Judge: Supervisors Illegally Approved Trabuco Housing – Impacts on traffic and wildlife not properly evaluated

Judge: Supervisors Illegally Approved Trabuco Housing – county was under counting actual traffic flows by changing the analysis from the “highway capacity manual” (HCM) approach

By NICK GERDA : voiceofoc – excerpt

supervisors violated CEQA by not properly studying the impacts to traffic on Santiago Canyon Road, along with impacts to native wildlife and the effect of lifting a requirement that dedicated open space be “natural.”

When the Orange County Board of Supervisors last year approved the controversial Saddle Crest development in Trabuco Canyon, members of the board were called out for a faulty environmental study and the large amount of campaign contributions they received from the development’s backers.

Now, an Orange County Superior Court judge has ruled that the approval was illegal.

The ruling, issued last week by Judge Steven Perk, states that the county failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), state land-use law and the county’s own land-use plans.

Perk prohibited the county “from taking any action to implement the project until compliance with the requirements of CEQA and CEQA guidelines, state Planning and Zoning Laws, Orange County General Plan and the Foothill-Trabuco Specific Plan have been met.”…

In response to the project’s approval by the supervisors, a coalition of conservation groups sued the county, arguing that supervisors violated CEQA by not properly studying the impacts to traffic on Santiago Canyon Road, along with impacts to native wildlife and the effect of lifting a requirement that dedicated open space be “natural.”

When it came to traffic, the activists asserted that the county was under counting actual traffic flows by changing the analysis from the “highway capacity manual” (HCM) approach to “volume-to-capacity” (V/C), which only analyzed a small stretch of Santiago Canyon Road.

“Using the V/C method effectively understates true traffic volumes on rural roads like Santiago Canyon Road,” their petition states.

The judge agreed… (more)

Calif. Court of Appeals knocks back California Low Carbon Fuel Standard in POET suit

Calif. Court of Appeals knocks back California Low Carbon Fuel Standard in POET suit

By Jim Lane : biofuelsdigest – excerpt

In California, the Fifth District Court of Appeal issued its opinion in POET, LLC v. California Air Resources Board, which challenged the Low Carbon Fuel Standard adopted by the Air Resources Board. (Super. Ct. No. 09CECG04659 )

The Court ruled for POET on every one of its substantive challenges, reversed the decision of the Superior Court affirming the LCFS, and ordered that ARB’s approval of the LCFS be set aside.  The Court also ruled that ARB must, among other things, re-evaluate the LCFS’s overall environmental impacts, and allow public comment on several controversial issues including the carbon intensity values attributed to ethanol based on the theory of indirect land use change, which has been disputed and debunked by many in the scientific community

The Court concluded that ARB violated CEQA by: (1) prematurely approving the LCFS regulations before completing the necessary environmental review, (2) splitting the authority for project approval from responsibility for completing environmental review, and (3) improperly deferring formulation of mitigation measures.  As an initial matter, the Court confirmed that ARB’s actions were still subject to certain requirements of CEQA.  The LCFS regulations were adopted under a certified regulatory program, which exempted ARB from the requirements for preparing initial studies, negative declaration, or environmental impact reports.  Yet, ARB was still required to comply with other provisions of CEQA… (more)

Why You Should Secretly Care About: CEQA Reform

Why You Should Secretly Care About: CEQA Reform

Scott Lucas : modernluxury.com – excerpt

Your occasional guide to the boring but important.

Earlier this week, the Board of Supervisors passed a far-reaching set of changes to the way that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is handled here in San Francisco. We are well aware that most of you just fell asleep upon reading that sentence. Let’s face it—unless you’re an urban planning wonk or a grumpy Bay Guardian gadfly, it’s pretty tough to work up a lather over CEQA reform. But you should care—and here are five reasons why:

1. It’s A Huge Victory For Scott Wiener: As we’ve reported before, the District 8 Supervisor has been angling to be the moderate standard-bearer across the city. A celebratory press release quickly came from his office, saying that “Supervisor Wiener is the fourth Supervisor over the past decade to attempt to legislate clear and predictable procedures for CEQA appeals […] Previous attempts never even made it to the full Board.” It’s easy to see language like that making it into campaign speeches for higher offices. On top of that, expect pro-development interests to be exceedingly generous with their checkbooks for his future races. Okay, we’re just going to say it: Scott Wiener just became downtown’s pick as Ed Lee’s heir apparent.

2. It’s A Pretty Big Win for David Chiu Too: At the beginning of his third term as President of the Board, it was hard to know if Chiu’s public commitment to consensus was substantive or just talk. Part of the verdict is in. Chiu worked hard to incorporate much of Supervisor Jane Kim’s competing CEQA proposal into the final version. Passing any major legislation by a unanimous vote is hard, especially in a policy area as fraught as this one. Points to Chiu for getting it done.

