Judge Rules Portion of AB 900 Unconstitutional

On September 27, 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 900 into law. AB 900 was designed to expedite environmental review under CEQA of certain “leadership projects.” To qualify under AB 900, projects must exceed $100 million and not result in any net additional greenhouse gas emissions, among other requirements.  One of the primary benefits for leadership projects under AB 900 is that any CEQA challenge will proceed directly to the Court of Appeal, significantly reducing the potential for lengthy litigation. This provision was intended to help get major construction projects off the ground sooner.

The provision of AB 900 allowing CEQA litigation to proceed directly to the appellate courts was challenged by the Planning and Conservation League, which claimed the law improperly removed jurisdiction from trial courts and weakened CEQA. (See Conservation League v. State of California (Alameda Sup. Ct. Case No. RG1262904).)

Judge Frank Roesch of Alameda County Superior Court, ruling from the bench on March 29, 2013, struck down this provision as unconstitutional for being “inconsistent with the constitutional mandates of where writs of mandate can be brought.” Petitioners did not challenge AB 900’s other provisions, including the minimum investment thresholds, job creation requirements, and greenhouse gas emission limit. Judge Roesch’s ruling leaves in place some time limits and other fast-tracking mechanisms available under AB 900. Currently, two solar energy projects and an office and research campus infill project have applied for qualification under AB 900. The State has not yet announced whether it will appeal the lower court’s ruling. [John Wheat]