CEQA Portal Updates: First Quarter of 2020 Published CEQA Cases and CEQA Topic Paper Updates

The following is a listing of published cases that are available for review on the AEP CEQA Portal for the first quarter of 2020. There are also updates to the CEQA Topic Papers on the Portal.


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 (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.


The following updates have been made to the Portal regarding CEQA Topic Papers: