Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Environmental Law
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On March 21, 2017, following a public hearing, East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) committed to accept Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) funding for “[e]nvironmental [r]estoration and [m]aintenance at Briones Regional Park and LafayetteMoraga Regional Trail.” A staff report explained that PG&E had determined that 245 trees near the gas transmission pipeline on EBRPD property needed to be removed for safety reasons, would pay $1,000 for each tree removed, and would provide replacement trees for 31 District-owned trees within the City of Lafayette, per the City’s ordinance. PG&E would also provide $10,000 for two years of maintenance. Days later EBRPD and PG&E signed an agreement. On June 27, EBRPD filed a Notice of Exemption under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Pub. Res. Code, 2100. On July 31, opponents and EBRPD entered into an agreement to “toll all applicable statutes of limitations for 60 days” PG&E did not consent.On September 29, opponents sued. The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. The CEQA claim is barred by the 180-day limitation period. PG&E, a necessary and indispensable party to that claim, did not consent to tolling. The non-CEQA claims relating to the city and ABRPD ordinances cannot be amended to allege claims for which relief can be granted. Constitutional due process rights of notice and a hearing did not attach to EBRPD’s quasi-legislative acts. View "Save Lafayette Trees v. East Bay Regional Park District" on Justia Law

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The California Water Resources Control Board (Board) promulgated a regulation setting the drinking water standard for TCP in 2017. Kern County Taxpayers Association and California Manufacturers and Technology Association (Association) challenged the regulation by petition for writ of ordinary mandate. The trial court denied the petition. The Association appealed, arguing the Board failed to comply with the Act’s requirement that new drinking water standards be “economically feasible.” The Association also argued the Board failed to comply with the economic impact assessment requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act. The Court of Appeal rejected both contentions and affirmed. View "Cal. Manufacturers & Tech. etc. v. State Water Resources Control Bd." on Justia Law

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Real party in interest Poseidon Resources (Surfside) LLC (Poseidon) planned to establish a desalination plant at a site in Huntington Beach, California. In 2010, nonparty City of Huntington Beach (Huntington Beach), serving as lead agency performing environmental review of the proposed project pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), certified a subsequent environmental impact report (the 2010 subsequent EIR).However, the project did not move forward. Following changes in circumstances (including significant regulatory changes), Poseidon proposed modifications to the project, which it addressed in a proposed lease modification with defendant California’s State Lands Commission (Lands Commission). The Lands Commission determined that it needed to prepare a supplemental EIR to supplement Huntington Beach’s 2010 subsequent EIR. In 2017, the Lands Commission certified its final supplemental EIR. Plaintiffs petitioned for mandamus relief, claiming, among other things, that the Lands Commission failed to comply with the requirements of CEQA. The trial court denied the petition. On appeal, Plaintiffs asserted the Lands Commission prejudicially abused its discretion; the Lands Commission and Poseidon argued that the true issues on appeal were whether the Lands Commission properly proceeded with supplemental review and the results of that review, factual matters subject to substantial evidence review. The Court of Appeal concluded the Lands Commission properly elected to prepare a supplemental EIR, did not err in refusing to assume lead agency status, and did not unlawfully piecemeal or segment environmental review. View "California Coastkeeper Alliance v. State Lands Commission" on Justia Law

