In 2010, TRANSDEF, along with fellow litigants the Sierra Club and the California Nurses Association, prevailed in challenging Sonoma County’s approval of a new Sutter Hospital on the fringe of Santa Rosa. Their claim rested on the EIR’s inadequate examination of increased greenhouse gas emissions resulting from auto travel to the new project. After the litigants won a favorable ruling, the County agreed to require Sutter Hospital to provide a free shuttle to the hospital from the nearest commuter rail station in addition to constructing a bike lane and providing free transit passes to employees. The facilities are set to meet LEED Silver certification standards, which will make the hospital one of the greenest of its kind in California. The hospital is planning to open in October 2014. Thanks to CEQA, stakeholders with concerns about the project were able to bring about significant changes that reduced the environmental impacts of the facility.
In 2003, the ConocoPhillips Company proposed an expansion of its Rodeo oil refinery in order to produce cleaner burning low-sulfur diesel fuel. While this goal would benefit California in the long run by reducing overall emissions, the construction and subsequent increased production would harm the immediate area by causing increased air pollution. Communities for a Better Environment and several labor unions reviewed the Draft EIR and determined that the project would increase cancer risk in the surrounding community, create higher levels of particulate matter and diesel exhaust, and generate sulfur-related odor impacts. Working with ConocoPhillips through the CEQA process, CBE and the unions were able to devise several mitigation strategies to reduce localized impacts while still allowing the project to move forward. These measures included the installation of a high performance drift eliminator to reduce particle emissions and the usage of ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel to reduce diesel exhaust emissions, among many others. Because of the CEQA process ConocoPhillips is now producing cleaner fuel that benefits all of California while still protecting those who live closest to the refinery from harmful emissions.
After rapid expansion in the mid-1980s, Contra Costa County recognized the need for a new landfill and decided to take action. The County Community Development Department conducted a program EIR and selected Keller Canyon as the site of the newest countywide solid waste processing facilities. Located in the hills behind Pittsburg near the Sacramento River Delta, Keller Canyon boasted the most centralized location, the shortest haul times, and the fewest estimated impacts on transportation and air quality. A more rigorous EIR was then conducted for the project, with the CEQA process taking nearly two years to complete. The primary threat, the analysis revealed, involved leachate leaching out of solid wastes into surface and ground water. With the City of Pittsburg and the Delta downstream, preventing contamination was vital to public and environmental health. Mitigation measures involved design alterations that would limit and contain the harmful waste in a complicated composite leachate control system. A monitoring well system was also installed to detect off-site leaking. After years of extensive planning, the project was approved and constructed in the early 1990s. CEQA played the integral role in shaping the state of the art facility that remains a model of an environmentally sound landfill today.
In 1975, the Ventura County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) approved the annexation of prime agricultural land for the development of a 10,000 person “mini-city” without requiring an EIR. The LAFCo and the City of Camarillo claimed that such information was irrelevant at the time because the project was still in the early stages of the land use planning process. Community members, citing CEQA, contended that LAFCo ought to have completed an EIR prior to approving the annexation of property for future development in court. In Bozung v. Ventura County Local Agency Formation, the California Supreme Court agreed with the plaintiffs. An EIR was completed in 1977, noting that the proposed development of prime agricultural land would deprive the County of jobs and tax revenues, require profuse amounts of public spending for the construction of public services like schools and roads, and that developing other sites in Camarillo would have fewer environmental impacts. When the LAFCo saw the proposed annexation application a second time, the Commissioners unanimously voted against it. CEQA continues to prove extremely helpful to LAFCos today, providing them invaluable information about environmental and infrastructure impacts to help inform their decisions.
The Breuner property, located in Richmond on the southeastern end of the San Pablo Bay, includes 238 acres of marshes and coastal prairie land. The property is the only possible path for the San Francisco Bay Trail to connect in the area. The Bay Trail project will form an unbroken pathway along the San Francisco Bay shoreline. Bay Area Wetlands LLC bought the Breuner property in 2000 and intended to sell it to the highest bidding developer. Several development plans were proposed, and at one point plans to construct “Edgewater Technology Park” were nearly finalized; environmentalists and members of Parchester Village, a nearby community, fought back to protect the site. Development plans were dropped after the outpouring of community response. In 2008 the Easy Bay Regional Park District acquired 218 acres on the property through eminent domain. The property now serves as a regional park. In 2012, the EBRPD conducted its final EIR under CEQA and was cleared to begin restoration and construction of the Trail and other key facilities that will protect the space and its wildlife, including the endangered California Clapper Rail, and prepare it for public enjoyment in fall 2013. After years of uncertainty, CEQA has finally ensured that this property will serve as an environmental sanctuary for all to enjoy.
