Articles Posted in Environmental Law

by
The Judicial Council of California (Government Code 70321) prepared an environmental impact report (EIR, California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code, 21000)) in connection with the consolidation of El Dorado County courthouse operations from two buildings, one of which is a historic building in downtown Placerville, into a single new building on the city’s outskirts, less than two miles away. Although the draft EIR addressed the possible economic impact of moving judicial activities from the downtown courthouse, it concluded the impact was not likely to be severe enough to cause urban decay in downtown Placerville. The League contended this conclusion was not supported by substantial evidence, given the importance of the courthouse to downtown commerce. The trial court and court of appeal upheld certification of the EIR. The court noted that the new construction will not result in a competitor to siphon business from downtown, but will leave behind a building that can be filled with other activities producing a level of commerce similar to that removed by the relocation, thereby mitigating the impact of the relocation. There was substantial evidence to support the draft EIR’s conclusion that urban decay is not a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the project. View "Placerville Historic Preservation League v. Judicial Council of California" on Justia Law

by
The 7,517-square-foot lot, on the south side of Telegraph Hill bordering the Filbert Street steps, was unimproved except for a small uninhabitable 1906 cottage. Four other buildings were demolished in 1997. The developers intend to restore the existing 1.000-square-foot cottage and build a three-story over basement building with three units ranging from 3,700-4,200 square feet apiece. A new curb cut along Telegraph Boulevard will provide access to a basement with three off-street parking spaces. The front of the building, bordering the Filbert Street steps, is designed to appear as three separate single-family homes, each below the 40-foot height limit as they step down the hill. The San Francisco Planning Department determined the project was statutorily exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act, Public Resources Code, 21000 (CEQA), because it fell within classes of projects that were determined not to have significant effects on the environment: restoration or rehabilitation of deteriorated structures; a residential structure totaling no more than four dwelling units. The Planning Commission approved a conditional use authorization. The Board of Supervisors, superior court, and court of appeal upheld the approvals. No CEQA review was necessary because the project was categorically exempt from review and no unusual circumstances exist to override the exemptions on the basis the project will have a significant effect on the environment. View "Protect Telegraph Hill v. City & County of San Francisco" on Justia Law

by
The State of California sued to recover from various insurers the costs of cleaning up the Stringfellow hazardous waste site, pending since 1993. The only remaining insurers were the Continental Insurance Company and Continental Casualty Company (collectively Continental), and the only remaining issues related to prejudgment interest. In 2015, Continental paid the State its full policy limits of $12 million. The trial court ruled that the State was entitled to mandatory prejudgment interest on that amount at seven percent, dating back to 1998. In the alternative, it also ruled that the State was entitled to discretionary prejudgment interest, at seven percent, dating back to 2002. Continental appealed. In the published portion of its opinion, the Court of Appeal addressed Continental’s contentions that the award of mandatory prejudgment interest was erroneous because: (1) the award was premised on the trial court’s erroneous ruling as to when Continental’s policies attached; and (2) the State was not entitled to mandatory prejudgment interest because the amount of its damages was uncertain. Continental further contended the award of discretionary prejudgment interest was erroneous because the trial court used an inapplicable interest rate. Finding no error affecting the award of mandatory prejudgment interest, the Court of Appeal affirmed. The Court did not review the award of discretionary prejudgment interest. View "California v. Continental Ins. Co." on Justia Law

by
The State Water Resources Control Board (Wat. Code, 174(a)) has permitting authority, limited to surface water and to “subterranean streams flowing through known and definite channels.” It does not have authority over “percolating groundwater” that is not part of a subterranean stream, which is regulated by local agencies. It has authority to prevent the unreasonable or wasteful use of water regardless of its source. Living Rivers unsuccessfully sought a writ of mandate to compel the Board to rescind its approval of a policy designed to maintain instream flows in coastal streams north of San Francisco. Living Rivers alleged several violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA; Public Res. Code, 21000) relating to the indirect environmental effects of surface water users switching to groundwater pumping as a result of the policy. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments that a revised supplemental environmental declaration’s (RSED) conclusion that increased groundwater pumping was uncertain or unlikely was in conflict with the Board’s finding that groundwater pumping could have significant effects on the environment; the RSED did not adequately describe or discuss the adoption of the Subterranean Stream Delineations as a mitigation measure; and the RSED’s stated reasons for finding the Subterranean Stream Delineations infeasible were erroneous as a matter of law. View "Living Rivers Council v. State Water Resources Control Board" on Justia Law

by
The Department of Pesticide Regulation, acting under the Food & Agriculture Code, approved amended labels for two registered pesticides: Dinotefuran 20SG and Venom Insecticide, which allowed both pesticides to be used on additional crops and allowed Venom to be used in increased quantities. Both pesticides contain the active ingredient dinotefuran, which is in a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids.The Department concluded uses of both pesticides in accord with the label amendments would cause no significant effect on honeybees or the environment. An environmental group challenged the approvals, alleging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by approving the label amendments without sufficient environmental review. The court of appeal reversed the approvals. The Department’s pesticide registration program is exempt only from CEQA chapters 3 and 4 and from Public Resources Code section 21167; its regulatory program remains subject to CEQA's broad policy goals and substantive requirements. The Department’s environmental review was deficient. It failed to address any feasible alternative to registering the proposed new uses for the pesticides; failed to assess baseline conditions with respect to actual use of neonicotinoids in California; and did not show that the Department considered whether the impact to honey bees associated with registering new uses for both insecticides would be cumulatively considerable. View "Pesticide Action Network v. California Department of Pesticide Regulation" on Justia Law