3. It’s A Loss for Jane Kim and for the Anti-Development Crowd: Though much of what was in her competing measure—which was supported by many neighborhood, environmental, labor, and social-justice groups—made it into the final bill, at the end of the day, it was Wiener’s approach and not Kim’s that won. It’s yet another sign of the relative weakening of the San Francisco progressive left.

4. It Will Speed Up Building Projects Already in the Pipeline: Let a thousand cranes bloom. By requiring any objections to a building project to be lodged within 30 days of the plan’s initial approval, this reform should drastically diminish the time between blueprint and completion. There will still be time to lodge environmental objections, but now the process is more transparent and predictable.

5. It Will Lead to More Future Development: The old CEQA process created pretty stiff disincentives for builders. The new one is still a hurdle that has to be cleared, but it’s a little easier. That blur you just saw outside your window—it was a developer racing to the bank to line up financing… (more)

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Solar Project Prevails Over Williamson Act, CEQA Claims in Save Panoche Valley

The Williamson Act Challenge – the solar challenge

by David A. Gold, Miles H. Imwalle and Megan A. Jennings : mondaq – excerpt

A recent California appellate decision broke new ground for solar energy developers by upholding a County’s decision to cancel numerous Williamson Act contracts and approve a large solar project despite potentially significant impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In Save Panoche Valley v. County of San Benito, the Sixth District Court of Appeal found that the County’s decision to approve a 399 MW photovoltaic solar project was supported by substantial evidence under both the Williamson Act and CEQA. The first-of-its kind published decision may have important implications for similar projects by affirming that California’s interest in promoting renewable energy may outweigh interests in protecting other resources…

The Williamson Act Challenge

The state’s Williamson Act (Government Code section 51200 et seq.) allows agricultural landowners to enter into contracts with local government agencies that require the land to be used for agricultural or related purposes for at least ten years, in exchange for reduced property tax assessments. Once entered, a contract can only be terminated in specific circumstances. One option is to seek cancellation by the local agency, which may only occur if the cancellation is found to be consistent with the Williamson Act, or in the public interest, on the basis of specific findings.

As renewable energy developers are increasingly aware, the Williamson Act often acts as a high hurdle to utilize agricultural lands for energy projects, even where the land currently has limited agricultural value. Save Panoche Valley represents just the latest effort for the courts and public agencies to balance protection of agricultural resources against the state’s demand for aggressive development of renewable energy sources. For example, in 2011, the Legislature enacted SB 618 (Wolk) in an attempt to expand the potential for siting solar facilities on unproductive land subject to Williamson Act contracts. The legislation allows a contract to be rescinded in favor of a “solar-use easement,” subject to certain conditions. However, the requirement that eligible lands must have “significantly reduced agricultural productivity” and other criteria mean that the “solar-use easement” option is available only on a narrow set of contracted lands… (more)

County Policy on Ag Land Solar Power Moves to CEQA Stage

The policy says that the county will give “highest priority” to the encouragement of urban solar development. Urban solar installations are usually placed on rooftops. They supply electricity to the property on which they are installed. People concerned about saving agricultural land from solar installations said it’s important to cut the electricity demand by encouraging urban solar installations.

By Ron McNicoll : independentnews.com – excerpt

A new draft of solar power policies for rural installations in East County is moving ahead with a supervisor’s direction to staff to prepare an environmental document for a general plan amendment.

Supervisor Scott Haggerty, chairman of the Alameda County Supervisors Board’s Transportation and Planning Committee, gave the direction to staff. The other committee member, Nate Miley, was absent. The five-member board places only two supervisors on each of its committees, so that there would be no three-member quorum of the full board when an issue comes to a vote…

Staff members will spend time discussing among themselves whether a full EIR or a negative declaration would be prepared. Then the environmental document will go through the same public process that the draft policy did, with stops at a public information and discussion meeting, the planning commission, the agricultural advisory commission, and finally the board of supervisors. The supervisors might not see it until spring, said planning director Albert Lopez.

The draft, in its current form, would allow construction of Solar Energy Facilitites (SEF) for exporting power from Valley agricultural land to the regional power grid on a case-by-case approval.

There would be a cap, yet to be determined, on how much of the county’s 3000 acres of “Important Farmland” could be used. A cap ranging between 500 and 1000 has been discussed.

