CEQA Portal Updates: First Half of 2020 Published CEQA Cases

The CEQA Portal was developed by the Association of Environmental Professionals to provide a set of tools for anyone interested in learning about the California Environmental Quality Act. It is intended for CEQA practitioners, attorneys, elected and appointed officials, students, and citizens to aid in understanding the goals of CEQA, its process and content requirements, and how to prepare CEQA documents.

The following is a listing of published cases that are available for review on AEP's CEQA Portal for the first half of 2020: 

Published CEQA Cases


King and Gardiner Farms v. County of Kern (Feb. 25, 2020) Cal.App.5th

This case centered on the County’s ordinance for new oil and gas wells in agricultural areas. Prior to the ordinance’s adoption, oil and gas wells (and exploration) were allowed by right in agriculturally zoned areas of the county. King and Gardiner Farms (KG Farms) sued, alleging that the EIR prepared for the ordinance was inadequate. The trial court held in favor of KG Farms on some issues and in favor of the County on others. The Court of Appeal found that a number of KG Farms arguments had merit and set aside the ordinance and the EIR. The Court ordered that the baseline for the updated water supply analysis be “brought up to date,” rather than relying on a baseline that ignored the new countywide groundwater sustainability plan adopted under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). The mitigation measures for the project’s significant impacts to water supplies inappropriately deferred formulation of the measures or delayed their actual implementation. The Court of Appeal also determined that the Final EIR did not adequately respond to comments on the Draft EIR where mitigation measures were suggested. The analysis of changes in noise levels from the project was determined to be inadequate.

Environmental Council of Sacramento v. County of Sacramento (March 2, 2020) Cal.App.5th

The case involved the EIR certified for the “Cordova Hills” development on the edge of urbanization in Sacramento County. The project encompasses a 2,669-acre site, currently vacant and used for cattle grazing. Proposed land uses include residential, office, retail, schools, parks, a trail network, and a future university. To put the project’s size into perspective, the future population of the development is estimated to be approximately 25,500, including the university population. The Environmental Council of Sacramento brought suit, alleging that the EIR had an inadequate project description and inadequate impact analysis, including impacts to land use, and did not include feasible mitigation measures. A key argument was that the EIR failed to analyze a scenario in which the university would not be built. The trial court held in favor of the County, and the Court of Appeal affirmed that judgment.

Save the Agoura Cornell Knoll v. City of Agoura Hills (March 17, 2020) Cal.App.5th

This case involves the MND adopted by the City with approval of a mixed-use commercial and residential development of 35 residential apartment units plus retail, restaurant, office, and open space on an 8.2-acre site. The project site is on an undeveloped hillside in the city, most of which is located within the Agoura Village Specific Plan. The trial court held in favor of Save the Agoura Cornell Knoll (STACK), concluding there was a fair argument that the project may have significant environmental impacts on cultural resources, sensitive plant species, oak trees, and aesthetic resources and that the MND’s proposed mitigation measures are inadequate to reduce those impacts to less than significant levels. The trial court also granted attorneys’ fees to STACK. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision.

Citizens for a Responsible Caltrans Decision v. Department of Transportation (April 24, 2020) Cal.App.5th

The First District Court of Appeal reversed a judgment of dismissal with prejudice, entered by the San Diego County Superior Court after sustaining a demurrer without leave on statute of limitations grounds to a group’s action challenging the CEQA review for Caltrans’ Interstate 5/State Route 56 freeway interchange project. The opinion (1) interprets, as a matter of first impression, the scope and operation of the statutory CEQA exemption in Streets and Highways Code Section 103, and (2) holds that Caltrans’ repeated misrepresentations and misleading conduct during and concerning the project’s CEQA and approval process precluded the trial court from finding as a matter of law that Caltrans was not estopped to assert the ban of the 35-day statute of limitations based on its filing of a Notice of Exemption with the State Clearinghouse.

Coalition for an Equitable Westlake/MacArthur Park v. City of Los Angeles et al. (Adrian Jayasinha et al., Real Parties in Interest) (April 2, 2020) Cal.App.5th

The court affirmed a judgment dismissing a CEQA action challenging the City’s project approvals and MND for a mixed-use development project. The reaffirmed trial court decision followed Supreme Court precedent “ma[king] clear that the filing of a facially valid notice [of determination or notice of exemption] starts the running of the statute of limitations, even where the underlying CEQA determinations may be flawed.”

Communities for a Better Environment v. South Coast Air Quality Management District (Tesoro Refining and Marketing Company, LLC, Real Party in Interest) (April 7, 2020) Cal.App.5th

The Second District Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment upholding the EIR for Tesoro’s “Los Angeles Refinery Integration and Compliance Project.” The project involved Tesoro’s adjacent Carson and Wilmington oil refining facilities, which date from the early 1900s. This project proposed to integrate these facilities to increase flexibility and improve regulatory compliance by reducing air pollution. The court upheld the EIR’s description of baseline conditions and identified that the plaintiff failed to bring environmental concerns before the District.

Willow Glen Trestle Conservancy v. City of San Jose (May 18, 2020) Cal.App.5th

The Sixth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of a historic preservation group’s writ petition that challenged the City’s entry into a Streambed Alteration Agreement with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which agreement was needed to implement the City’s pedestrian bridge project involving demolition of the historic Willow Glen Railroad Trestle. The court applied Public Resources Code Section 21166 and CEQA Guidelines Section 15162 to hold that no subsequent discretionary approval triggering a duty on the City’s part to conduct supplemental CEQA review had occurred.

Golden Door Properties, LLC v. County of San Diego (June 12, 2020) Cal.App.5th

The Fourth District Court of Appeal mostly affirmed the trial court’s judgment invalidating San Diego County’s approvals of a 2018 Climate Action Plan, related Guidelines for Determining Significance, and related Supplemental EIR (SEIR). The court found that the CAP’s reliance on a greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation measure—M-GHG-1—lacked enforceable performance standards and improperly deferred and delegated mitigation. The SEIR failed to adequately analyze the environmental effects of probable future projects as required by CEQA to avoid a “piecemeal” review approach that fails to disclose those future projects’ cumulative impacts. The court also ruled against the SEIR regarding the range of alternatives provided and responses to comments.

Save Berkeley’s Neighborhoods v. The Regents of the University of California (June 25, 2020) Cal.App.5th

The First District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment entered after sustaining a demurrer without leave to amend. It held that a nonprofit group’s petition and complaint for declaratory relief adequately stated a cause of action on the basis that UC Berkeley’s approval of student enrollment increases far beyond those projected in its 2005 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), and analyzed in the related 2005 Program EIR, constituted a “project” requiring CEQA review and mitigation. This decision held that the enrollment increases were not statutorily exempt under Public Resources Code Section 21080.09, which requires an EIR for LRDPs.

CEQA Topic Papers