Posts Tagged ‘Program EIR’


The Third District Court of Appeal held that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s program EIR analyzing the Department’s statewide fish hatchery and stocking enterprise passed muster. The Department did not abuse its discretion in the manner it organized the EIR, analyzed the project, and mitigated numerous impacts. The court also found, however, that the Department had violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) by adopting three mitigation measures, which imposed new obligations on private aquaculture facilities and required the Department to perform new duties, without complying with APA procedures. Center for Biological Diversity v. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (Feb. 10, 2015) ___ Cal.App.4th ___, Case No. C072486.

The Department operates 14 trout hatcheries and 10 salmon and steelhead hatcheries throughout the state, stocking fish at close to 1,000 locations each year. After CEQA’s enactment, the hatching and stocking enterprise was found categorically exempt from complying with CEQA. Subsequently, concerns arose regarding the enterprise’s impact on native and wild animals due to predation and genetic hybridization. To address these concerns, the Department developed aquatic biodiversity management plans and hatchery genetic management plans. Center for Biological Diversity sued the Department in 2006, and the trial court agreed with the Center that the enterprise was not categorically exempt from CEQA because it likely caused significant environmental impacts. The court in this prior suit ordered the Department to prepare an EIR and comply with CEQA.

The Department prepared a broad-scope, program EIR/environmental impact statement pursuant to that decision and to additionally comply with NEPA. The EIR analyzed the statewide hatchery and stocking enterprise, as well as three other programs, including the Fishing in the City Program (providing fishing opportunities in urban areas), and the Private Stocking Permit Program (authorizing fish stocking by private aquaculture facilities in private and public lakes and ponds). The Department selected operations from 2004 to 2008 as the baseline and identified more than 200 impacts on biological resources. The EIR proposed a number of mitigation measures to lessen these impacts, and laid out three project alternatives. The EIR did not consider closing the hatcheries or eliminating trout stocking as alternatives.

The Department’s EIR was challenged by the Center and other plaintiffs representing environmental interests in two separate CEQA suits, with plaintiffs representing recreational fishing interests bringing a third suit under the APA. The trial court upheld the EIR and found no violations of the APA. The appellate court affirmed in part and reversed in part.

First, the Third District addressed the EIR’s level of analysis. The CEQA Guidelines do not specify the level of analysis required to be performed in a program EIR. Rather, the Guidelines require an EIR to provide sufficient information in light of what is reasonably feasible. The court found the EIR satisfied that standard. The document reviewed and analyzed the hatchery and stocking enterprise specifically and comprehensively, but within reason, providing for further environmental review where warranted. Given the nature and statewide scope of the project and the consistency of its impacts across the state, the court found the analysis adequate to serve as a program EIR that also operated as project EIR. No additional site-specific environmental review was required given the agency’s determination that site-specific impacts were sufficiently addressed in the program EIR, and there were no new impacts. Indeed, that is the function of a program EIR.

The court also found the EIR did not impermissibly defer formulation of mitigation measures, as it provided sufficient performance standards for future mitigation to meet. The court noted that the rule prohibiting deferred mitigation prohibits loose or open-ended performance criteria. Here, in contrast, the EIR’s performance standards were sufficient to inform the Department what it had to do and accomplish, and committed the Department to mitigating impacts before proceeding with the enterprise. The performance standards were sufficient to ensure the aquatic biodiversity management plans would mitigate impacts in mountain lakes to insignificance. The Department also relied upon federal regulations to develop mitigation measures for impacts on anadromous fish.

The court held that the Department properly used the existing enterprise as the environmental baseline. The court rejected the Center’s contention that the EIR must use the existing environmental conditions—absent the project—as the baseline. It noted that though the origin of present conditions may interest enforcement agencies, such information is irrelevant to CEQA baseline determinations. The CEQA baseline must include existing conditions even when those conditions have never been reviewed and are unlawful. Furthermore, despite using the existing enterprise as the baseline, the EIR described, as much as reasonably possible the impacts hatcheries and stocking have had statewide on the environment from the enterprise’s inception more than a century ago, and proposed mitigation for those continuing impacts. Thus, the EIR did exactly what the Center sought.

Finally, the court held the EIR considered an adequate range of alternatives. For the no project alternative, the EIR considered the baseline project—continuation of the existing enterprise without making any changes. The court upheld this decision, noting that where the EIR is reviewing an existing operation or changes to that operation, the no project alternative is the existing operation; it is a factually based forecast of the environmental impacts of preserving the status quo. The court rejected the Center’s argument that the no project alternative should have been the elimination of the stocking enterprise, stating that the EIR is not the approval of a new program, but review of an ongoing one. The Department was not required to analyze the alternative scenario of discontinuing its hatchery and production enterprise, as it had no legal authority to implement a no-stocking alternative.

