Tag: adequate public notice


In G.I. Industries v. City of Thousand Oaks (2022) __ Cal.App.5th __ (Case No. B317201), the Second District Court of Appeal determined that the City of Thousand Oaks violated the Brown Act when it voted to adopt a CEQA exemption for a new waste-hauling Franchise Agreement without including the exemption on the meeting agenda at least 72 hours before the meeting.


In 2020, the City of Thousand Oaks considered entering into a 15-year franchise agreement with Arakelian Enterprises, Inc., doing business as Athens Services, to provide solid waste management for the City. On March 4, 2021, the City posted an agenda for a March 9, 2021, City Council meeting, with an item to consider staff’s recommendation to approve the Athens franchise agreement. There was no indication on the agenda that the City also would consider finding the agreement exempt from CEQA.

On the day of the March 9th meeting, the City posted a supplemental agenda item and information packet with staff’s recommendation that the City find the agreement categorically exempt from CEQA under the Class 1 exemption for existing facilities, the Class 7 exemption for actions by regulatory agencies for the protection of the natural resources, and the so-called “common sense” exemption. At the meeting, the City attorney recommended adopting staff’s finding supporting the CEQA exemption. The City Council then moved to adopt a motion to approve the franchise agreement. At the suggestion of the Mayor, the Council amended the motion to also include the corresponding CEQA exemptions. The meeting minutes indicated that council took separate actions in approving the agreement and finding it exempt from CEQA.

The City filed a notice of exemption (NOE) on March 15, 2021. Thereafter, Waste Management sent a “cure and correct” letter asserting the City violated the Brown Act by voting to “adopt” the NOE before approving the franchise agreement. The City did not respond to the letter within 30 days, thus was deemed to not have cured or corrected the challenged action pursuant to Brown Act section 54960.1(c)(3). Waste Management filed a petition challenging the approval of the franchise agreement and exemption determination. Respondents filed a demurrer, which the trial court sustained without leave to amend. And, although it agreed with Waste Management that the CEQA exemption determination and franchise agreement approval were separate items of business, ruled that CEQA does not require a public hearing for an exemption determination, therefore, the Brown Act did not apply. Waste Management appealed.

Court of Appeal’s Decision

The Court of Appeal first held that the factual allegations in Waste Management’s petition were sufficient to state a Brown Act claim. Under the Brown Act, at least 72 hours prior to a regular meeting, the legislative body of a local agency must post an agenda containing a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted. (See Gov. Code § 54954.2, subd. (a)(1).) The agenda must provide the public with an opportunity to address the legislative body on any item of interest, effectively barring the agency from acting on any item that does not appear on the agenda.

The City argued that the CEQA exemption did not need to be on the agena because it was not a separate item of business was not a separate item of business within the meaning of the Brown Act. Rather, the City argued, it adopted the CEQA exemption only as a component of the agenda item awarding the franchise agreement to Athens. The court rejected this argument and cited San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center v. County of Merced (2013) 216 Cal.App.4th 1167, which, although involving the adoption of a mitigated negative declaration (MND), the court determined applied here. The court reasoned that, because members of the public are entitled to have notice of, and an opportunity to participate in, a local agency’s determination that an MND should be issued, they are also entitled to participate when an agency determines a project is exempt from CEQA.

The Second District noted that applying the Brown Act’s notice requirements do not alter an agency’s existing obligations under CEQA, which does not require public noticing of exemptions to CEQA. Rather, the Act requires only that the exemption, if it is to be discussed at a meeting of a local legislative body, must be placed on the meeting agenda so that the public be provided an opportunity for comment.

The City had argued that applying the Brown Act to a CEQA exemption determination would place an intolerable burden on local agencies. The court disagreed. According to the court, where an agency’s legislative body intends to vote on or discuss a CEQA exemption at a regular meeting, “it will require minimal effort to include it as an agenda item.” And while the agency may delegate some responsibility to staff before rendering a decision, the court cautioned that agencies cannot delegate its entire duty as the final decisionmaker on a project—i.e., approving an exemption—to avoid its Brown Act obligations. Accordingly, the court concluded that “[t]he addition of words to the agenda indicating the local agency is considering a project subject to staff determination of CEQA exemption will not unduly tax a local agency’s resources.”

