California Supreme Court Clarifies CEQA’s Most Fundamental Question: What is a “Project? ”

By Michelle Ouellette, Sarah Owsowitz, Hannah Park, Charity Schiller : bbklaw – excerpt


Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, Inc. v. City of San Diego

In a long-awaited decision, the California Supreme Court held this week that whether an activity is a “project” subject to environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act must be based on whether the activity may result in environmental impacts – not merely the type of approval involved. Specifically, the Court held in Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, Inc. v. City of San Diego that zone changes were not per se CEQA “projects.” However, the Court went on to find that the City of San Diego’s zone change ordinance, allowing medical marijuana dispensaries within specific areas of the City, was a CEQA project in this instance due to its potential to cause reasonably foreseeable indirect environmental impacts.

This opinion provides important clarification for public agencies because it confirms that zone changes and, arguably, other activities described in Public Resources Code section 21080, are not automatically CEQA projects. However, the case also emphasizes the importance of carefully considering potential direct and indirect impacts when deciding whether an activity is a project under CEQA.

The case concerns an ordinance that the City adopted in 2014. The ordinance amended several zoning regulations to allow medical marijuana dispensary establishments and location and operation regulations. The City determined that the ordinance was not a “project” subject to CEQA because it did not have the potential to cause direct or reasonably foreseeable indirect physical changes in the environment. In adopting the ordinance, the City also stated, “[f]uture projects subject to the ordinance will require a discretionary permit and CEQA review, and will be analyzed at the appropriate time in accordance with CEQA.” The trial court and Court of Appeal both agreed with the City that the ordinance was not a project subject to CEQA, and that no environmental review was required.

In examining CEQA’s purpose and intent, the Supreme Court first summarized the “multistep decision tree” that a lead agency must engage in for its proposed activities:
1.) First, the lead agency must determine whether the proposed activity is a “project” subject to CEQA.
2.) If so, the lead agency must next decide whether the activity is exempt from CEQA.
3.) Finally, assuming the activity is not exempt, the lead agency must undergo environmental review… (more)

I am sharing this with a number of people outside of Livable California who are dealing with this issue on local projects. This case is being claimed as a significant precinct setting case so it may be helpful to share it.

Keeping the Homeless Out of Sight Makes Their Lives More Dangerous

By Nuala Sawyer Bishari : sfweekly – excerpt

S.F.’s ongoing displacement of unhoused people makes it hard for them to hold onto life-saving medications and other supplies.

Nearly 10,000 people in San Francisco are homeless, with a nightly shelter bed waitlist that hasn’t dropped below 1,000 in more than a year.

The symptoms of the crisis are evident to anyone who lives or works in the city: Tents line the sidewalks, people sleep in doorways, and lines of RVs and cars that are parked along empty streets in industrial neighborhoods provide some protection from the elements.

The reaction to the crisis has produced extreme reactions, primarily focused on the aesthetics the crisis presents instead of the root of the problem: extreme poverty adjacent to some of the most staggering wealth inequality in the world…(more)

And, if you believe latest report on CalMatters, California tax revenue is soaring, and there is no shortage of funds.

California’s largest recycling center closes, shuttering 300 redemption sites

By Annie Sciacca : mercurynews – excerpt (includes video)

With probes and clipboards, Chinese inspectors tour Bay Area recycling centers at least once a month, testing our trash to see if it meets their new high standards.

Until recently, almost all of our vast piles of plastic and paper refuse were sold and shipped overseas, promising a new life for much of what we so blithely tossed away.

Now much is rejected as wet, dirty or worthless – a reversal that has turned our once-reliable recycling world upside down, as prices plummet and the cost of cleanup soars… (more)

How can the public accept fines and fees for not recycling properly when the recycling process is broken?

Insurers dropped nearly 350,000 California homeowners with wildfire risk

By Dale Kasler and Ryan Sabalow : sacbee – excerpt

After two disastrous fire seasons, California officials have been besieged by homeowners in fire-prone areas complaining that their insurance premiums are skyrocketing or their plans are suddenly being dropped.

Now regulators finally have a better idea of just how bad the problem is.

The number of rural homeowners dropped by insurance companies topped 340,000 in just four years, according to figures released Tuesday by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara’s staff…

Insurance officials said the numbers are striking because they don’t fully reflect the impact of last year’s big fires, including the worst-ever Camp Fire in Paradise, which killed 86 people in November and destroyed almost 90 percent of the homes in Paradise. Many of the non-renewals following the 2018 fires haven’t occurred until this year because insurers generally have to wait until the homeowners’ policies are due to expire…(more)

Location Exception to CEQA’s Categorical Exemptions Applies Only to Designated Environmental Resources Affected by The Project

By Lindsey Quock and Perkins Coie : judsupra – excerpt

The location exception to CEQA’s categorical exemptions does not apply to earthquake and landslide hazard zones, as they are not “environmental resources” that would be affected by a project. Berkeley Hills Watershed Coalition v. City of Berkeley, 31 Cal.App.5th 880 (1st Dist. 2019).

