California Environmental Quality Act
By a 5-2 vote, the California Supreme Court has issued a complex ruling that tends to support CEQA exemption for a large house in Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley (Logan).
Monday’s opinion is largely favorable to computer industry pioneer Mitch Kapor, founder of the Lotus software company, and Freada Kapor-Klein, who have been trying since 2009 to build a large house in the Berkeley hills. Their proposed single-family house and garage together would measure nearly 10,000 square feet, on a lot that is itself much larger, but that is situated on a steep slope reached by a small road. Berkeley applied two categorical exemptions from CEQA to the project: single-family and infill. Project opponents argued that the house was so big that it presented "unusual circumstances" and should be denied the safe harbor of a categorical exemption. Among other things, the issuance of the ruling will permit another CEQA “unusual circumstances” Supreme Court case to move forward.
Considering their importance, the public hasn't heard much about Friends of Eel River v. North Coast Railroad Authority and Kings County v. Surface Transportation Board. The two cases, respectively before the California Supreme Court and the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, could end California environmental review of public rail projects in California – most notably the High Speed Rail project and might indirectly affect private rail operations including oil trains.
The cases shaped up this winter into tests of whether the Surface Transportation Board (STB) can block environmental reviews of rail projects under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The STB and two state rail agencies contend that CEQA review crosses onto the STB's exclusive regulatory turf under the 1995 Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA), 49 U.S.C. §10101 et seq.
In addition to the state Supreme Court dispute on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's action, three other Newhall Ranch cases continue in litigation, all brought by plaintiffs and attorneys overlapping with the group before the high court. (See http://www.cp-dr.com/node/3461 for more links on these cases.)
The Newhall Ranch environmental review litigation, itself a mighty matter of land use legend, has an important strand of its multiply braided conflicts awaiting an oral argument date before the state Supreme Court.
The parties' briefing is complete. The court has accepted a deep layer of amicus briefs from state-level land use players. And with the confirmation of Justice Leondra Kruger, the court has finally returned to full membership. So the court has little reason to delay setting an argument date.
The State Supreme Court heard oral arguments December 2 in the major Berkeley Hillside CEQA exemptions case, focusing on the legal significance of the term "unusual circumstances".
While the genesis of the case is a single residence, the ruling may have statewide impact on the application of exceptions to categorical exemptions from CEQA. Thus, the case has attracted interest from environmental advocates, public agencies, preservation activists, and the development community across the state.
You think this is going to be another piece about the shortcomings and backfires of the California Environmental Quality Act. It’s not.
It can sound like a simple step, to end Level of Service (LOS) metrics in CEQA transportation analysis. The more conceptually elegant Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) metric is easy to welcome in the abstract, with its incentives for shared and active transportation, its arguably simpler calculation methods, its potential to realign CEQA analysis with state climate protection law – and most of all, its escape from the addictive spiral of induced demand for broad, free-flowing highways that, under the logic of LOS analysis, always need widening again.
But in early August the Governor's Office of Planning and Research (OPR) published a detailed discussion draft setting out an alternative transportation impacts metric in compliance with last year's SB 743 mandate. And alongside the big-picture discussions of environmentally conscious innovation, the technical arguments began.
CEQA's future has been in holding patterns across all California's branches of government this summer. But while big things are expected any day in the administrative or judicial branch, CEQA is a sore and sour subject in the Legislature.
California's Fifth District Court of Appeal has issued a partial publication order for its June 30 decision upholding the EIR for a wind turbine farm in Kern County's Tehachapi Wind Resource Area.
CP&DR News Summary, June 4, 2014: Clearlake General Plan revision; a GHG quandary, "Landbridge" woes, romancing Tesla, and moreBy Martha Bridegam on 4 June 2014 - 1:56am
Clearlake posts General Plan revision for review
The draft EIR to update Clearlake's 1983 General Plan is up for review. Prepared by a team at Cal Poly, the draft runs to almost 500 pages. A local news report at http://bit.ly/1kkSbRP describes the plan as preparing for population growth from the present through 2040. The plan also seeks to "Protect the City's rural character and maintain the small town atmosphere."