Building plans for Walmart Supercenters in Perris and Yucca Valley were suspended after the Center for Biological Diversity and others filed lawsuits against the retailer in 2007 and 2008. Citing a violation of CEQA, these groups argued that Walmart’s EIR did not adequately evaluate the greenhouse gas impacts its new stores would have on climate change. A settlement was reached in 2010 when Walmart agreed to install rooftop solar panels, efficient heating and cooling systems, and LED lighting in both stores. These measures were aimed at reducing the effects of increased greenhouse gas emissions on the communities the stores would be placed in, as well as on the region as a whole. Additionally, Walmart agreed to contribute $120,000 towards conservation efforts by the Mojave Desert Land Trust. CEQA helped guide these projects to become cleaner and more environmentally friendly and also set an important precedent in requiring big box stores to find creative ways to minimize their greenhouse gas pollution.
In preparation for San Francisco’s hosting of the 2013 the America’s Cup, Piers 27 & 29 were slated to be demolished and rehabilitated to make way for a new two-story cruise terminal. However, the EIR associated with the project showed that the air quality impacts would be significant, in part because cruise ships would have to rely on diesel fuel for power while the piers were rebuilt. Thanks to the analysis and disclosure required by the CEQA process, mitigation measures were implemented to reduce these negative environmental impacts. In the end, permanent shore-side power was installed at Pier 70 to create an alternative docking area for the cruise ships during construction. The benefits of this mitigation effort was conservatively estimated as a reduction of 11 tons of reactive organic gases, 215 tons of NOx, and 6 tons of particulate matter in 2013 alone.
In 1994 the San Gabriel Groundwater Basin was in danger of pollution from an unlined landfill proposed by the Azusa Land Reclamation Company. Despite evidence that the landfill would pollute the groundwater basin, no CEQA review was conducted in the approval process. Concerned citizens, including elected officials, and local municipal water districts sued to prevent the project from going forward without mitigation measures. In 1997 the court found that an environmental review was required before the landfill could operate. Ultimately the Azusa Land Reclamation Company signed a deal with other waste management companies in Southern California to fund water treatment plants in the region.
California’s Central Valley contains some of the richest agricultural lands in the world. In 2004, the San Joaquin County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) approved the City of Stockton’s application to amend its sphere of influence to allow for development of 5,400 acres of agricultural land north of Stockton. Concerned that the City had not analyzed the devastating impact that sprawling development would have on agriculture, the Sierra Club filed suit under CEQA. The parties eventually resolved the dispute, with the developers agreeing to pay a substantial agricultural mitigation fee to compensate for the loss of agricultural land within the sphere of influence area. As a result of CEQA, Stockton now has an on-going mechanism for purchasing – and ultimately preserving – some of the most fertile agricultural lands in the Central Valley.
Recognizing the need to ensure the long-term viability of the timber industry, the Legislature established the “Timberland Production Zoning” designation, allowing owners of TPZ lands tax relief between timber harvests. In 2008, Lassen County approved the rezoning of nearly 5,500 acres of TPZ lands owned by Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) to allow non-timber uses, without fully reviewing the potential impacts of the rezoning, including the significant potential for suburban development. Lassen County taxpayers and environmentalists used CEQA to demonstrate that SPI had proposed similar rezonings on 40,000 acres in ten Northern California counties – all with the potential for suburban development – and joined the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention in calling for a cumulative impacts analysis. In a comprehensive settlement, Lassen County agreed to rescind the rezoning.
The City of Pittsburg’s Planning Commission approved a plan by Dow Chemical to rebuild a pesticide plant without requiring the company to prepare an EIR. The plant was intended to expand an existing facility and was designed to triple production. The City argued that the project fell under the “reconstruction or replacement” exemption under CEQA, but non-profit organizations Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and the Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) disagreed, appealing the project approval to the City Council. Despite extensive expert evidence pointing to the dangers associated with increased hazardous chemical production, the City proceeded with project approval. CBE and PANNA sued under CEQA. The case ended in a creative settlement with dozens of mitigation measures, including leveraging opportunities to decrease emissions and improvements to plant safety. Dow Chemical also agreed to invest $1 million in environmental projects in the community.
The town of Forestville, a quaint, rural community in the Russian River area of Sonoma County, is also home to two large sand and gravel quarries. When Sonoma County approved substantial expansions of both quarries at the same time, residents of Forestville had only CEQA to protect them from the significant truck traffic, dust, air pollution, and noise that would result. Before litigation was filed, residents worked out a “good neighbor” agreement with one quarry that reduced truck traffic, called for the use of biodiesel at the quarry, and provided for more incremental expansion of the quarry. After successful litigation against the second quarry, the parties agreed to a settlement that also dramatically reduced the impacts of the quarry expansion. The settlement called for the use of biodiesel and low sulfur fuel, set truck routes to avoid an adjacent school, and mitigated impacts on Green Valley Creek, which provides habitat for imperiled coho salmon and steelhead trout.
In 2003, the City of Stockton approved a $600 million contract privatizing the City’s water utilities for a twenty year period. The contract ceded virtually all operational and managerial control of the City’s drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater utilities to the British company OMI/Thames. Community and environmental groups challenged the City’s claim that the project was exempt from CEQA. Once the City was forced to evaluate the environmental effects of the drastic change in operation of its water utilities, the City decided to terminate the OMI/Thames contract entirely. Thanks to CEQA, Stockton water utilities are now back in the control of City officials, who are fully accountable to the public.
