Public agencies prevailed in 68% of CEQA cases analyzed.

Latham & Watkins is pleased to present its fourth annual CEQA Case Report. Throughout 2020 Latham lawyers reviewed each of the 34 California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) appellate cases, whether published or unpublished. Below is a compilation of the information distilled from that annual review and a discussion of the patterns that emerged. Latham's webcast discussing this publication and the key CEQA cases and trends of 2020 is available here.

In 2020, the California Courts of Appeal issued 34 opinions that substantially considered CEQA. Additionally, the California Supreme Court issued one opinion, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal issued one opinion. Significantly, in Protecting Our Water & Environmental Resources v. County of Stanislaus, the California Supreme Court held that Stanislaus County could not categorically classify the issuance of all well construction permits as "ministerial." The Supreme Court explained that the plain text of the local code, which incorporated state standards, gave the County health officer significant discretion to deviate from general well permitting standards; therefore, the County's blanket classification of well permits as ministerial violated CEQA.

Other key cases from 2020 include:

  • Save the Agoura Cornell Knoll v. City of Agoura Hills, in which the Court of Appeal concluded that conflicting evidence in the record for a mixed-use development project required preparation of an environmental impact report, rather than a mitigated negative declaration, and that failure to raise a statute of limitations in a general demurrer or answer forfeits the defense.
  • Environmental Council of Sacramento v. County of Sacramento, in which the Court of Appeal concluded that project completion can be presumed for CEQA purposes and that the project description for a master planned community did not need to speculate whether a portion of the project would actually be built.
  • King & Gardiner Farms, LLC v. County of Kern, in which the Court of Appeal held that agricultural land conversion mitigation measures violated CEQA because conservation easements did not create new agricultural land to replace the land lost.
  • Parkford Owners for a Better Community v. County of Placer, in which the Court of Appeal held that a petitioner's challenge to a self-storage facility project was moot after the project was already completed due to the petitioner's failure to take steps to maintain the status quo pending the resolution of its claims.
  • Golden Door Properties, et al. v. County of San Diego, in which the Court of Appeal held that San Diego County's adoption of a Climate Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions violated CEQA by improperly deferring mitigation and failing to provide specific performance standards.
  • Golden Door Properties, LLC v. Superior Court, in which the Court of Appeal concluded that a lead agency must maintain and include in the record all written materials, including correspondence, relevant to its CEQA compliance and project evaluation.
  • San Francisco Taxi Coalition v. City and County of San Francisco, in which the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal concluded that local regulations prioritizing certain taxi medallion holders did not constitute a "project" under CEQA, despite the claim that the regulations would potentially increase the number of passenger-less trips that taxi drivers took as well as the general demand for rides.

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