The City of Berkeley approved construction of three single-family homes in the Berkeley Hills. The city found the projects exempt from CEQA under the Class 3 exemption, which applies to the “construction…of limited numbers of new, small…structures,” including “up to three single-family residences” in “urbanized areas.” (CEQA Guidelines, § 15303).

Plaintiffs Berkeley Hills Watershed Coalition and Center for Environmental Structure sued to challenge the city’s approvals claiming the exemption was barred by the “location” exception to the categorical exemptions. The location exception applies if “the project may impact on an environmental resource of hazardous or critical concern where designated, precisely mapped, and officially adopted pursuant to law by federal, state, or local agencies.” (Guidelines, § 15300.2(a)) Plaintiffs argued that, because the projects were located in an Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zone and mapped by the California Geologic Survey as a potential earthquake-induced landslide area, the projects would affect environmental resources of hazardous concern.

The superior court ruled for the city and the appellate court upheld that decision.

The court of appeal held that the location exception does not apply to earthquake or landslide hazard zones because they are not “environmental resources,” relying on the dictionary definition of the term “resource” — a “natural source of wealth or revenue,” or a “natural feature or phenomenon that enhances the quality of human life.” The Seismic Hazards Mapping Act and the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zoning Act were not enacted to protect a sensitive environmental resource, but to protect human safety and to prevent economic loss. Further, the court noted that the purpose of CEQA is to analyze a project’s impact on the environment, not the impact of environmental conditions on the project or its residents. While the plaintiffs might have shown the environment might risk harm to the projects, they failed to show that the projects might risk harm to the environment…(more)

The law is only concerned about protecting property and wealth according to this ruling. Where did people get the idea that the government is charged with protecting their lives and personal property? Who determines seismic risk?

California wildfire insurance is in crisis. And the real estate market is suffering

By Dale Kasler : sacbee – excerpt

Vallejo residents Theresa and Daniel Ochs found the perfect place to spend their retirement years: a three-bedroom home on two acres in Garden Valley, in verdant rolling hills a few miles from the Eldorado National Forest.

“You should go see it,” Theresa Ochs said. “It’s got craftsmanship in there. The woodwork is amazing. It’s got a nice chef’s kitchen. I could just see myself waking up in this house.”

The couple made an offer — and then encountered a nasty surprise. One insurance company after another refused to sell them a homeowners’ policy because of the wildfire risks in El Dorado County. The Ochses reluctantly withdrew their offer last week… (more)

Read more here:

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‘Sue the suburbs’ group strikes again, attacking another Bay Area city over housing

By Marisa Kendall : mercurynews – excerpt

Advocacy group attempts to force cities to approve projects

In a low-key San Francisco office decorated with “legalize housing” T-shirts and a fluffy, avocado-shaped throw pillow, a tiny group of advocates is trying to sue their way out of the Bay Area housing crisis…

The four-person California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund, or CaRLA, has one reason for being — to sue cities that reject housing projects without a valid reason. The litigious nonprofit with YIMBY roots struck again last month, suing Los Altos after the city rejected a developer’s bid to streamline a project of 15 apartments plus ground-floor office space.

It’s a bold strategy and one advocates say fills the enforcement hole in California housing policy. But it’s also helping push housing decisions out of city council chambers and into the courtroom — removing those key issues from local control and further stoking the flames of bitter contention that often surround Bay Area housing debates…(more)

Mapping the strain on our water

By Bonnie Berkowitz Adrian Blanco : washingtonpost – excerpt (includes maps)

Pockets in several U.S. states — and across the globe — are draining their limited water supplies

The United States has enough water to satisfy the demand, but newly released data from the World Resources Institute shows some areas are out of balance…(more)


2°C: Beyond the limit
Extreme climate change has arrived in America

: washingtonpost – excerpt (includes maps… (more)

Accelerating Housing Production

hcd – excerpt (interactive map link)

SB 2 Planning Grants Technical Assistance

Program Details

Planning Grants and Local Housing Strategies Map

The Planning Grants and Local Housing Strategies Map will keep you up to date on :

  • Cities’ and counties’ local planning practices and solutions for accelerating housing production
  • Where HCD’s technical assistance (TA) teams are conducting outreach and providing TA
  • Which cities/counties have submitted planning grant applications
  • Which jurisdictions are eligible for planning grants

The goals of the map:

  • Promoting transparency in planning grant funding and distribution
  • Illustrates HCD’s commitment to geographic equity and access.
  • Creates a peer-learning environment by sharing jurisdictions’ implementation efforts on accelerating housing production throughout the state.


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