In South Coast Air Quality Management District v. City of Los Angeles (2021) 71 Cal.App.5th 314, the Second District Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s decision to deny a labor union’s motion for permissive intervention in a CEQA case.
This case involved the City of Los Angeles’s issuance of a permit authorizing a shipping company owned by the Chinese government to construction of a terminal within the Port of Los Angeles. In 2008, the City completed an EIR that concluded that the project would have significant and unavoidable environmental impacts. The EIR incorporated over 50 mitigation and lease measures to reduce these impacts.
In 2020, the City prepared a revised EIR that eliminated some of the mitigation measures required in the 2008 EIR. The revised EIR also concluded that the project would have significant, unavoidable, and increased impacts on air quality, and that it would exceed a threshold for cancer risk. The 2020 EIR did not contain enforcement provisions for the mitigation measures, did not require a lease amendment, and did not require the project applicant to implement or pay for the mitigation measures.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District filed a petition for writ of mandate, claiming that the City violated CEQA by failing to enforce the measures required by the 2008 EIR, and certifying the 2020 EIR, allowing the project to operate under allegedly inferior measures.
The petition named the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles City Council, the Los Angeles Harbor Department, and the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners as respondents, and several shipping companies as real parties in interest.
The California Attorney General and the California Air Resources Board sought permissive intervention pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 387, subdivisions (d)(1) and (d)(2). The trial court granted both parties’ motions.
The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Locals 13, 63, and 94 also sought permissive intervention, arguing that no existing party could advocate for its members’ interests adequately. Specifically, the Union claimed that it was the only party that could properly protect the 3,075 jobs at stake. The trial court denied the Union’s motion, determining that its interest was speculative and consequential, rather than direct and immediate, as required for permissive intervention. The Union appealed.
The Court of Appeal’s Decision
The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s denial of the Union’s motion for permissive intervention. The court explained that pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 387, the statute for permissive intervention, there must be a balancing of the interests of those affected by a judgment against the interests of the original parties in pursuing their case unburdened by others. It also emphasized that trial courts are afforded broad discretion to strike this balance, and that the reviewing court reviews for abuse of discretion—reversing only if the appellant establishes the decision results in a miscarriage of justice or exceeds the bounds of reason.
The court further explained that the Union failed to articulate any unique interest that was not already represented by the other parties. The court found that the Union’s position on the merits was duplicative, that it had no concerns with the actual environmental analysis in the 2020 EIR, and that it was not the only party advocating for a remedy that did not result in a shut down of the project or rescission of its permits. Therefore, the Court of Appeal concluded that it was reasonable for the trial court to determine that the Union’s participation in the case would be largely cumulative and would unduly complicate an already complex case involving numerous parties, and to accordingly deny the Union’s motion for permissive intervention.