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In Dow v. Lassen Irrigation Co. 216 Cal.App.4th 766 (2013, "Dow I"), the Court of Appeal resolved an ambiguity as to the “or” in the a portion of paragraph 21 of the 1940 Susan River Water Right Decree (decree) : “except further, that Lassen Irrigation Company shall be entitled to divert, or store up to the present capacity of its reservoirs, estimated at 31,500 acre-feet, from the natural flow of Susan River between March 1 and July 1 of each year when the flow of said Susan River is in excess of 20 cubic feet per second . . . .” The Court concluded the “or” was intended to function as a disjunctive connector. In this case, the Court was again called on to resolve a second ambiguity created by the same “or.” Jay Dow, as trustee for the Dow-Bonomini 2013 Family Trust, appealed the trial court’s denial of the trust’s motion challenging the decision of Honey Lake Valley Resources Conservation District, serving as the watermaster administering the decree, finding Lassen Irrigation Company could simultaneously exercise its rights to divert and store water, as provided in the paragraph 21 exception. The trust argued the watermaster’s and trial court’s interpretation of the paragraph 21 exception conflicted with the principles of law espoused in Dow I and was unreasonable given the plain language of the decree, resulting in absurdity and unfairness. The trust believed the “or” had to be read in the exclusive sense such that the Irrigation Company could exercise only one of its rights at a time. The Court of Appeal concluded the “or” in the paragraph 21 exception was appropriately interpreted to apply in the inclusive sense. Thus, the Court affirmed. View "Dow v. Honey Lake Valley Resource Conservation Dist." on Justia Law

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SSE has long opposed the expansion of Syar’s aggregate operation. Syar filed an application for expansion in May 2008. After more than seven years of environmental review and numerous hearings, the County Planning Commission, in October 2015, certified the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and approved a modified project and a permit for an expansion half the size originally sought and subject to more than 100 pages of conditions and mitigation measures. The County Board of Supervisions conducted nearly a year of additional environmental review and hearings, and in a 109-page decision, rejected SSE’s appeals, certified the EIR, and approved a further modified project and permit.The court of appeal affirmed the trial court’s rejection of SSE’s petition for review. The court rejected multiple challenges to the EIR, noting that the ultimate inquiry under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is whether the EIR includes enough detail “to enable those who did not participate in its preparation to understand and to consider meaningfully the issues raised by the proposed project. The court found that consistency with the general plan was discussed at length throughout the project review process. View "Stop Syar Expansion v. County of Napa" on Justia Law

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The California State Air Resources Board, pursuant to Health and Safety Code 39613, imposed fees on manufacturers who sold consumer products and architectural coatings that emitted volatile organic compounds (VOCs) of 250 tons or more per year. The Board implemented the statute by adopting regulations that impose a uniform fee per ton on all affected manufacturers. Appellant American Coatings Association, Inc. (the Association) sought a declaration that the statute and regulations were unlawful and unenforceable, and a peremptory writ of mandate commanding the Board to vacate the regulations. The trial court denied the petition and complaint. On appeal, the Association contended the statute was a tax subject to Proposition 13, the fees imposed did not bear a reasonable relationship to the manufacturers’ regulatory burden, the statute unlawfully delegated revenue authority to the Board, and the statute’s regulations were arbitrary and capricious. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "American Coatings Association, Inc. v. State Air Resources Board" on Justia Law

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Sweeney bought the 39-acre Point Buckler Site, located in Suisun Marsh in the San Francisco Bay's Grizzly Bay, which apparently was previously operated as a managed wetland for duck hunting. Sweeney undertook unpermitted construction and development, including restoring an exterior levee and opening a private recreational area for kiteboarding. The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) inspected the Site, noting the unauthorized work and multiple violations; the levee construction work had removed tidal flow to the Site’s interior and dried out tidal marsh areas. BCDC concluded the Site never functioned as a managed wetland and had long reverted to a tidal marsh. Sweeney was directed to stop work and informed that a marsh development permit was required to develop the Site; BCDC indicated that any work that could not be retroactively approved would need to be removed.The Regional Water Quality Control Board commenced separate proceedings, citing violations of the federal Clean Water Act and the California Water Code. BCDC staff observed that additional work had been performed since the earlier inspection. The Board issued a cleanup and abatement order (CAO), imposed administrative civil liabilities and required payment of approximately $2.8 million in penalties. The superior court set aside those orders.The court of appeal reversed. In issuing the CAO, the Board did not violate the requirements of Water Code section 13627; the CAO satisfied the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act criteria for enforcement actions and did not conflict with the Suisun Marsh Preservation Act. The court rejected arguments that the definition of waste cannot include earthen material, that the activities did not constitute “discharges,” and that any discharges were not into “waters of the state.” View "Sweeney v. California Regional Water Quality Control Board" on Justia Law

