The California Court of Appeal last week reversed a lower court decision that would have indefinitely delayed the development by Newhall Land and Farming Company of 21,308 residential units, 629 acres of mixed use development, 67 acres of commercial use, 249 acres of business park, and 1,014 acres of open space in northwestern Los Angeles County over the next 25-30 years (“Project”).  The lower court’s decision had originally granted the Petition for Writ of Mandate brought by, among others, the Center for Biological Diversity (“Respondents”), challenging, among other actions by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (“DFW”) (“Appellant”), the revised Joint Federal/State Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report (“EIS/EIR”) for the Project.

While the Appellate Court’s 112 page decision addressed numerous causes of action brought by Respondents in the trial court, one of the most unique and far reaching was its disposition of Respondents’ claim that the EIS/EIR’s baseline for assessing the cumulative impacts of the Project’s Greenhouse Gas (“GHG”) emissions is a procedural issue properly evaluated under the “failure to proceed in a manner required by law” standard, applicable to procedural actions, and that, employing the correct standard, the EIS/EIR’s analysis was predicated on an illusory baseline.  In a decision that is likely to be adopted in the adjudication of other California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) actions challenging the evolving state and federal GHG standards, the Appellate Court firmly disagreed. 
 


Continue Reading Appellate Court Grants Wide Discretion to Newhall Land and Farming Project Proponents in the Determination of the Significance of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Under CEQA

In an exercise of regulatory zeal, El Paso County, Colorado (“County”) now requires that City owned Colorado Springs Airport (“Airport”) obtain a permit from the County for any changes in airport physical development or operations that might affect nearby property located in the County. 

Purportedly under the authority of the Colorado Areas and Activities of State Interest Act, § 24-65-101, et seq., the Board of County Commissioners (“Board”) “has specific authority to consider and designate matters of state interest . . . and to adopt guidelines and regulations for administration of areas and activities of state interest. . .”  Pursuant to that purported authority, by Resolution No. 13-267, June 6, 2013, and recorded at Reception No. 213077196 of the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, “the Board designated certain areas and activities of state interest” and established “a permit process for development in certain areas of state interest,” Resolution No. 13-530, Resolution Amending Guidelines and Regulations for Areas and Activities of State Interest of El Paso County, and designating additional matters of state interest.  December 17, 2013.  The new areas of state interest designated in the Resolution include: “site selection and expansion of airports,” Resolution, p. 3, § 1.  The County has interpreted the permit process to extend to “runway extension, noise and other impacts that might affect property owners . . .,” Gazette, January 17, 2014, quoting Mark Gebhart, Deputy Director of County Development Services Department. 

Therein lies the rub. 
 


Continue Reading El Paso County Seeks Control Over Colorado Springs Airport

Once again taking a forefront position in innovative environmental programs, California, for good or ill, is poised to launch the first of its kind and scope in the nation greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions trading system (“Cap and Trade”). 

On November 14, 2012, the California Air Resources Board (“CARB”) will hold an auction mandated by California’s 2006 “Climate Change” law, AB32, in which pollution permits (“Allowances”) will be bartered to more than 350 businesses, including utilities and refineries.  The concept behind Cap and Trade is that polluters must either cut carbon emissions to the level of a specific emission cap placed on individual types of pollutants by AB32, or buy allowances for each metric ton of carbon discharged over cap limits from other companies whose emissions did not reach cap levels.  Through the Cap and Trade program, excess carbon polluters can achieve up to 8% of emissions reductions needed. 
 


Continue Reading “Cap and Trade” in Greenhouse Gas Emissions Launched in California

A long simmering point of contention between State and Federal governments in the City of San Diego is the fate of the property now occupied by the United States Navy’s Fleet Antisubmarine Warfare Training Center in San Diego Bay.  The issue is whether the Federal government, having decided that a 50 year extension of its existing lease over the property is not long enough, can extinguish California’s public tidelands trust rights, granted to the State upon its admission to statehood in 1850, through condemnation of 27.54 filled acres in perpetuity; or whether, as the State claims, California’s public trust rights reemerge if the property is subsequently sold to a private party.  The question is of general importance, not only because many states hold public tidelands in trust, but also because the issue represents a test of the scope of the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution, and the doctrine of federal preemption that arises from it.  On June 14, 2012, the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals decided the question in United States of America v. 32.42 Acres of Land, No. 10-56568, D.C. No. 3:05-CV-01137-DMS-WMC (“California Lands”).


Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Upholds Federal Preemption of State Tidelands

Following in the footsteps of his colleagues, on January 6, 2012, Assemblyman Mike Feuer introduced legislation that would give rail projects the same type of relief from California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) requirements that were received in the last session by the proposed NFL stadium in Los Angeles, and some renewable energy projects. Notably, the CEQA amendments enacted for the NFL stadium include a very short time frame of 175 days for resolution of CEQA issues. While current CEQA litigation may extend to two years or more, depending on the complexity of the project and workload of the court, it stands to reason that issues surrounding local projects such as the stadium, with local traffic, noise and air quality impacts, may potentially be resolved within the 175 day timeframe. Rail projects are of far different scope, geographic extent, and are subject to a different set of laws.


Continue Reading Legislature Asked to Grant CEQA Relief for Rail Projects

On September 27, 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 292 and Assembly Bill 900, both of which are aimed at expediting, or “fast-tracking,” the litigation of lawsuits brought under the California Environmental Quality Act, 42 U.S.C. § 4321 (“CEQA”). SB292 is basically an earmark that will “fast-track” CEQA challenges to the Farmer’s Field National Football League Stadium proposed for downtown Los Angeles, next to the Los Angeles Convention Center and Staples Center, by requiring that such challenges be brought directly in California Courts of Appeals and be heard within 175 days. AB900 reaches more widely, “fast-tracking” all projects costing $100 million or more.

The stated intentions of the Bills’ sponsors are, on their faces, noble ones — to provide more job opportunities, and spur increased spending and attendant tax revenue for the State, matters which seem urgent in light of the State of California’s economy. The problems raised by the Bills are less immediate, but no less important.
 


Continue Reading CEQA and the Law of Unintended Consequences

In National Resources Defense Council v. Southern California Air Quality Management District, 2011 W.L. 2557246 (C.A. 9 (Cal.)), the National Resources Defense Council (“NRDC”) sought to call the Southern California Air Quality Management District (“SCAQMD”) to account for purportedly using invalid “offsets” for emissions increases resulting from new stationary sources. A panel of the Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found, however, that: (1) the District Court’s decision refusing to hold SCAQMD to a validity standard for its internal “offsets” for emissions increases was correct because such a validity standard is not required by the Clean Air Act (“CAA”), 42 U.S.C. section 7503(c) (“Section 173(c)”); and (2) ironically, the District Court lacked jurisdiction to reach that decision where original jurisdiction lies in the Courts of Appeals pursuant to CAA section 7607.


Continue Reading The National Resources Defense Council Challenge to the Southern California Air Quality Management District Administration of Emissions Credits Rejected by Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

It has come to our attention that the most recent revision of the California Airport Land Use Planning Handbook (Handbook) has just been released for public review and comment. The review period will end December 27, 2010.

The Handbook and the Airport Land Use Compatibility Plans (ALUCP) approved by many jurisdictions based on

The California Supreme Court recently weighed in on the critical issue of the proper baseline to be used in assessing the environmental impacts of a proposed project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). [Agencies must use a “baseline” from which to determine whether a project’s environmental effects will be “significant.”]  In Communities For a Better Environment v. South Coast Air Quality Management District, et al., 48 Cal. App. 4th 310 (2010), ConocoPhillips Company argued that the proper baseline for environmental analysis of a project at a petroleum refinery employing existing equipment should be the maximum permitted operating capacity of the equipment, even if the equipment is operating below those levels at the time the environmental analysis is commenced. The Court rejected that argument, holding that the baseline for CEQA analysis must be the “existing physical conditions in the effected area” (i.e., “real conditions on the ground”), rather than the level of development or activity that “could” or “should” have been present according to a plan or regulation. This confirms the California CEQA Guidelines requirement that the baseline consist of the physical environmental conditions in the vicinity of the project as they exist at the time the notice of preparation of the EIR is published or at the time the environmental analysis begins. 14 Cal. Code Regs. §15125(a).
 
Continue Reading The California Supreme Court Clarifies Environmental Review Baselines Under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)