The policy says that the county will give “highest priority” to the encouragement of urban solar development. Urban solar installations are usually placed on rooftops. They supply electricity to the property on which they are installed. People concerned about saving agricultural land from solar installations said it’s important to cut the electricity demand by encouraging urban solar installations(more)

Unanimous support for CEQA law, eight months later

Unanimous support for CEQA law, eight months later

When it comes to California’s complicated and controversial environmental review law, the fourth time is apparently the charm.
Eight months, 11 public meetings, three roundtable discussions and countless closed-door talks after it was introduced, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved Supervisor Scott Wiener’s legislation on the city’s appeals process under the California Environment Quality Act. Also known as CEQA, the statewide law requires developers and public agencies to consider a project’s environmental impacts and allows the appeal of projects to local governments.
Wiener is the fourth supervisor in the past decade to attempt to tackle the opaque and complicated environmental appeals process. His proposal,  largely aimed at setting a deadline for such appeals, prompted Supervisor Jane Kim to author a competing piece of legislation. But after a slew of changes — including amendments by Supervisor David Chiu that will require more public noticing and were made at Tuesday’s meeting — the full board got behind the measure…
Or, as Supervisor Campos put it, “it strikes the right balance between providing the certainty that Supervisor Wiener spoke about and preserving the public’s right to know — or, actually, enhancing the public’s right to know.”… (more)

City Of Ceres: California Appeals Court CEQA Decision Complicates Whether Agencies’ Communications With Developers Are Privileged

City Of Ceres: California Appeals Court CEQA Decision Complicates Whether Agencies’ Communications With Developers Are Privileged

by Elizabeth A. Lake and Spencer B. Potter : mondaq – excerpt

On July 8, 2013, the Fifth District of the California Court of Appeal issued Citizens for Ceres v. Super. Ct. of Stanislaus County (Case No. F065690 (Cal. Ct. App. 5th, July 8, 2013)) (Ceres), a perplexing opinion holding that pre-project approval communications between the agency conducting California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review and the project applicant are not protected by the attorney-client privilege. Ceres disagrees with California Oak Foundation v. County of Tehama (Tehama), 174 Cal.App.4th 1217 (2009), an important 2009 Third District decision that held that communications between agency and project applicant lawyers were protected under the attorney-client privilege’s “common interest doctrine.” The Ceres case expressly disagrees with Tehama to the extent the Third District opinion has been interpreted to be applied the attorney-client privilege prior to project approval…

The Common Interest Doctrine and the Tehama Case
The attorney-client privilege and work product privilege is usually waived for information voluntary disclosed to a third party. Under the California Evidence Code, however, the “common interest doctrine” preserves the privilege when an attorney’s discloses to a third party information reasonably necessary to accomplish the purpose for which the lawyer was consulted. The common interest doctrine typically requires that the attorney and the third party possess a common interest in a matter of joint concern… (more)

New rules governing San Francisco environmental impact appeals approved

New rules governing San Francisco environmental impact appeals approved

by : sfexaminer – excerpt

San Francisco’s appeals process under a state law requiring review of construction projects’ environmental impacts has remained mired in a lack of clarity for about a decade. But on Tuesday, that all changed.
Overhauls to the appeals process under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, were unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors. The legislation finally succeeded where three ex-supervisors — Aaron Peskin, Fiona Ma and Michela Alioto-Pier — failed.
The more than yearlong process of coming to an agreement had some supervisors playing a numbers game — such as highlighting the six Land Use and Economic Development Committee hearings on the proposal and the countless amendments to Supervisor Scott Wiener’s legislation, many of which were forced by a dueling piece of legislation introduced by Supervisor Jane Kim… (more)

Neighbor Appeal Over “Scenic Vistas” Brings 480 Potrero in Front of the Planning Commission

Neighbor Appeal Over “Scenic Vistas” Brings 480 Potrero in Front of the Planning Commission

by Alex Bevk : sf.curbed – excerpt

480 Potrero is a project that proposes a six-story, 58-foot-tall, residential building on a vacant lot in Potrero Hill. The building would contain 77 residential units, ground floor retail, and 47 parking spaces in a one-level basement parking garage accessed from Mariposa Street. The project was exempt from having to do full environmental review, but that was appealed by the San Francisco Verdi Club, MUNA neighborhood association, and Potrero Hill neighbors due to objections over the “adverse effect on a scenic vista,” inevitable increase in population, and discord with the “character with the neighborhood.”
The project sponsor revised the proposal to address some of the appellant concerns, like adding ground floor commercial space, decreasing the residential unit count from 84 to 77, adding additional off-street parking, and decreasing the overall size of the building by 7,000 sq.ft. The appeal delays the fate of the vacant lot, which once housed a four-story live/work building that was demolished in 2005. If the Planning Commission votes on the side of the appellants, it’ll force the project to undergo a full Environmental Impact Report. If they uphold the exemption, they’ll then vote on the actual project entitlements.
· Appeal of Preliminary Mitigated Negative Declaration for 480 Potrero (pdf) [SF Planning]
· Upcoming Developments Waiting to Break Ground, Now With UPDATES [Curbed SF]
· CEQA In Action, Or Inaction, On Potrero Avenue [SocketSite]… (more)

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