Archive for May, 2017


Sara F. Dudley

May 22nd, 2017 by admin

Ms. Dudley joined the firm as an associate in 2017. Her practice focuses on land use and environmental law, handling all phases of the land use entitlement and permitting processes, including administrative approvals and litigation. Ms. Dudley’s practice includes the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), endangered species, and water quality and water rights.

Ms. Dudley received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology from Bryn Mawr College in 1997, and her Master of Library and Information Science from Simmons College in 2002. Prior to law school, Ms. Dudley enjoyed a career as a law librarian, providing research and reference services to private law firms and in the California state courts. She received her Juris Doctorate from Golden Gate University, with a specialization certificate in environmental law, earning the J. Lani Bader Award for Academic Excellence for graduating as the top-ranked student in the 2016 class. While at law school, Ms. Dudley was an Associate Editor on the law review, and published a student comment. During law school, Ms. Dudley was a law clerk with the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and in Golden Gate University’s Environmental Law and Justice Clinic. Prior to joining Remy Moose Manley, LLP in 2017, Ms. Dudley was a fellow at a nonprofit organization based in Marin County, practicing land use and environmental law relating to marine habitats.

On April 21, 2017, the First District Court of Appeal in Sierra Club v. County of Sonoma (2017) __ Cal.App.5th __ (Case No. SCV-255465), affirmed the trial court and ruled that Sonoma County’s ordinance, issuing an erosion-control permit to establish a vineyard was a ministerial act, not subject to CEQA.

Sonoma County allows for the development or replanting of commercial vineyards, subject to issuance of an erosion-control permit from the County Agricultural Commissioner. In December 2013, the commissioner issued a permit to the Ohlson Ranch to establish a 108-acre vineyard. Several months later, the commissioner issued a notice of exemption indicating that issuance of the permit was ministerial and therefore did not require environmental review. The Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity filed suit challenging the commissioner’s determination and the trial court denied the petition.

The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s decision that the county’s determination was ministerial and the approval was exempt from CEQA. In determining whether granting the permit was ministerial, the court applied the “functional distinction” test from Friends of Westwood, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles (1987) 191 Cal.App.3d 259. Under Friends of Westwood, an action is ministerial when the agency does not have the power to deny or condition the permit, or otherwise modify the project, in ways which can mitigate the environmental impacts identified in an EIR.

The court was unpersuaded by the petitioners’ key argument—that the ordinance’s terms were broad and vague, and therefore the entire permit process conferred discretion on the county. In reaching this decision, the court emphasized that CEQA analysis is project-specific. That discretion could conceivably be exercised in one project does not mean that the particular project at issue was discretionary. Here, many of the terms and conditions in the ordinance that may have conferred discretion to the county did not apply to the Ohlson Ranch permit application, because they were factually inapplicable; expressly excluded from consideration by the commissioner with regard to this project; or there was no evidence in the record to suggest that they played any role in issuing the permit.

Second, even where some of the applicable provisions could have conferred discretion on the commissioner, under the functional distinction test, the county could not have modified the project or denied the permit to mitigate the environmental impacts. Rather, county decision-making was guided by nearly 50 pages of technical guidance documents. A required wetland setback conferred discretion only to the extent that the distance of the setback would be determined by the biologist’s report, but did not confer discretion on the agency to modify the biologist’s recommendations. A requirement to divert storm water to the nearest “practicable” disposal location was similarly ministerial, in that the permit application provided a means of water diversion, and petitioner failed to establish that other diversion methods were even available. If other methods had been available, it may have granted discretion to the commissioner to select an option or otherwise mitigate impacts.  The petitioners’ reliance on a provision to incorporate natural drainage features “whenever possible” was flawed for the same reasons, as petitioners failed to identify the types of features present on the site and the commissioner’s ability to choose the least environmentally significant option.

Third, the court declined to hold that issuing a permit, an otherwise ministerial act, becomes discretionary because the applicant “offers” to mitigate potential impacts. The ordinance does not require mitigation measures and the commissioner has no authority to condition granting the permit application on them.

Similarly, the commissioner’s request for corrections and clarifications on the permit application did not demonstrate discretion, but rather was a simple request for information in order to complete an otherwise non-discretionary act. These corrections and clarifications were not significant enough to have alleviated any adverse environmental consequences.

On May 5, 2017, Whit Manley will join with Margaret Sohagi in presenting a “CEQA update” at the County Counsels’ Association of California conference in San Diego.

Whit Manley and Jim Moose will be panelists at the AEP 2017 Conference at the Parc 55, San Francisco, May 18-21, 2017. Whit’s panel, titled “Reading the Tea Leaves of the Future of CEQA Compliance,” will address the recent California Supreme Court decisions in the CBIA, Friends of the College of San Mateo Gardens, Newhall and Banning Ranch cases, as well as new developments in CEQA relating to VMT, greenhouse gases, environmental justice, and other current topics. Jim’s panel will discuss unique issues arising under CEQA and other land use and planning laws for college and university projects.

Banning Ranch Conservancy v. City of Newport Beach (2017) 2 Cal.5th 918

The California Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Impact Report prepared for the proposed “Banning Ranch” project was inadequate because the EIR did not identify “environmentally sensitive habitat areas” (ESHA) under the Coastal Act that might be present on the property, and therefore did not consider mitigation measures and alternatives designed to reduce impacts on those areas. Although the project required a coastal development permit, and the Coastal Commission would make a determination regarding ESHA as part of that permit, the Court held the EIR had to include a prediction of where ESHA would likely be found in order to serve its information purposes under CEQA. Whit Manley argued the case for the City of Newport Beach.

Mission Bay Alliance v. Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure (2016) 6 Cal.App.5th 160

The First District Court of Appeal upheld the city’s approval of a new arena in the Mission Bay neighborhood of San Francisco. The arena will serve as the home of the Golden State Warriors’ basketball team. The Court held the environmental impact report certified by the city was adequate, finding among other things that (1) the city had properly “tiered” the EIR off an earlier program EIR covering redevelopment of Mission Bay, (2) the city could rely on the project’s consistency with the city’s adopted climate action plan, and (3) the city could rely on implementation of various transit improvements to address traffic traveling to and from the arena. Whit Manley argued the case for the Warriors.

In Save our Heritage Organisation v. City of San Diego (2017) ___Cal App.5th___ (Case No. D070006), the Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld a trial court’s denial of a Code of Civil Procedure section 1025.1 attorneys’ fee award to the prevailing real party in interest.

On the merits, the court of appeal found that the City of San Diego had not abused its discretion when it approved a revitalization project for Balboa Park. Real party then filed a motion in superior court for an award of attorney fees, which the court denied.

The Fourth District concluded that a real party’s status as a project proponent did not categorically bar it from obtaining a section 1025.1 attorney fees award where it otherwise satisfied the award’s requirements. Nevertheless, the court upheld the denial of the fee award to real party holding that petitioner was not the type of party on whom attorney fees were intended to be imposed. The court stated that attorney fees were typically only imposed on parties who had engaged in conduct that had adversely affected the public interest. The court found that the petitioner initiated litigation to correct what it perceived to be a violation by the city of state and local environmental, historic preservation, and land use laws, which did not compromise any important public rights. Rather, it was the type of enforcement action section 1021.5 was designed to promote. Thus, the court held that imposing a fee award on the petitioner would be inappropriate.