In response to developers’ continued cry for meaningful reform, changes to or exemptions from the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Res. Code §§ 21000 et seq.) (CEQA) are often included in numerous bills during any California legislative session. 2022 proved to be no exception. While many bills suffered slow deaths in committee, a handful successfully made it to the Governor’s desk and were signed into law.
California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)
Court of Appeal Holds No-Project Alternative Analysis May Mean More When Conservation is an Option and Reinforces Low Barrier to Entry Under the Exhaustion Doctrine
In Save the Hill Group v. City of Livermore et al., the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 5) reversed and remanded the superior court’s decision to uphold the reissued final environmental impact report (RFEIR) for a development project with 44 single-family homes located in a residentially-zoned grassland area, called Garavanta Hills, near the Garaventa Wetlands Preserve. In doing so, the Court held that the analysis for the “no project” alternative was inadequate because it failed to disclose and evaluate the possibility of using existing mitigation funding to make the no-project alternative feasible. While the superior court agreed that the analysis of the no-project alternative was insufficient, the superior court found that petitioner Save the Hill Group (Petitioner) had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies on this issue, upholding the RFEIR on this jurisdictional prerequisite. While the Court of Appeal reversed this particular decision, it did rejected the Petitioner’s remaining claims.
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No April Fools: Starting April 1st, Cannabis Operators Face CEQA Compliance Requirements for State Licenses
For many in the cannabis industry, April 1, 2022 is seen as a day of reckoning following the July 2021 passage of Assembly Bill 141 and Senate Bill 160 (collectively, the Cannabis Trailer Bill). In an attempt to transition to an annual licensure program, April 1st marked the beginning of the end for provisional cannabis licensure. It also ushered in significant changes to renewal process for previously granted provisional licenses. These modifications now require applicants to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Res. Code §§ 21000 et seq.) (CEQA), a complex statewide policy of environmental protection fraught with potential traps for those unversed in the law, before an operator is eligible to be awarded a cannabis state license. This requirement alone carries the potential to create a much higher barrier to entrance into the cannabis market.
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Challenge to Housing and Revitalization Project Found Not Cognizable under the Fair Housing Act and California Fair Employment and Housing Act
In a case potentially overshadowed by the California Supreme Court’s same-day denial to hear a request to stay a cap on student admissions at UC Berkeley, the Second Appellate District Court (Div. 2) issued its opinion in Crenshaw Subway Coalition v. City of Los Angeles. This decision found, in effect, that the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and its State law counterpart, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), do not protect established minority-majority communities against displacement due to gentrification.
Continue Reading Challenge to Housing and Revitalization Project Found Not Cognizable under the Fair Housing Act and California Fair Employment and Housing Act
Petitioners Failed to Show Subdivision Consistent With a Specific Plan EIR Was Outside the Scope of a Statutory Exemption
In Citizens’ Committee to Complete the Refuge et al. v. City of Newark et al., the First District Court of Appeal (Div. 4) found the California Environmental Quality Act did not require subsequent or supplemental environmental review for the City of Newark’s approval of a 469‑lot residential subdivision project. Instead, the court affirmed the City’s use of Government Code section 65457’s CEQA exemption for projects consistent with a “specific plan” for which a environmental impact report (EIR) was previously certified.
Continue Reading Petitioners Failed to Show Subdivision Consistent With a Specific Plan EIR Was Outside the Scope of a Statutory Exemption
California Enacts New Legislation to Combat Growing Housing Crisis, But Not Without Controversy
On September 16th, hot off the heels of surviving California’s latest recall effort, Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation aimed at addressing the statewide housing crisis – a critical topic leading up to last week’s election. The suite of bills, Senate Bills (SB) 8, 9 and 10 and Assembly Bill (AB) 1174, coupled with the recently announced California Comeback Plan, carry the potential to expand housing production, streamline permitting and promote density closer to major employment hubs.
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Mandate to Provide Traffic Improvements Prior to Project Approval Struck Down
In Alliance for Responsible Planning v. Taylor, the Third District Court of Appeal recently struck down a voter initiative requiring a developer to fund all cumulative traffic mitigation as a condition precedent to project approval as an unconstitutional taking. More specifically, the Court found that El Dorado County’s Measure E, which was adopted in 2016 and amended the County of El Dorado general plan (General Plan) to require developers to fund traffic improvements prior to the issuance of discretionary approvals needed to develop the remainder of the project, would require a development pay more than its fair share.
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Senate Bill Extends and Expands CEQA Streamlining Process
Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed into law Senate Bill (SB) 7, the “Housing + Jobs Expansion & Extension Act”, which extends and expands California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) streamlining provisions. As previously discussed in our February blog post, “California Senate Returns Its Focus to Housing in 2021-2022 Legislative Session,” SB 7 is the first bill from the Senate’s “Building Opportunities for All” housing package to be signed and enacted this year. SB 7 extends through 2025 the streamlined CEQA administrative and judicial review procedures developed for Environmental Leadership Development Projects (ELDPs) under Assembly Bill (AB) 900 in 2011. AB 900 established a process to expedite legal challenges for large housing, clean energy, and manufacturing projects with a capital investment of at least $100 million. In an effort to increase housing and job opportunities in California, SB 7 expands streamlining eligibility to smaller affordable housing projects. Specifically, housing projects on infill sites with an investment between $15-$100 million that meet specified labor and environmental standards and include at least 15 percent affordable housing are now eligible under SB 7. SB 7 also clarifies that the deadline to resolve legal challenges to ELDPs under the expedited judicial review process is 270 days from the filing of the certified record of proceedings, including appeals to the court of appeal and the Supreme Court.
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Southern California Counties To Adopt Major Housing Production Targets
In March, the Southern California Association of Governments (“SCAG”) will adopt final Regional Housing Needs Assessment (“RHNA”) allocations for cities and counties within the SCAG region. This 6th RHNA cycle represents the first update to these targets since the passage of key housing legislation, including Senate Bill (“SB”) 35, which grants ministerial approval and streamlining of qualifying housing projects if the jurisdiction has failed to meet its RHNA targets. Housing developers planning for potential investment can look to these production targets to assess regional and city-based needs. Cities and counties also will update their Housing Element and other planning documents to address the need.
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California Senate Returns Its Focus to Housing in 2021-2022 Legislative Session
The new 2021-2022 California legislative session has kicked off with the Senate’s “Building Opportunities for All” housing package, its latest effort to tackle zoning and California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) reforms in an effort to address California’s ongoing housing crisis. “Each one of these bills is targeted at an element of the housing crisis, and together, they give us a unified approach that would create pathways to home ownership, stable housing for vulnerable families, and a pathway to economic stability for Californians across the golden state,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins when announcing the housing package. As anticipated in our summary of new legislation effective in 2021, this housing package builds upon the housing production bills from the previous legislative session that failed to pass out of committee or gain concurrence votes before the session ended. Given that many of the bills replicate language from the failed 2020 housing legislation, the senators appear confident that more of these bills will be approved in this new session.
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California Housing Legislation Effective in 2021
The California Legislature made modest gains on housing production and stimulus bills in 2020, and there are several notable bills that took effect on January 1, 2021. The new laws tackle COVID-19, project permit streamlining and planning, residential density bonus, and the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). Below is a summary of these new laws.
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