San Diego County has more biodiversity than any other county in North America and is among the top 10 biodiversity regions on earth. Given these extraordinary resources, a local environmental organization became alarmed when San Diego County proposed to rezone 200,000 acres of land in its rural “backcountry.” During the environmental review process, the County neglected to analyze the impacts that this massive rezoning program would have on the County’s sensitive habitats and wildlife. The agency also declined to adopt any mitigation, claiming that it would simply be too expensive. In ruling for the petitioners, the court rejected the County’s approach, reciting these lines from Joni Mitchell: “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” The County was required to re-engage in the CEQA process and identify appropriate mitigation for the rezoning. This case illustrates the statute’s chief benefit: when the public and decision-makers are informed of environmental impacts, a better project will emerge.
CEQA was successfully used to prevent the abuse of a project approval for a development project in East Los Angeles. The City of Los Angeles granted approval to Monterey Hills Investors to develop on Elephant Hill in the 1980s. By 2003 the project size had grown so substantially that the City required the developer prepare a new EIR. The developer in turn filed suit contesting the requirement. Residents of the downhill community of El Sereno also fought the project due to fears of increased flood risks and landslides caused by the development. Previous projects on Elephant Hill had proven that the terrain is not stable enough to safely sustain development, most notably in 2006 when a sinkhole was created by workers installing a fence, and in 2009 when a worker was buried in a landslide. The City and the developer reached a settlement agreement that enabled the City to buy the property and transform it into a nature preserve, providing much-needed local open space and protecting the community of El Sereno.
Rockville Trails, with its breathtaking views of Suisun Valley, epitomizes the rural character and quiet splendor of Solano County. Filled with stands of 800-year-old blue and live oaks, vernal pools, wildflowers and wildlife, Rockville Trails’ 1,500 acres have been eyed for decades by developers hungry to cash in on Solano County’s real estate boom. In 2008, the County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to build a 370-unit subdivision on the property’s oak-studded hillside. Community and conservation groups challenged the plan under CEQA, pointing out that the EIR failed to account for the water and wastewater needs of the proposed development. The CEQA challenge caught the attention of the Solano Land Trust, which saw an opportunity to connect open space preserves and provide public recreational opportunities. The parties ultimately reached a win-win settlement through which the Land Trust purchased the property, thus preserving Rockville Trails in perpetuity.
Surrounded by two regional parks, Barham Ranch has been a favorite destination for hikers and bird-watchers for over 100 years. This 509-acre parcel has spectacular views and is covered with majestic oaks, sage and wildflowers; it includes the most extensive willow woodlands in all of Orange County. In 1999, when the property owners, the Serrano Water District and Orange Unified School District, supported selling Barham Ranch to a developer with plans to build 600 homes, conservationists turned to CEQA to challenge their actions. As a result of the issues raised by CEQA, Orange County officials recognized the need to preserve this special place in perpetuity. Barham Ranch, purchased by the public in 2003, is now the crown jewel of Orange County’s regional park system.
Looking for opportunities to relieve congestion on Bay Area bridges and develop a comprehensive plan for managing population – and commuter – growth in the San Francisco Bay Area, the State of California created a new regional agency to plan for and manage expanded ferry service in the region. When the initial EIR for the expanded service plan was released, community members and conservationists were concerned that it did not adequately analyze and mitigate potential impacts. These groups pointed to projected air pollution caused by diesel-run ferries and likely damage to wildlife habitat in areas where dredging would be required. Community members, the Sierra Club, and the Golden Gate Audubon Society leveraged CEQA to secure mitigation measures to address these concerns. Thanks to negotiations that emerged through the CEQA process, it was agreed that all new ferries would be required to have cleaner burning engines to reduce air pollution impacts. It was also agreed that ferry routes would avoid the most ecologically sensitive areas.
In 2007, community members organized under the name of Neighbors Advocating Sustainable Transportation (NAST), along with the Environmental Council of Sacramento, sued Caltrans over an inadequate Environmental Impact Report for its planned widening of Highway 50. A coalition of Sacramento neighbors and community groups were able to use CEQA to ensure that necessary mitigation measures would be implemented as part of the highway expansion. In 2008 a Sacramento Superior Court Judge ruled that the EIR prepared for the project was indeed deficient. Caltrans ultimately agreed to implement a number of mitigation measures, including increased funding to public transportation to support more frequent service in certain areas and building a bike bridge over the highway.
With the American River running through its center and dense forests along the urban edge, historic Foresthill offers small town charm with recreational opportunities that attract visitors from throughout the state. In December 2008, Placer County adopted a Community Plan for Foresthill that paved the way for extensive scattered residential development in sensitive rural and forest lands. Conservation groups argued that the EIR did not consider the Plan’s impacts on water supply, climate change, wildfires, and the American River. As a result of settling a CEQA lawsuit, the County amended its General Plan to create a more sustainable community. The new Plan addresses the serious fire risk in Foresthill, preserves the American River canyon, ensures a reliable water supply, and minimizes greenhouse gas emissions through energy-efficient building design and promoting alternatives to car transportation.