In its recent decision in Hilltop Group Inc. v. County of San Diego, California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal issued a number of holdings that resulted in a strong ruling in support of streamlined environmental review for projects that are consistent with and within the scope of a program environmental impact report (EIR) for a general plan. The Court clarified that CEQA Guidelines section 15183 (“Section 15183”) does not permit additional environmental review for such projects except as necessary to determine whether a project will have significant effects that are peculiar to the project or the site that were not analyzed in the prior EIR and cannot be substantially mitigated by uniformly applied development policies or standards. The Court went on to hold that public controversy and lay testimony about “peculiar” impacts that might arise from a project do not constitute substantial evidence sufficient to require further environmental review under Section 15183. Perhaps the most important lesson of Hilltop Group Inc. is that decisionmakers cannot err on the side of requiring environmental review simply because a project is controversial, particularly when streamlining is in play. If substantial evidence demonstrates a project’s environmental effects were studied in the prior general plan EIR or can be addressed through uniform policies and procedures, the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) does not permit the lead agency to require an EIR, mitigated negative declaration or other additional environmental review.Continue Reading A Win for Consistency Evaluations Under CEQA Guidelines 15183: Court Rules that Public Controversy is not a Basis for Additional Environmental Review

Has the final bell rung for PFAS in food packaging? On February 28, 2024, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that all grease-proofing agents containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)[1] “are no longer being sold for use in food packaging in the U.S.”[2] A complete elimination of chemical substances is an uncommon FDA measure, and academics studying PFAS have heralded this FDA announcement as a victory for the public.[3] However, because it is a voluntary phase-out, food companies should not rely on this statement or assume that the packaging they use going forward is PFAS-free. Although California has instituted a ban on PFAS in food packaging, the FDA has not.Continue Reading PFAS in Food Packaging: The Beginning of the End?

According to the Public Policy Institute of California, a non-profit, non-partisan think tank, California is facing a jaw-dropping 3.5 million unit housing deficient for the current population. This despite several legislative sessions enacting a large number of bills aimed at boosting housing production. 2023 was no different. During its first year of the current 2-year legislative cycle, Governor Newsom signed an unprecedented 56 housing bills into law, reflecting the California Legislature’s continued effort to respond to the housing crisis, and the multi-dimensional approach to developing, retaining, and permitting housing options for Californians. In sum, the housing bills intend to incentivize and reduce barriers to housing production, especially “affordable” or below-market rate housing by addressing previously-identified hurdles in the market. To do so, some bills include further expansion of State Density Bonus Law, including Senate Bill (SB) 423’s extension of the sunset date in 2017’s SB 35. The package also includes bills aimed to keep tenants in their existing homes and reflects the state’s desire to limit local governments’ ability to deny housing projects.Continue Reading California Continues Trend of Pushing Housing Legislation to Address Ongoing Housing Shortage

On January 30, 2024, the San Diego City Council approved an ordinance implementing Mayor Todd Gloria’s proposal to establish an extensive project labor agreement (“PLA”), which is slated to impose various conditions and restrictions on most City-funded construction projects. Most notably, the PLA establishes conditions of employment and minimum wage requirements, additional safety protocols, and other regulations imposed on contractors and their subcontractors. The PLA also sets goals and introduces incentives for the hiring of certain “Targeted Workers,” which include homeless people, the undereducated, and those that have spent time in jail or prison.Continue Reading San Diego City Council Approves Union-Friendly Citywide Project Labor Agreement Restricting Most City Construction Projects

As we enter 2024, we once again review the most significant legislation, policy changes and regulatory actions with respect to climate change taken by California in the past year. In contrast to 2022, which brought a revamp of California’s timeline to complete its transition to zero-emission energy sources and the finalization of a $54 billion climate funding package, the headline grabber in 2023 was the passage of three bills related to corporate emissions and accountability.Continue Reading California Climate Change Legislation, Policy and Regulation – 2023 in Review

2023 was a busy year for Prop 65 with the highest number of Notices of Violation since its inception. The California law requires consumers receive warnings regarding the presence of chemicals that cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. Prop 65 applies to an ever growing list of chemicals and thus impacts a wide variety of businesses in California. Below are a few trends and developments seen over 2023.Continue Reading Proposition 65: 2023 in Review

Despite repeated attempts at reform by the Legislature, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) continues to be a minefield for those assigned with the herculean task of complying with the law’s myriad of directives. Add to the already inherent complexity of CEQA, judicial interpretation of its provisions has wide-reaching implications that can create even more potential pitfalls for those required to abide by its mandates, including decisionmakers and project proponents. Below are the summaries of the most notable CEQA cases from 2023, broken down by category.Continue Reading 2023 Year-in-Review CEQA Litigation

Following California Supreme Court and its own case law precedent, the Second District, Division Five, has ruled in Guerrero et al. v. City of Los Angeles (Jan. 17, 2024) (Guerrero), certified for publication, that a CEQA challenge to approval of a vesting tentative subdivision map conditioned on subsequent discretionary rezoning was untimely when not filed until after the rezoning was finally approved.Continue Reading Conditional Approval is Project Approval: Appellate Court Confirms CEQA Statute of Limitations Triggered by Tentative Map Approval Conditioned on Subsequent Rezoning

Near the end of 2023, the United States Supreme Court declined to consider the City of Costa Mesa’s appeal of a January Ninth Circuit ruling in SoCal Recovery, LLC v. City of Costa Mesa (2023) 56 F.4th 802. The decision held that sober living home operators can prove “actual disability” – as required by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) – without an individualized assessment of each resident. Instead, the Ninth Circuit held that admissions criteria, house rules, and testimony are sufficient to show on a collective basis that a sober living home serves or intends to serve individuals with actual disabilities.Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Consider Appeal of Ninth Circuit Ruling that Sober Living Homes Do Not Have to Prove Each Resident Is Disabled to Survive Summary Judgment in Challenge to Allegedly Discriminatory Zoning Laws