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In the unpublished portion the of the opinion, the court found that the writ was not a separate appealable post-judgment order or injunction, and therefore the court had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.