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Espinoza asked a San Jose city planner to place him on the public notice list for a proposed project which would rezone farmland for light industrial uses. He twice specifically requested a copy of the notice of determination (NOD) documenting the city’s certification of an environmental impact report and approval of the project. The city filed two NODs for the project: the first identified the wrong applicant but the second correctly listed Microsoft as the applicant. The city, in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), failed to send Espinoza the legally operative second NOD. Based on the first NOD, which the city had emailed to Espinoza, the initial petition for writ of mandate named the wrong real party in interest. Plaintiff did not file an amended petition naming Microsoft until after the limitations period had run. The court determined that the initial petition was defective for failing to join Microsoft as a necessary and indispensable party and dismissed the CEQA claim in the amended petition as untimely.The court of appeal affirmed, noting its “uncomfortable conclusion" that the dismissal must be upheld. The city violated CEQA by failing to send Espinoza the second NOD but the second NOD was properly filed with the county clerk. It provided constructive notice of the correct parties to sue and Espinoza did not timely amend its petition to name Microsoft. View "Organizacion Comunidad de Alviso v. City of San Jose" on Justia Law

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This appeal centered on a permit issued by state and local water control boards that required 86 Southern California municipalities to reduce or prevent pollutants discharged through storm sewer systems by meeting numeric effluent limitations. The trial court found that, because the permit obligated the municipalities to meet more stringent standards than required by federal law, the water boards had to consider the factors identified in California Water Code section 13421, including but not limited to economic considerations, before issuing the permit. The trial court also found that the water boards had not sufficiently considered the section 13241 factors, and invalidated the portions of the permit that imposed the numeric effluent limitations. As to those factors, the Court of Appeal held that, under the applicable standard of review, and giving appropriate consideration to the state and local water boards’ expertise and discretion in the interpretation of the statute, the permit’s numeric effluent limitations had to be upheld. The Court published its opinion because it believed it was important to provide an example of the level of consideration of the factors that was sufficient - especially the economic considerations factor that was not defined by section 13241. The Court's analysis of the issues under consideration by the water boards lead it to conclude their consideration of the relevant factors was sufficient. View "City of Duarte v. State Water Resources Control Bd." on Justia Law

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Every 10-20 years, Berryessa Creek flooded nearby Milpitas and San Jose. The Army Corps of Engineers named the Santa Clara Valley Water District as a flood control project sponsor. The Corps was responsible for design and construction; the District was to acquire property rights and conduct operations. Regional Water Quality Control Board staff requested that the project include mitigation of wetlands impacts. The Corps refused some of the requested changes as exceeding the scope its authorization from Congress and the environmental review. The District issued a final EIR, finding that the project would have substantial impacts on some aspects of water resources, but that those impacts could be reduced to less-than-significant by mitigation measures.The Corps applied to the Board for a Clean Water Act section 401 certificate that the project complied with state law, 33 U.S.C. 1341. Because the Corps’ application did not contain wetlands mitigation, the Board deemed the application incomplete. There was pressure to protect a BART station under construction and to avoid losing federal funding. The Board agreed to issue a section 401 certification, indicating that it would subsequently issue waste discharge requirements (WDRs) under the Porter-Cologne Act to address issues that were not handled under the certification. The Board later issued a WDR order requiring additional mitigation, stating that it was rescinding and superseding the section 401 certification, and required enhancement of 15 acres of waters of the state. The Board was willing to allow another of the District’s planned projects to satisfy the requirement.The State Board denied the District’s petition for review. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of relief. The District has not shown that the allegedly invalid rescission and reissue of the section 401 certification would justify reversal; the Porter-Cologne Act provides independent authority for the WDR order. View "Santa Clara Valley Water District v. San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board" on Justia Law