GDB Obtains Significant Court of Appeal Win on CEQA Water Supply Issues for First Two Phases of Newhall Ranch

Environmental/Land Use Alert (April 28, 2020)

On April 3, 2020, the California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District, Division Five, issued its opinion affirming the water supply analysis for the first two phases of the Newhall Ranch planned community in northwestern Los Angeles County, California. Those phases, Mission Village and Landmark Village, comprise nearly 5,500 homes and more than 2.5 million square feet of commercial and retail uses to assist the County in accommodating its housing and projected growth over the long-term.

In Friends of the Santa Clara River v. County of Los Angeles, et al., Appellate No. B296547, long-time project opponents challenged the County’s 2017 certification of additional environmental analyses performed for the Mission Village and Landmark Village projects. Petitioners contended the County should have prepared subsequent Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) to address the “new information and changed circumstances” arising from more severe drought and climate change conditions than were disclosed in the projects’ prior EIRs. Petitioners also contended the County was required to prepare new Water Supply Assessments (WSAs) for the two development projects, though WSAs had been completed and included in the projects’ prior EIRs.

Applying the substantial evidence standard of review, the Court of Appeal upheld the County’s approval of the two projects. As to water supplies, the Court determined there was substantial evidence to support the County’s determination that no new information or changed circumstances warranted further review of the projects’ water supply impacts. The projects’ prior EIRs analyzed water supply under average/normal, wet, and multiple dry-year conditions, and under all such conditions, the County determined there was adequate water supplies to serve the two projects. The evidence supporting the County’s water supply sufficiency findings consisted of 86 years of hydrological data, the data contained in the 2010 and 2015 Urban Water Management Plans, the information in various other water supply reports, and the analysis  included in Final EIR responses to comments. The Court also found that the record evaluated climate change and drought, as well as their effects on the region’s water supplies. The Court held that the County was aware of the threat posed by drought and climate change when it certified the projects’ prior EIRs and that these water supply risks were known, disclosed, and not new.  

Further, the Court of Appeal determined that Petitioners failed to properly exhaust their WSA argument; and, therefore, that argument was not properly preserved for appeal.

The Court of Appeal’s opinion is an example of how the CEQA substantial evidence standard of review should be applied with deference afforded to the public agency. 

For further information, contact Mark J. Dillon at (760) 431-9501 or (760) 212-7711 (cell) or Kendall F. Kraus at (760) 431-9501.

[This case alert does not constitute legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is created by viewing or responding to this alert.  Legal counsel should be sought for answers to specific legal questions.]