Litigation & Case Law Update

JurisdictionCalifornia,United States
AuthorBy Eugene Park*
Publication year2016
CitationVol. 39 No. 1
Litigation & Case Law Update

By Eugene Park*

CEQA

California Building Industry Assn. v. Bay Area Air Quality Management Dist. (2015) 62 Cal.4th 369 (Cal. Supreme Court, filed Dec. 17, 2015).

CEQA generally does not require agencies to analyze the impact of existing environmental conditions on a project's future populations.

Not all toxic air contaminants ("TACs") are significant. In the San Francisco Bay Area, otherwise minuscule TACs become environmentally significant only if deemed as such under thresholds of significance and other guidelines promulgated by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. In 2010, the District updated and made more stringent its decade-old thresholds and guidelines with the aim of addressing stricter air quality standards, evidence of more severe health risks of TACs, and growing concerns over climate change. In doing so, the District disregarded concerns by the California Building Industry Association ("CBIA") that the new thresholds and guidelines would require many more Environmental Impact Reports ("EIRs") and ultimately impede urban infill projects. CBIA filed a petition challenging the new thresholds on a variety of grounds. The trial court found for CBIA on one ground; the Court of Appeal reversed on another ground.

The Supreme Court granted CBIA's petition for review on the limited statutory interpretation question of when, if at all, CEQA required an analysis of how existing environmental conditions will impact future residents or users of a proposed project. At the heart of the dispute was CEQA's designation of environmental effects as "significant" if, among other things, the project will cause substantial adverse effects on humans "either directly or indirectly." (Pub. Resources Code § 21083(b)(3).) Section 15126.2(a) of the CEQA Guidelines further required that an EIR identify the significant environmental effects "the project might cause by bringing development and people into the area affected," such as the seismic hazards foisted on future occupants enticed by the project to move near an active fault line.

In a unanimous opinion, the Court held that, in general, CEQA does not require analysis of how existing environmental conditions may impact future users or residents of a project. Existing environmental conditions may be relevant if the project potentially exacerbates environmental hazards, such as a development that could disturb gasoline additives at an abandoned gas station that otherwise would not have dispersed further. But the touchstone of any CEQA analysis should be the project's effect on the environment and not of the environment's effect on the project, which would lead to a contradiction that CBIA coined as "reverse CEQA." Accordingly, the Court found invalid the example cited in Section 15126.2(a) of the CEQA Guidelines that provided an "EIR on a subdivision astride an active fault line should identify as a significant effect the seismic hazard to future occupants. . . ." The Court concluded by noting that CEQA does require analysis of existing hazards on future users under certain statutory exceptions, such as for projects near airports or projects involving school construction, transit priority, and housing development.

PUBLIC RECORDS

Caldecott v. Superior Court of Orange County (2015) 243 Cal.App.4th 212 (Court of Appeal, Fourth Dist., certified for pub. Dec. 21, 2015).

School district obligated to produce documents under Public Records Act even though requester already possessed the requested documents.

John Caldecott, the Executive Director of Human Resources for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, filed a complaint against the superintendent claiming, among other things, improper increases and reporting of salaries, and creation of a hostile work environment. Caldecott alleged the District failed to investigate his claims the superintendent may have unlawfully inflated retirement compensation; the District alleged an investigator was indeed hired and that Caldecott had only filed a straightforward personnel complaint. Notwithstanding this disagreement, it was undisputed that shortly after Caldecott's complaint, the superintendent fired Caldecott without cause.

[Page 27]

Caldecott submitted a Public Records Act request for copies of the District's response to his complaint and of Caldecott's email to the District's board. The District refused, citing the Act's exemption for disclosures that would constitute an...

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