by
South San Francisco approved a conditional-use permit allowing an office building to be converted to a medical clinic for use by Planned Parenthood Mar Monte. The city determined that its consideration of the permit was categorically exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act, Public Resources Code section 21000 (CEQA). Respect Life challenged the determination. The trial court and court of appeal upheld the determination, rejecting arguments that the permit’s consideration is not exempt from CEQA because the unusual circumstances exception to CEQA’s categorical exemptions applies. By pointing only to evidence that the permit will lead to protests, Respect Life failed to establish that the city prejudicially abused its discretion by making an implied determination that there are no unusual circumstances justifying further CEQA review. View "Respect Life South San Francisco v. City of South San Francisco" on Justia Law

by
In 2010, Omni, the landowner and developer, sought approval for construction of a shopping center on 11 acres of property zoned commercial, to consist of 10 retail buildings. Monterey County approved the project. An association of community members challenged the approval under the California Environmental Quality Act, Public Resources Code 21000 (CEQA). The trial court denied the petition as to the claimed CEQA violations but ordered an interlocutory remand to allow the county to clarify whether the project was consistent with the county’s general plan requirement that the project have a long-term, sustainable water supply. On remand, the Board of Supervisors clarified that the project “has a long-term sustainable water supply, both in quality and quantity to serve the development in accordance with the 2010 Monterey County General Plan Policies. The court entered judgment in favor of the county and Omni. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting claims that the county violated the association’s right to procedural due process on interlocutory remand and violated CEQA because the water supply analysis was inadequate, the analysis of the project’s consistency with the general plan was inadequate, the environmental impact report’s traffic analysis was inadequate, and environmental review of Omni’s project was improperly segmented. View "Highway 68 Coalition v. County of Monterey" on Justia Law

by
Before appellants purchased Martins Beach, the public was permitted to access the coast by driving down Martins Beach Road and parking along the coast, usually upon payment of a fee. Because it is sheltered by high cliffs, Martins Beach lacks lateral land access. In 2008, appellants purchased Martins Beach and adjacent land including Martins Beach Road. A year or two later, appellants closed the only public access to the coast at that site. Surfrider, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of access for recreation, brought suit. The trial court held the California Coastal Act (Pub. Res. Code, 30000–30900) applied and the appellants were required to apply for a coastal development permit (CDP) before closing public access. The court issued an injunction that requires appellants to allow public coastal access at the same level that existed when appellants bought the Martins Beach property. The court of appeal affirmed. Appellants‘ conduct is “development” requiring a CDP under section 30106 of the Coastal Act. Appellants‘ constitutional challenge to the Coastal Act‘s permitting requirement under the state and federal takings clauses is not ripe, The injunction is not a per se taking. The court affirmed an award of attorney fees to Surfrider. View "Surfrider Foundation v. Martins Beach 1, LLC" on Justia Law

by
This case arose from a community college’s decision to buy a plot of vacant land from a regional park district for potential future use as the site of a new campus. Plaintiffs-appellants Martha Bridges and John Burkett, residents of Wildomar (where the land was located) sued respondent Mt. San Jacinto Community College District (the community college, or the college) alleging it violated California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by failing to prepare an environmental impact report (EIR) before executing a purchase agreement for the property. Appellants also alleged the community college violated CEQA by failing to adopt local CEQA implementing guidelines. The trial court dismissed the action in its entirety, and the Court of Appeal affirmed: (1) appellants did not exhaust their administrative remedies before filing this suit and did not demonstrate they were excused from doing so; and (2) even if the exhaustion doctrine did not bar appellants’ suit, the Court would have affirmed the trial court’s ruling because both of their CEQA claims lacked merit. View "Bridges v. Mt. San Jacinto Community College Dist." on Justia Law

by
Tetrachloroethylene (also known as perchloroethylene or PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE), were detected in groundwater drawn from a drinking water well in the South Basin area operated by the Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD). The Orange County Water District (District) undertook efforts to identify the source of groundwater contamination and engaged consultants to recommend further avenues of investigation. Although the District's investigation has continued, it had not yet developed a final treatment plan or remediated any contamination by the time of the underlying litigation. During its investigation, the District filed suit against various current and former owners and operators of certain sites in the South Basin area that it believed were in some way responsible for groundwater contamination. The District asserted statutory claims for damages under the Carpenter-Presley Tanner Hazardous Substance Account Act (HSAA) and the Orange County Water District Act (OCWD Act) and for declaratory relief. The District also asserted common law claims for negligence, nuisance, and trespass. Following numerous motions for summary judgment and summary adjudication, and a limited bench trial on the District's ability to bring suit under the HSAA, the trial court entered judgments in favor of the defendants on all of the District's claims. The District appealed, challenging the judgments on numerous grounds. The Court of Appeal confirmed that the HSAA allowed the District to bring suit under the circumstances here, and that the District could recover certain remediation-related investigatory costs under the OCWD Act. The Court also addressed the HSAA's nonretroactivity provision and concluded its requirements were not satisfied here. Furthermore, the Court concluded the theory of continuous accrual applies to the District's negligence cause of action, such that no defendant except one has shown the statute of limitations barred that claim. As to the District's causes of action for trespass and nuisance, the Court concluded the District raised a triable issue of fact regarding its potential groundwater rights in the South Basin. In doing so, the Court addressed the State’s potential interests in groundwater (as allegedly delegated to the District), the District's regulatory powers over groundwater, and its rights based on its groundwater replenishment or recharge activities. The Court concluded the District's potential rights in groundwater were insufficient, on the current record in this case, to maintain a trespass cause of action. However, triable issues of fact precluded summary judgment on the District's nuisance claim for all defendants except one. Finally, the Court concluded most of defendants' site-specific arguments (primarily based on causation) did not entitle them to summary adjudication of any causes of action. The judgments will therefore be affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "Orange Co. Water Dist. v. Sabic Innovative Plastics" on Justia Law