Archives: November 2016

EIR for Mission Bay Warriors Arena Upheld by Court of Appeal

The First District Court of Appeal issued a published opinion upholding the EIR for the Warriors arena in the Mission Bay area of San Francisco. The court held that the EIR adequately analyzed impacts related to biological resources, air quality, greenhouse gases, noise, traffic, and local and regional transit, among others. The court also held that the EIR adequately considered potential land use impacts and that ample evidence supported the EIR’s conclusion that the arena would not impede other exiting uses in the area, including a nearby hospital. The court rejected all of the petitioners’ non-CEQA claims as well. The court found the project complied with local zoning requirements and that the issuance of a place of entertainment permit by the city’s entertainment commission complied with all applicable laws. Because the project was certified as an “Environmental Leadership and Development Project” under Assembly Bill (AB) 900, this case was subject to an expedited litigation schedule.
RMM attorneys Whit Manley, Jim Moose, and Chris Stiles represent the Warriors.

Fourth District Court of Appeal Upholds Trial Court’s Ruling that Enactment of Medical Marijuana Ordinance was Not a ‘Project’ Under CEQA

In Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, Inc. v. City of San Diego (2016) 4 Cal.App.5th 103, the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of a challenge to the City of San Diego’s enactment of a medical marijuana ordinance. The court found the ordinance was not a ‘project’ under CEQA.

Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, Inc., in another challenge to a City’s medical marijuana ordinance, filed a petition for writ of mandate against the City of San Diego’s adoption of an ordinance allowing medical marijuana facilities. The ordinance amends the city’s municipal code to regulate the establishment and location of medical marijuana consumer cooperatives. The city did not conduct CEQA review prior to adopting the ordinance.

UMMP argued that the ordinance was a ‘project’ subject to CEQA, and therefore the city was required to comply with CEQA before adopting the ordinance. The court analyzed whether, as a matter of law, enactment of the ordinance was an activity “undertaken by a public agency” that “may cause either a direct physical change in the environment or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment.” Because an ordinance passed by a city is clearly “undertaken by a public agency,” and UMMP did not argue that the ordinance would have a direct impact on the environment, the analysis focused on whether the ordinance would cause a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change.

First, UMMP argued that a zoning ordinance necessarily constitutes a project as a matter of law, relying on language in Public Resources Code section 21080, subdivision (a). The court rejected this argument, reasoning that although that section lists “the enactment and amendment of zoning ordinances,” the examples provided therein illustrate activities undertaken by a public agency. Such activities may or may not qualify as “discretionary projects,” and therefore are not necessarily subject to CEQA.

Next, UMMP argued that the ordinance would result in a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment in three ways—by increasing traffic and air pollution, causing increased cultivation of marijuana, and resulting in new construction activity. The court rejected each of these assertions, explaining that the arguments relied on false assumptions that were unsupported by the record. The court found that the ordinance was intended to increase access to medical marijuana and there was no evidence that it would be more burdensome for patients to travel to cooperatives after enactment of the ordinance, and it was purely speculative to assume any new buildings would be constructed as a result of the ordinance. And if new buildings were constructed, the court said, approval of a new conditional use permit would require appropriate CEQA review for that construction project anyway.

Thus, the court concluded that enactment of the ordinance did not constitute a ‘project’ under CEQA.

Ninth Circuit Upholds EIS for TRPA’s Regional Plan Update

On November 2, 2016, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s 2012 Regional Plan Update (RPU).

TRPA adopted the RPU as the general governing document for development and environmental protection in the Lake Tahoe region. The RPU generally restricts future development to areas that are already developed, and sets forth the amount of further development that will be permitted in those areas. The precise nature of that development is to be determined in “Area Plans” to be adopted later. Before approving the RPU, TRPA prepared an extensive EIS examining the potential environmental effects of the update.

Shortly after TRPA approved the RPU, the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court alleging that TRPA’s actions violated the Lake Tahoe Regional Planning Compact in various respects. Their principal contentions were that the RPU failed to adequately address the localized effects of runoff created by the amount of development permitted, and that the RPU improperly assumed that best management practices (BMPs) could be utilized to achieve the RPU’s planning goals, despite TRPA’s poor record of enforcing BMPs in the past. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of TRPA. The Ninth Circuit affirmed.

The Ninth Circuit held that the EIS adequately addressed potential impacts regarding water quality, soil conservation, and cumulative effects on biological resources. Applying a standard similar to the one used for evaluating environmental impact statements under NEPA, the court held that the RPU and EIS took the requisite “hard look” at these resource areas, despite that fact that the analysis was generally intended to be region-wide with additional site-specific review occurring later during the approval of Area Plans.

In finding that the EIS adequately addressed the localized effects of runoff, the court upheld TRPA’s reliance on the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) model, which aims to reduce the total flow of certain pollutants into the lake, and noted that the EIS’s storm-water modeling simulation addressed localized effects of runoff near concentrated development areas. The court concluded that the EIS adequately explained its basis for finding that concentrating development in community centers would not result in more concentrated runoff or other water quality impacts.

Regarding soil conservation, the court held that TRPA was not required to perform site-specific analysis of impacts because evaluation of coverage at a more localized scale would occur, as part of the Area Plan process, prior to development taking place.

Finally, upholding the EIS’s reliance on BMPs despite historically less-than-perfect enforcement by TRPA, the court noted that the EIS explained the steps that had been taken to improve enforcement. For example, TRPA’s BMP handbook acknowledged past failures in maintenance and incorporated that experience into updated BMP guidelines. The court also noted that the RPU provided incentives for redevelopment, and thus, was designed to move properties from TRPA’s retrofit program into its mandatory permitting program for new development, which requires BMP maintenance plans and logs. Thus, the court concluded that TRPA reasonably relied on data in the record in concluding that the RPU would have a less-than-significant effect on water quality.

Ninth Circuit Upholds EIS for Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Regional Plan Update

On November 2, 2016, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a published opinion upholding the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s environmental impact statement (EIS) for TRPA’s Regional Plan Update. The panel unanimously affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of TRPA and against the Plaintiffs Sierra Club and Friends of West Shore. The published opinion explains that TRPA’s EIS adequately addressed the Regional Plan Update’s significant environmental impacts and that TPRA’s reliance on best management practices to reduce water quality impacts was not arbitrary or capricious and was supported by substantial evidence. The panel also affirmed the district court’s award of costs for preparation of the administrative record in favor of TRPA. The ruling is a significant step in TRPA’s efforts to restore Lake Tahoe’s treasured environment and revitalize Tahoe’s communities. RMM attorneys Whit Manley and Chip Wilkins represent TPRA in the litigation.

You can read more from the Sacramento Bee.