App.4th 788
Impacts of proposed amendments to airport master plan deemed not substantial; therefore, no need to determine whether 1997 EIR was programmatic or project-level. 

Citizens for Sustainable Treasure Island v City and County of San Francisco 227 Cal.App.4th 1036
Challenge that the city abused discretion by preparing project-level EIR, rather than programmatic EIR, improperly focused on form over substance. 

Thresholds of Significance

Trisha Lee Lotus v. Department of Transportation 223 Cap.App.4th 645
EIR analysis determined inadequate for failing to identify levels of significance even though project was self-mitigating. 

Adequacy of IS/MND
Citizens for the Restoration of L Street v. City of Fresno 229 Cal.App.4th 340
Court invalidated IS/MND for demolition of historic structure because city did not delegate authority to historic preservation committee to act as lead agency. 

Rominger v. County of Colusa 229 Cal.App.4th 690
County claimed that subdivision approval was not subject to CEQA; court ruled that even if a subdivision does not include a plan, it is a project under CEQA. 

Adequacy of EIR
Town of Atherton v Calif. High-Speed Rail Authority 228 Cal.App.4th 314
Court held that market participation doctrine was an exception to preemption; authority properly rejected infeasible alternatives. 

SPRAWLDEF v. San Francisco By Conservation and Development Commission 226 Cal.App.4th 905
Substantial evidence supported commission's determination that alternatives to proposed landfill could be economically infeasible using "reasonable person" test. 

California Clean Energy Committee v. City of Woodland 220 Cal.App.4th 1325
EIR for retail center inadequate because of inadequate measures to counteract economic losses in city's downtown. 

Citizens Opposing a Dangerous Environment v. County of Kern 228 Cal.App.4th 360
Mitigation requiring FAA to review wind turbines was legal. 

Paulek vs. CA Dept. of Water Resources 231 Cal.App.4th 35
Lead agency referenced discussion in EIR and was not required to repeat that discussion in the response.

Cleveland National Forest et al. v. San Diego Association of Governments 4th District Case No. D063288
SANDAG's EIR rejected for failing to evaluate plan's consistency with executive order setting GHG emissions goals; EIR's analysis and mitigation of air quality and agricultural impacts inadequate; alternatives analysis deficient for failure to consider alternatives that reduce VMT. 

Sierra Club v. County of San Diego Fourth District Case No. D064243
County did not adopt enforceable GHG reduction measures in climate plan. 

Adequacy of Functional Equivalent

Center for Biological Diversity, et al. v. Calif. Dept. of Forestry and Fire Projection Cal.App.LEXIS 1181
Timber management plan complied with CEQA. 

Administrative Record 

San Francisco Tomorrow v. City and County of San Francisco 228 Cal.App.4th 1239
Transcripts of board committee hearings that occurred before board's final decision on a project are part of administrative record. 

Procedural Issues
Citizens for a Green San Mateo v. San Mateo Community College District 226 Cal.App.4th 1572
Citizen challenge to tree removal barred under both 30-day statute of limitations and 180-day statute of limitations. 

Ventura Foothills Neighbors v. County of Ventura 232 Cal.App.4th 429
Citizen suit to challenge county's EIR addendum not barred by 30-day statute of limitations; change in building height ruled substantial change requiring preparation of supplemental EIR, not an addendum. 

Saltonstall v. City of Sacramento 231 Cal.App.4th 837
Passage of SB 743 to expedite litigation procedures for new basketball arena did not violate separation of powers because court considered it an amendment to CEQA.