Citizens for East Shore Parks v. California State Lands Commission
(2011) – Cal.App.4th – [2011 Cal. App. LEXIS 1645]
The First District Court of Appeal ruled that an EIR prepared by the State Lands Commission for the renewal of an existing marine terminal used a proper environmental baseline in assuming the continued existence and operation of the terminal; thus, the EIR did not need to assume the terminal would discontinue operations, even though that would occur if the Commission did not renew the lease.
In 1998, Chevron applied to the State Lands Commission to renew the lease for an existing wharf serving Chevron’s refinery located in the City of Richmond. The Commission embarked on the CEQA process. Initially, the Commission decided to prepare the EIR assuming that the physical wharf would remain in place, but that operations there would cease. Over time, the Commission’s position evolved, such that the “baseline” would consist not merely of the physical wharf, but also of ongoing operations. Using this baseline, the Commission determined the lease renewal could result in significant environmental impacts associated with the risk of oil spills. In 2007, the Commission released the Final EIR. In 2009, the Commission certified the EIR, approved the lease renewal, and adopted a statement of overriding considerations. The “Citizens” sued. The trial court denied the petition. The Citizens appealed.
First, the Citizens argued the Commission’s EIR used the wrong baseline, claiming the baseline should have excluded use of the marine terminal. In this case, the baseline consisted of “existing conditions” at the time the Commission prepared the EIR. Those conditions included an operating marine terminal. The Citizens argued, however, that a different rule applied in the context of a permit renewal, since the agency could cause operations to cease simply by declining to renew the lease. Moreover, because the construction and operation of the terminal predated CEQA, they had never undergone environmental review. The Court rejected this argument, reasoning that, under the California Supreme Court’s decision in Communities for a Better Environment v. South Coast Air Quality Management Dist. (2010) 48 Cal.4th 310, the Commission properly focused on existing conditions, not conditions that may have existed decades in the past. The record showed the Commission’s approach was consistent with permit renewals elsewhere in the Bay Area, and accurately reflected actual operations at the terminal. Nor was the Commission bound by its initial determination regarding the proper baseline: “Administrative agencies not only can, but should, make appropriate adjustments, including to the baseline, as the environmental review process unfolds.”
Second, the Citizens argued the EIR should have analyzed an alternative consisting of removing the causeway connecting the terminal to the refinery, and instead burying pipelines. According to the Citizens, such an alternative would have avoided the project’s impacts on recreation by removing an obstruction to a bay trail. The Court disagreed, noting that because the causeway was part of the baseline, the EIR properly concluded the lease renewal would not have significant impacts on recreation. Similarly, the Final EIR’s responses to comments on recreational impacts were adequate, since the lease renewal did not involve new construction that would impact recreation.
Third, the Citizens argued the EIR’s project description should have encompassed the entire refinery, rather than just continued use of the marine terminal. The evidence showed, however, that the lease renewal was the only action before the Commission, and the Commission had not “chopped up” the project as a means of evading CEQA review.
Fourth, the Citizens argued the EIR’s analysis of cumulative water discharge impacts was flawed. The Court disagreed, noting that water discharges were part of the existing wharf operation, and therefore part of the baseline. For the same reason, the EIR did not need to analyze whether the lease renewal was consistent with State legislation calling for establishing a “water trail” around San Francisco Bay. Moreover, the EIR noted plans to establish a land-trail around the Bay, passing through upland areas adjacent to the terminal. The Commission urged discussions to establish a route through the refinery for this trail, and Chevron designated a site and committed $2 million to this effort. Given that the Commission had no jurisdiction over upland areas, the Commission’s efforts sufficed. The record also showed the Commission consulted with trustee agencies by sending the agencies copies of the Draft EIR.
Finally, the Citizens argued that, under the Public Trust Doctrine, the Commission was required, to undertake an additional review process and impose additional mitigation conditions. The Court disagreed, holding that, where the Commission’s decision “continued a permissible and long-standing trust use” and the Commission performed an adequate analysis under CEQA, “there was no violation of the public trust doctrine.”