Turning to the APA contentions, the court concluded that three mitigation measures imposed by the Department were underground regulations, i.e., regulations adopted without complying with the notice and procedure requirements imposed by the APA. The mitigation measures at issue were: MM BIO-226 (Implement Private Stocking Permit Evaluation Protocol), MM BIO-229 (Require and Monitor Invasive Species Controls at Private Aquaculture Facilities), and MM BIO-233b (Implement Private Stocking Permit Evaluation Protocol). The court found that the measures fell within the definition of a “regulation” and were not exempt from APA requirements. The court rejected the Department’s argument that MM BIO-226 was exempt as a regulation relating “only to the internal management of the state agency,” and that MM BIO-229 and MM BIO-233b were exempt as regulations that embody the “only legally tenable interpretation of a provision of law.” In particular, the court concluded that MM BIO-226 required the Department to “perform a new duty” and MM BIO-229 imposed on a “class of persons a new affirmative duty.” The court’s application of the APA to mitigation measures in a state agency’s EIR appears to be a first and could have far-reaching implications on other EIRs studying statewide activities.

The Third District Court of Appeal held that the application of CEQA to the California High-Speed Train project was not preempted by federal law in Town of Atherton v. California High Speed Rail Authority (July 24, 2014, Case No. C070877). On the merits, the Court ruled in favor of the Authority on all claims, finding that the Authority’s program EIR wholly complied with CEQA.

As California’s plans for a high-speed train system have developed over the past two decades, the system’s alignment from the Central Valley to the San Francisco Bay Area became an area of contention. The particular dispute was over the Authority’s decision that trains travelling between the Central Valley and the Bay should travel through the Pacheco Pass, which turns west from between Fresno and Merced, rather than farther north at the Altamont Pass, which turns west from the Central Valley south of Stockton. According to the Authority’s corridor evaluation report, the Altamont Pass would require additional tracks to provide train service to San Jose, resulting in less frequent service to San Francisco and San Jose absent the provision of additional trains. Based upon this determination, the Authority prepared an EIR identifying the Pacheco Pass as the preferred alternative.

After a legal challenge to the initial EIR, the Authority revised its program EIR and again selected the Pacheco Pass route as the preferred alternative. The South Bay town of Atherton challenged the adequacy of the revised EIR and approval of the Pacheco Pass alternative, arguing that the program EIR violated CEQA because it (1) provided an inadequate analysis of the vertical profile options for alignment (i.e., where to elevate the track) along the San Francisco Peninsula; (2) used a flawed revenue and ridership model; and (3) had an inadequate range of alternatives because it rejected an alternative proposed by one expert consulting company.

Preemption

Prior to oral argument, the Authority asked the court to dismiss the case, contending that federal law, specifically the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA), preempted any CEQA remedy. It argued that the ICCTA created exclusive federal regulatory jurisdiction and a federal agency, the Surface Transportation Board, had recently assumed jurisdiction over the High-Speed Train. The court found it did not need to decide whether the ICCTA preempts CEQA as to the train, however, because at least one exception to preemption applied here. Under the market participation doctrine, proprietary state actions are protected from federal preemption. The court found no evidence supporting the Authority’s contention that the market participant exception could only be asserted defensively. Accordingly, the court held that CEQA applies to the project and proceeded to address petitioners’ claims on the merits.

Adequacy of the Program EIR

The court next addressed petitioners’ claims regarding the adequacy of the program EIR. The court upheld the Authority’s use of a program EIR and held that the Authority properly deferred site-specific analysis, including the vertical alignment, to a later project EIR. The court stated that the precise vertical alignment of the train at specific locations is the type of site-specific consideration that must be examined in detail in a project-level EIR. Requiring such analysis at the program level, the court reasoned, would undermine the purpose of tiering and would create a burdensome level of detail in the larger-scale program EIR.

The court also held that the challenge to the revenue and ridership modeling presented a disagreement among experts that did not make the revised final project EIR inadequate. Petitioners failed to show that the Authority’s ridership model was “clearly inadequate or unsupported,” and the modelers had followed generally accepted professional standards. Thus, substantial evidence supported use of that model.

Finally, the court held that the Authority studied an adequate range of alternatives and was not required to analyze the Altamont Pass alternative proposed by petitioners’ consulting company, given that the alternative was substantially similar to the alternatives already studied and that range of alternatives was not shown to be inadequate.

California Clean Energy Committee v. City of Woodland, Case No. C072033 (April 1, 2014)

Petrovich Development Company, LLC proposed to develop a 234-acre regional shopping center knows as “Gateway II” on undeveloped agricultural land located on the outskirts of the City of Woodland. After preparing a programmatic EIR, the city council reduced the size of the project to 61.3 acres and approved the project. California Clean Energy Committee (CCEC) filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the city’s approval of the project. The trial court denied the petition.

On appeal CCEC contended (1) the trial court erred in concluding the project did not conflict with the city’s general plan, (2) the city’s mitigation measures are insufficient to ameliorate the urban decay that the project could cause, (3) the city did not give meaningful consideration to feasible project alternatives such as the mixed-use alternative, and (4) the final EIR did not properly identify and analyze potentially significant energy impacts generated by the project.

