Posts Tagged ‘Regional Transportation Plan’


In a 6/1 opinion, the California Supreme Court held that the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) did not abuse its discretion by failing to present a consistency analysis in the EIR for its 2011 regional transportation plan (RTP) comparing anticipated GHG emissions with the long-term reduction goals presented in Executive Order (EO) S-3-05, in Cleveland National Forest Foundation v. San Diego Association of Governments (2017) 3 Cal. 5th 497.  The court reasoned that SANDAG had adequately informed the public, using information available at the time, of inconsistencies with overall state climate goals.

In 2011, SANDAG issued its RTP as a 40-year blueprint for regional transportation planning. The RTP was accompanied by an EIR that used three thresholds of significance to assess GHG impacts. Compared to existing (2010) conditions, the EIR found GHG impacts to be “not significant” in 2020, but significant in both 2035 and 2050. The EIR also analyzed GHG emissions against statutory goals for the years 2020 and 2035, but did not compare emissions against the long-term (2050) goal set forth in EO S-3-5 (80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050).  In response to comments that were critical of the GHG analysis, SANDAG maintained that it had no obligation to analyze projected GHG emissions against the Executive Order.

Several groups filed lawsuits challenging the EIR and the Attorney General later joined the petitioners. The superior court found the EIR inadequate and issued a writ of mandate. The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that, among other flaws, the EIR violated CEQA by failing to measure GHG impacts against the Executive Order.

The Supreme Court granted review on the following question: “Must the environmental impact report for a regional transportation plan include an analysis of the plan‘s consistency with the greenhouse gas emission reduction goals reflected in Executive Order No. S-3-05 to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.)?”

Addressing this question, the Supreme Court held that the EIR was not required to include an express analysis of GHG impacts compared to the Executive Order’s goals. The court was careful, however, to limit its holding to the facts before it, explaining that it was holding “only that SANDAG, in analyzing greenhouse gas impacts at the time of the EIR, did not abuse its discretion by declining to adopt the Executive Order as a measure of significance or to discuss the Executive Order more than it did.” The court noted that this level of analysis would not “necessarily be sufficient going forward.”

Finding that an express consistency analysis was not required, the court disagreed that the EIR obscured the statutory framework or statewide goals, although it conceded that SANDAG could have presented the information in “clearer or more graphic” ways. Because the EIR presented anticipated GHG emissions in 2050 and discussed the long-term goals in the Executive Order, the court found that the information was “not difficult” for the public to obtain to conduct a consistency analysis. The court stressed that the inclusion of this information in responses to comments instead of the EIR itself was “not an infirmity” because it would be expected that members of the public “interested in the contents of an EIR will not neglect this section.”

The court acknowledged the parties’ understanding that an executive order does not carry the “force of a legal mandate” when preparing a CEQA document but did not discuss this issue further. Nor did the Court prescribe this specific outcome for other agencies but instead repeatedly asserted the “narrowness” of its ruling and that planning agencies must ensure their analysis keeps up with “evolving scientific knowledge and state regulatory schemes.” In reversing the Court of Appeal’s judgement, the court ruled only that the 2011 analysis of GHGs emissions did not render the EIR inadequate. The court declined to express an opinion on other deficiencies identified by the trial court and Court of Appeal.

In a comprehensive dissent that included a detailed discussion of the legislative framework, Justice Cuéllar maintained that SANDAG’s EIR lacked “good faith reasoned analysis” because it obscured important GHG information. Justice Cuéllar pointed to the “relative clarity of statewide statutory goals” as reasoning why SANDAG did not have the discretion to downplay the GHG consequences of its RTP. Further, he expressed concern that the majority’s ruling could allow other regional planning agencies to “shirk their responsibilities.”

Remy Moose Manley (Whitman F. Manley, Laura M. Harris, and Christopher L. Stiles) submitted an Amicus Curiae brief in support of SANDAG.

[Casey Shorrock Smith]

In a 2-1 decision, the Fourth District Court of Appeal concluded that the environmental impact report (EIR) for a regional transportation plan for the San Diego area was inadequate because it did not apply a long-term greenhouse gas emissions reduction target contained in a 2005 Executive Order. The opinion, Cleveland National Forest Foundation v. San Diego Association of Governments, Case No. D063288, was filed Nov. 24, 2014, includes a vigorous dissent, and is available here.

The case involved the 2050 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy, adopted in 2011 by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). The Regional Transportation Plan calls for investing $214 billion in local, state and federal transportation funds over the next 40 years for transit projects and improvements to highways, roads and streets. The Sustainable Communities Strategy is designed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to state-mandated levels over time. The San Diego region was the first region in California to produce a Regional Transportation Plan that includes a Sustainable Communities Plan, as required by Senate Bill 375.

At issue in the case was a 2005 Executive Order issued by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Executive Order established reduction targets for GHG emissions, including a target of 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Following the 2005 Executive Order, the Legislature enacted the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) and the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 (SB 375). SB 375 requires the California Air Resources Board to establish regional reduction targets for GHG emissions from cars and light duty trucks for 2020 and 2035, and to revisit those targets every eight years through 2050 or sooner if circumstances warrant. The Air Resources Board set initial regional reduction goals for 2020 and 2035, but not beyond.

The program EIR for SANDAG’s Regional Transportation Plan applied three different thresholds to analyze the significance of GHG emissions, based on CEQA Guidelines section 15064.4. The EIR’s analysis included standards tied to the years 2020 and 2035. The EIR discussed the Executive Order’s 2050 reduction target, but explained it did not apply it to the analysis because the Air Resources Board had not yet developed such a formal target. The EIR found the proposed transportation plan would lead to GHG emissions reductions through 2020, but increases in emissions after that.

The petitioners, Cleveland National Forest Foundation and Sierra Club, challenged the EIR on several grounds under CEQA. Among other things, the petitioners found fault with the EIR because it did not analyze longer term GHG emissions impacts under the goal contained in the 2005 Executive Order. SANDAG argued the EIR could not apply policy goals contained in the Executive Order because no statute or regulation had translated the Order’s goals into “comparable, scientifically based emissions reduction targets.”

The majority agreed with the petitioners that the EIR’s GHG impacts analysis was deficient. According to the majority opinion, the failure to use the Executive Order’s 2050 target as a significance threshold violated CEQA’s requirement for a “reasonable, good faith effort at full disclosure.” The majority referred to the omission as a failure to perform a “consistency analysis” with the Executive Order.

The majority also held that the EIR violated CEQA by failing to analyze a reasonable range of project alternatives, failing to adequately analyze and mitigate the transportation plan’s air quality impacts, improperly deferring the formulation of mitigation, and understating the plan’s impacts on agricultural lands.

The dissent described the majority’s requirement of a “consistency analysis” with the Executive Order as “judicial fiat, pure and simple” and “a new formulation of the law.” The dissent stated that a policy directive from the Governor’s office does not constitute a required threshold of significance under CEQA. According to the dissent, in the absence of the Legislature’s independent action in tasking the Air Resources Board with adopting regional 2050 GHG targets, the EIR was not required to consider the broad 2050 goals contained in the Executive Order.