The California First District has issued a publication order for its April opinion allowing a 167-acre Potrero Hills Landfill expansion to go forward on the grounds that a reduced alternative was not "economically feasible." In SPRAWLDEF v. San Francisco Bay Conservation & Development Commission, the appeals court overruled a Solano County judge to find local agencies properly approved the full-scale project.

The plan, by Waste Connections, Inc., called for moving Spring Branch, an intermittent watercourse in the "secondary management" grassland area of Suisun Marsh. At issue was whether the expansion had to reduce effects on the existing watercourse, or whether it could move Spring Branch to create greater economies of scale from a larger project.

Appeal was from a decision by the San Francisco Bay Conservation & Development Commission (BCDC) because that agency administers the Suisun Marsh Preservation Act, and from a decision by Solano County with respect to local protective planning rules. The Army Corps of Engineers had also reviewed and approved the project.

The opinion, by Justice Kathleen Banke, joined by Justice Sandra Marguiles and Justice Pro Tem Diana Becton, interpreted the Suisun Marsh Preservation Act as allowing application of CEQA case law on the concept of a "feasible alternative," hence decided the matter essentially as a CEQA case.

In walking through CEQA cases on "feasibility," the court identified the landfill case as comparable to Sierra Club v. County of Napa (2004) 121 Cal.App.4th 1490 in that clear evidence was provided to compare projects' preferred and alternate versions. It highlighted evidence that the smaller landfill alternative, compared to the full-scale project, "would result in a 30 percent reduction in capacity and a 45 percent reduction in revenue."

A widely shared analysis by Deborah Rosenthal of Sheppard Mullin has noted that the court accepted the developer's own cost comparisons and gave close attention to their details as the basis for the decision:

Pending since 2003, the landfill proposal has been through multiple environmental reviews, including one in 2009 that considered 20 different alternative plans. Initial legal challenges were brought under the heading "Protect the Marsh" but more recently by another group, SPRAWLDEF. David Tam, cofounder of SPRAWLDEF, is mentioned as a petitioner in the matter from the start.


  • The case is at
  • The docket reflects the publication order, a currently pending request for correction/modification, and a petition for review:
  • Sierra Club on environmental concerns and some procedural history of challenges to the landfill, 2007:
  • BCDC Scientific Panel Review of landfill expansion, 2007:
  • Northern California Recycling Association collecting 2012 accounts of a prior stage in the challenge, including one account by petitioner David Tam:
  • Potrero Hills Landfill:
  • Waste Connections, Inc.:
  • BAAQMD Potrero Hills Landfill file:
  • A blog-post with links by two editors of a recent UC Press collection on negotiated environmental management in this natural-looking but heavily reshaped ecosystem: