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.

Continue Reading California Enacts New Legislation to Combat Growing Housing Crisis, But Not Without Controversy

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.
Continue Reading Mandate to Provide Traffic Improvements Prior to Project Approval Struck Down

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.
Continue Reading Senate Bill Extends and Expands CEQA Streamlining Process

Two significant changes to California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) noticing and filing requirements and procedures recently took effect.  First, on September 23, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Executive Order N-80-20 (“Order“), which conditionally suspends certain requirements for filing, noticing, and posting of CEQA documents with county clerk offices.  The Order provides an alternate means of complying with those requirements during the current pandemic, and extends the prior suspension by Executive Order N-54-20.[1]  It will remain in effect until it is modified or rescinded, or until the COVID-related State of Emergency instituted on March 4, 2020 is terminated, whichever occurs sooner.
Continue Reading Significant Changes to State CEQA Filing and Noticing Requirements and Procedures

After a nearly two-year wait, in Protecting Our Water and Environmental Resources v. County of Stanislaus (2020) __ Cal.5th ____ (POWER), the California Supreme Court unanimously rejected the County of Stanislaus’s (County) bright-line categorization that all groundwater well construction permits are ministerial, and therefore not subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  In an interesting twist, the Supreme Court also rejected the petitioner’s alternative “all or nothing” position that, if the permits are not ministerial, they must be discretionary and conditioned on CEQA compliance.  Instead, the Supreme Court held the decision of whether each permit is ministerial or discretionary hinges on the specific language of the governing ordinance and regulatory controls.[1]
Continue Reading California Supreme Courts Holds Categorical Classification of Well Permits As Exclusively “Ministerial” Does Not Hold Water

MAY 8, 2020 – UPDATE: The final version of the New Ordinance has been signed by Mayor Gracetti and takes effect May 12, 2020.

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California Senate Bill (“SB”) 899, introduced in March by Senator Scott Wiener and currently in the Senate Housing, Environmental Quality, and Governance and Finance Committees, would exempt eligible affordable housing projects and mixed use projects on property owned by religious institutions and nonprofit medical facilities from review under the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Res. Code § 21000 et seq.) (“CEQA”) and provide for other permit streamlining.  Eligible entities include nonprofit hospitals, diagnostic or treatment centers, rehabilitation facilities, and nursing homes, as well as religious institutions.  As Senator Wiener noted, “religious and charitable institutions often have land to spare, and they should be able to use that land to build affordable housing and thus further their mission.  SB 899 ensures that affordable housing can be built and removes local zoning and approval obstacles in order to do so.”  These eligible organizations may partner with a qualified nonprofit developer or local public entity to construct the affordable housing developments.
Continue Reading Proposed Legislation Aims to Boost Affordable Housing on Land Owned by Religious Institutions and Nonprofit Hospitals

In the belatedly-published Environmental Council of Sacramento, et al. v. County of Sacramento (Cordova Hills, LLC, et al. – Real Parties-in-Interest) (2020) ____ Cal.App.5th ____,[1] the Third District Court of Appeal affirmed judgment against a slew of California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) claims centered on Environmental Council’s and Sierra Club’s (collectively, “Environmental Council” or “petitioners”) contention that the project at issue included a component – a university – that is ultimately not likely to be built.  More specifically, petitioners contended that because the university was not likely to be built, the environmental impact report (“EIR”) prepared pursuant to CEQA was therefore insufficient for failing to analyze the project without the university and thereby understated project impacts to things such as air quality, climate change and transportation.
Continue Reading Failure to Include A No-Build Analysis in Project Description Does Not Violate CEQA

On July 30, 2019, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved an update to the “Transportation” section of the City’s California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) Threshold Guide.  City Council’s action has effectively updated the framework for evaluating traffic impact analysis to a vehicle miles traveled (“VMT”) metric in accordance with updated CEQA Guidelines section 15064.3 and Senate Bill 743.  Per the City’s Planning Department, by shifting to a VMT-centric analysis, the City will be better positioned to assess potential impacts on the City’s transportation system, as well as meet its climate change goals. Interestingly, while the City Council action is complete, there is still a bit of confusion at the City as to how the VMT metric will, in practice, be phased in for projects already in the planning process. 
Continue Reading Following Suit – City of Los Angeles Updates CEQA Guide to Include VMT Methodology Ahead of State-Imposed Deadline