The state Supreme Court has accepted for review two land use cases in which appellate courts limited the jurisdiction of state officials. One case involved the Coastal Commission and the other concerned the director of the Department of Conservation. In the Coastal Commission case, the First District Court of Appeal ruled that the state panel did not have authority to consider the environmental impacts to areas inside the coastal zone caused by a development proposed outside the coastal zone. The project involved was a 114-house subdivision in the Playa del Rey area of Los Angeles proposed by Catellus Residential Group. On appeal from environmentalists, the Coastal Commission approved the project, in which only a road to the houses would be built in the coastal zone and all houses would be built outside the coastal zone. Environmentalists sued, contending the Coastal Commission should have considered the impact of the houses on nearby coastal wetlands. But a San Francisco Superior Court and the First District ruled that the Coastal Commission's jurisdiction ends at the boundary for the coastal zone. "Consideration of environmental impacts originating outside the coastal zone is the responsibility of the local agency with authority over their point of origin — here, the city. It is not the responsibility of the Commission," the appellate court ruled. The court also ruled that the Coastal Commission could adopt findings for its decision five months after voting for the project because the Commission explained its reasoning at the time of the vote. Environmentalists contended this amounted to after-the-fact rationalization, which the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) forbids. The case is Sierra Club v. California Coastal Commission, No. S116081 (see CP&DR Legal Digest, June 2003). The second case involved two quarries in El Dorado County. The surface mines had been operating without permits or financial assurance of reclamation for years. After prodding from the state, the county approved mitigated negative declarations, reclamation plans and financial assurances for the mines in 1997. The director of the Department of Conservation sued the county and the miner, contending that the plans approved by the county violated the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA) and that the mitigated negative declarations did not satisfy CEQA. An El Dorado County Superior Court ruled that only the State Mining and Geology Board — and not the department's appointed director — could take legal action against the county and the miner. The court also awarded about $500,000 in attorneys' fees to the county, the miner and trade associations that intervened in the case. A Third District Court of Appeal panel voted 2-1 to uphold the lower court. "SMARA gives the Board, not the director, the role of oversight over lead agencies," the majority ruled. "[I]f he believes the lead agency is approving reclamation plans that do not comply with SMARA, his remedy is to take his concerns to the Board," not to file a lawsuit. One justice dissented, saying SMARA does not limit the director's authority in the way the majority stated. The majority, however, overturned the lower court's award of attorneys' fees because dismissal of the lawsuit failed to "effectuate a significant public policy" — the standard required for awarding fees in such a case. The state Supreme Court said it would review only the issue of whether the director had the right to seek court relief for the county's alleged violations of SMARA and CEQA. The high court deferred consideration of the attorneys' fees question until the court decides a related case. The case is Department of Conservation v. El Dorado County, No. S116870.