In an unpublished portion of the opinion, the court rejected CCEC’s first claim that city’s actions in approving Gateway II violated the State Planning and Zoning Law because the project was inconsistent with the city’s general plan policy of revitalizing its downtown. The court held the CCEC had failed to preserve this argument because its CEQA petition had failed to plead a separate violation of the Planning and Zoning Law.

With respect to CCEC’s claims regarding the City’s urban decay mitigation measures, the court agreed with CCEC that the measures were inadequate to mitigate the urban decay anticipated to result from the project. The mitigation measures the city adopted required the developer (1) to apply for a master conditional use permit subject to future evaluation and potential further environmental review and indicating a list of specific project uses that “shall primarily consist of regional retail uses that do not include entertainment uses and other uses that would compete with retail in Downtown Woodland”; (2) to submit a market study and urban decay analysis for review and approval by the city’s Community Development Department showing either that adequate retail demand exists or require additional mitigation or an alternate use; (3) to contribute funds toward the development of a “Retail Strategic Plan” to be prepared by the city; (4) to contribute funds toward the preparation of an “Implementation Strategy for the Downtown Specific Plan” to be prepared by the city; and (5) to “coordinate with the current owner of the County Fair Mall to prepare a strategic land use plan for the County Fair Mall to analyze potential viable land uses for the site.” The EIR determined, however, that even with the implementation of this mitigation, the city still anticipated the urban decay impact to be significant and unavoidable, in part because it was unknown at the time of approval what specific uses and stores could be proposed in the future in the project area.

The court found, as to the first mitigation measure, it was permissible under CEQA because it served to ensure the primary retail uses for the development will be regional and would not outright ban all retail uses that compete with the city’s downtown. The court also accepted the city’s representation that it “merely found that this measure would help, albeit not enough to avoid the significant urban decay impact identified by the EIR.” The court found, however, that the measure was inadequate, standing alone, to mitigate the potential adverse impacts of the development.

The court found that the second mitigation measure, by requiring the developer to prepare the market study, impermissibly ceded the city’s responsibility for studying an environmental impact to the developer. The court rejected CCEC’s claim that the city council erred by delegating the responsibility to implement the mitigation measure to the community development department, finding that delegation of responsibility for a monitoring program is appropriate under CEQA. Further, the court found the market study measure was inadequate because it did not commit the city to any specific mitigation action or impose any performance standards for determining whether it needed to undertake any future measures. Despite the fact that the EIR was a programmatic review which anticipated potential future environmental review for site-specific discretionary projects, the court concluded that, given the city’s recognition that the project would cause urban decay, the mitigation was required to do more than merely agree to a future study of the problem.

The court found the third and fourth mitigation measures were similarly inadequate for their failure to commit the city to any feasible or enforceable mitigation measures to ameliorate the adverse effects of the project on urban decay elsewhere in Woodland. The requirement for preparation of the Retail Strategic Plan and Implementation Strategy for a downtown specific plan appeared in the Draft EIR without further discussion or analysis. The final EIR adopted these mitigation measures without elaboration. The court explained that although mitigation fee programs may constitute adequate mitigation to address the adverse effects of a project, the mere payment of fees does not presumptively establish full mitigation for a discretionary project if there is no evidence that there is an established fee program in place. Here, the court found the city’s EIR did not adequately assess the scope of the program or fees necessary to adequately address the urban decay impacts expected to result from the project.

Finally, the court found that the fifth measure, although it purported to alleviate expected urban decay at Woodland’s County Fair Mall, required the city to take no action other than to coordinate with the current owner to prepare a plan for viable land uses at the County Fair Mall. The court found the mitigation measure does not require any action by the city to mitigate the urban decay it may discover to result for the County Fair Mall. As such, the court held this purported mitigation measure was inadequate. The court found that, though the EIR was a programmatic EIR, tiering of environmental review and deferring environmental analysis and mitigation measures to later phases would only be appropriate in cases where the impacts or mitigation measures are specific to those later phases. Here, because the EIR studied and attempted to mitigate the urban decay effects from the project as a whole, the city could not be permitted to excuse inadequate mitigation by putting off corrective action to a future date.

The court then held the city failed to comply with CEQA when it rejected the mixed-use alternative as infeasible. The Draft EIR concluded that the alternative was infeasible due to economic considerations; however, the city council’s findings rejected the alternative as environmentally inferior to the project. The court found the city had adopted a rationale for rejecting the alternative that was unsupported by the EIR analysis, which assumed certain impacts would be similar to the project impacts.

Finally, the court found the city’s treatment of energy impacts was inadequate. The court noted that the EIR’s discussion of energy lacked detail as it comprised less than one page. Furthermore, the court found the discussion inadequate as it did not provide an assessment of or mitigation for certain energy impact categories set forth in Appendix F of the CEQA Guidelines including transportation energy impacts, construction energy impacts, and renewable energy impacts. While the EIR did require the project’s compliance with the state building code and green building standards, the court found such standards alone would not adequately mitigate construction and operational energy impacts of the project.