The Second District also rejected the City’s claim that Waste Management’s “cure and correct” letter, pursuant to Brown Act section 54960.1(b)), was deficient because it stated the City “adopted,” rather than “filed,” an NOE. Section 54960.1(b) requires a prospective litigant to state, in writing, the nature of the alleged violation. The court determined that Waste Management’s letter satisfied this obligation because it informed the City that it violated section 54954.2 by considering the CEQA exemption without describing the action in the agenda for at least 72 hours before the meeting. That the letter stated the City had “adopted” an NOE, versus using the proper term filing, was immaterial—the letter adequately stated the substantive point in regards to the Brown Act violation. The court reiterated that the purpose of the section is to notify the local agency of its alleged violation so that it can cure it to avoid litigation; its purpose is “not to allow a local agency to avoid the consequences of Brown Act violations by launching nit-picking technical attacks on the language use in the cure and correct letter.”

By Bridget McDonald

*RMM represented Petitioner G.I. Industries (aka, Waste Management) in this litigation.

Fifth District Court of Appeal Excuses Petitioner’s Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies, Holds that Unlined Landfills are Not “Facilities” for Purposes of the Class 1 Categorical Exemption

In the published portions of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power v. County of Inyo (2021) 67 Cal.App.5th 1018, the Fifth District Court of Appeal held that the issue exhaustion requirement in Public Resources Code section 21177, subdivision (a) did not apply where the County of Inyo did not provide adequate public notice prior to adopting a Notice of Exemption (NOE) and that the County abused its discretion in finding that condemning three landfill sites was categorically exempt from CEQA under the “existing facilities” exemption in CEQA Guidelines section 15301 (the “Class 1” categorical exemption).


Beginning in the 1950s, the County began leasing land within the County owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) for waste management purposes. At issue in this case were three sites leased by the County for use as unlined landfills. The County’s operation of the landfills is subject to permitting by the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). Beginning in 2012, the County sought to amend the permits for two of the three landfill sites to increase the permissible daily usage, overall capacity, and to accelerate the closure dates, effectively shortening the useful life of the landfills.

After negotiating with LADWP to extend the lease agreement for one of the sites, the County determined that acquiring all three landfill sites through condemnation was necessary. In a letter to the Board of Supervisors, LADWP objected to the County’s decision, in part, arguing that that the County was required to comply with CEQA before taking any action on the proposed condemnation. At the Board hearing on the condemnation proposal, County staff suggested that the Board’s actions would be exempt from CEQA review for several reasons, including the “existing facilities” categorical exemption under CEQA Guidelines section 15301. The Board approved the condemnation proceedings, but its written decision made no mention of CEQA.

LADWP filed suit. The Kern County Superior Court ruled that the County violated CEQA and issued a writ of mandate directing the County to rescind its resolutions relating to the condemnation proceedings, pending compliance with CEQA. The County appealed.


Before turning to the merits of LADWP’s CEQA claims, the Court of Appeal addressed the “threshold procedural issue” of whether LADWP’s CEQA claims were barred because it failed to exhaust its administrative remedies with respect to the issues that it raised in court. After discussing the statute and relevant case law, the court acknowledged that because CEQA did not require a comment period prior to determining that a project is exempt from CEQA, the relevant question was whether the agency provided adequate notice to the public prior to considering an exemption. Specifically, the court explained, an agency’s notice must inform the public that the agency will consider a CEQA exemption; otherwise, the issue exhaustion requirement in Public Resources Code section 21177, subdivision (a), does not apply. Here, the court found that the first mention of CEQA and the Board’s consideration of an exemption was made by staff during the hearing, and the hearing notice was silent on CEQA. The court concluded that the public was not provided with adequate notice regarding the exemption, and therefore, LADWP was not required to exhaust on its CEQA challenges to the County’s exemption determination.

Turning to the exemptions relied on by the County, the court found that because the issues before it involved the scope of the “existing facilities” categorical exemption and statutory construction, review of the County’s actions was de novo. After reviewing the language of CEQA Guidelines section 15301, the court concluded that the term “facilities” is ambiguous, agreeing with the Second District Court of Appeal in Azusa Land Reclamation Co. v. Main San Gabriel Basin Watermaster (1997) 52 Cal.App.4th 1165 (Azusa). Further agreeing with Azusa, the court reasoned that, because an unlined landfill was “excavated” rather than “built,” an unlined landfill was more akin to an alteration in the condition of land rather than a facility. The court reasoned that because section 15301 was revised following the Azusa decision but did not expressly mention landfills, the court concluded that the Secretary of Resources who issued the revised Guideline must have agreed with Azusa that unlined landfills are not a class of projects that do not have a significant effect on the environment. Thus, the court concluded that the County abused its discretion in finding the condemnation proceedings categorically exempt under the Class 1 categorical exemptions.

– Nathan O. George