California Supreme Court grants Petition for Review in Sierra Club v. County of Fresno

In Sierra Club v. County of Fresno (2014) 226 Cal.App.4th 704, the Fifth District Court of Appeal held that an EIR prepared for an active adult community in Fresno County violated CEQA for failing to include an analysis correlating the project’s regional air emissions to specific health impacts that could result. In reaching this conclusion, the Court of Appeal reviewed the EIR de novo, rather than for substantial evidence. The Court of Appeal also held that the mitigation measures adopted by Fresno County to reduce the project’s otherwise significant and unavoidable air quality impacts violated CEQA for several reasons, including the failure to specify adequate performance standards. Real Party in Interest, Friant Ranch, LP, represented by RMM attorneys James Moose, Tiffany Wright, and Laura Harris, filed a petition for review. The petition asked the Court to clarify the applicable standard of review for claims that an EIR includes insufficient information on a topic required by CEQA. The petition also requests guidance from the Court as to the standards of adequacy of mitigation measures adopted to reduce, but not eliminate, a project’s significant and unavoidable impacts. Several amicus curiae letters were filed in support of the petition, including letters on behalf of the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties, the CEQA Research Council, the Building Industry Legal Defense Foundation, and the Association of Environmental Professionals. On October 1, 2014, the Supreme Court granted the petition for review. Although it is not known at this time what issues the Court will consider, it is hoped that the Court’s opinion will provide useful guidance to CEQA practitioners and the lower courts concerning CEQA’s informational disclosure and mitigation requirements.