Tag: Administrative Remedies

Second District Upholds Limited Writ in Second Newhall Ranch Appeal

In a partially published decision filed December 4, 2017, the Second District Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s judgment and order on remand in Center for Biological Diversity v. California Department of Fish and Wildlife (2017) __Cal.App.5th­­__ (Case No. B280815).

This is the second appeal of the EIR for the Newhall Ranch development project. It follows the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision where the Court determined that the EIR’s analysis of GHG emissions improperly relied on a “business-as-usual” model and that mitigation adopted for the stickleback fish (catch and relocate) was itself a prohibited taking under the California Fish and Game Code. Subsequently, the Second District affirmed in part and reversed in part its original decision. The appellate court remanded the matter to the trial court, with instructions to issue an order consistent with the Supreme Court’s opinion, but otherwise granting the trial court discretion to resolve all outstanding matters under Public Resources Code section 21168.9.

After additional briefing and a hearing, the trial court issued a limited writ. The writ decertified those sections of the EIR concerning GHG emissions and mitigation measures for the stickleback; enjoined all project activity, including construction; and suspended two of the six project approvals. This appeal followed.

In the unpublished portion the of the opinion, the court found that the writ was not a separate appealable post-judgment order or injunction, and therefore the court had jurisdiction to hear the appeal under Code of Civil Procedure section 904.1.

The court reviewed the lower court’s interpretation of section 21168.9 de novo.  The court determined that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in partially decertifying the EIR, as section 21168.9 expressly permits decertification of an EIR “in whole or in part.” The court also held that after partial decertification, it is permissible to leave in place project approvals that do not relate to the affected section of the EIR. This is consistent with the statute’s implicit mandate that project activities that do not violate CEQA must be permitted to go forward.

The court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in issuing the limited writ. The lower court adequately supported its findings and demonstrated that project activities were severable, that severance would not prejudice compliance with CEQA, and that the remaining activities complied with CEQA. The court noted that prejudice with CEQA compliance is particularly unlikely here, given the court’s injunction against further construction.

Finally, the court rejected petitioners’ contention that the writ, issued under CEQA, does not provide an adequate remedy for California Fish and Game Code violations. While acknowledging that section 21168.9 is part of CEQA, the streambed alteration agreement, which remains in place, already prohibits the taking of sticklebacks. Furthermore, the injunction barring project construction provides a suitable remedy for this violation.

Sixth District Court of Appeal Holds Breach of Public Trust Doctrine Claim Not Ripe for Adjudication in the Absence of Petitioner’s Exhaustion of its Administrative Remedies

In Monterey Coastkeeper v. Monterey Water Resources Agency (2017) ___ Cal.App.5th ___ (Case No. H042623), the Sixth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment granting Monterey Coastkeeper’s petition for writ of mandate for violation of section 13260 of the Porter-Cologne Act (failure to file a report of waste discharge), holding that the petitioner had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies.

The Monterey County Water Resources Agency (MCWRA) is a flood control and water agency responsible for operation of the Reclamation Ditch and the Blanco Drain, which collects agricultural wastewater and eventually discharges into surface waters that are subject to the Porter-Cologne Act. Petitioner Monterey Coastkeeper alleged that the MCWRA was in violation of section 13260 of the Porter-Cologne Act for failing to submit a report of waste discharge to the Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) as required under Porter-Cologne.

Petitioner claimed that it did not have an administrative remedy because the Porter-Cologne Act did not have a defined procedure to administratively pursue grievances for failure to file a report of waste discharge. The court disagreed. It stated that the Porter-Cologne Act expressly gives the RWQCB the authority to require a report of waste discharge, and to hold a discharger civilly liable for failure to do so. The Porter-Cologne Act further provides that the RWQCB may be requested to act, and their decision is appealable to the State Water Resources Control Board. The State Water Resources Control Board decision or order is then subject to judicial review by a writ of mandate. The court found that petitioner could have followed these statutory procedures—but it had not done so. The court held that petitioner had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies.

Due to its failure to exhaust, the court further found that petitioner’s claim for breach of duty under the public trust doctrine was unripe. The court held that because petitioner had not initiated the administrative review process, there was no administrative record upon which to base a decision as to whether the public trust doctrine had been violated.