We Won! CA Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Friant Ranch Environmental Appellants Lawsuit

mountains and smoggy air
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News

The California Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling on Christmas Eve in favor of the public-interest appellants League of Women Voters of Fresno, Sierra Club, and Revive the San Joaquin. The developers of a 2,500 home project near Millerton Lake had originally received approval from the Fresno County Board of Supervisors almost 8 years ago but continuing litigation has impeded any start on the massive 942 acre community. Underscoring the import of the Supreme Court’s ruling, prominent environmental attorney Richard Drury of Lozeau Drury in Oakland stated “This is the most significant CEQA case in a decade.” CEQA is the California Environmental Quality Act. The unanimous opinion by Supreme Court Justice Ming Chin holds that EIRs (environmental impact reviews) must explain the nature and magnitude of a proposed project’s significant air pollution on public health in a way that the public can understand. The case has been under the supervision of attorney Sara Hedgpeth Harris, a long-time member of our League.

The developers will now have to re-do and revise the air quality report to meet the requirements of the judges’ decision. The decision also clarifies California law as to the long-debated “standard of review” that courts must apply when a public agency’s project approval is challenged for violations of CEQA. The Supreme Court has now definitively resolved the dispute, fully agreeing with the appellants and with the Fifth District Court of Appeal’s ruling in 2014: courts must exercise independent judgment as to whether EIRs comply with CEQA’s information disclosure mandates, and cannot simply defer to evidence and arguments presented to the court by the agency and project sponsors, as argued by Friant Ranch. This decision will not only improve the environmental review of the Friant Ranch project in Fresno County — requiring meaningful analysis of public health impacts from significant levels of project-related air pollution — but also profoundly affectsthe way the state environmental law must be implemented throughout California. The long-running case has been in litigation since 2011 and included a fundraiser in 2014 when now-deceased poet laureate Philip Levine of Fresno spoke and read his poetry at the Newman Center, sponsored by LWVF and supported by our members and the public.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Attorney Sara Hedgpeth-Harris: 559.905.2150, sara.hedgpethharris [at] shh-law.com    Gary Lasky, Sierra Club: 559.790.3495, tehipite.chapter [at] sierraclub.org              Marianne Kast, League of Women Voters of Fresno: 559.270.7937, fourkasts [at] gmail.com Attorney Susan Brandt-Hawley: 707.732.0007, susanbh [at] me.com                   Attorney Richard Drury: 415.846.9148

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 

California Supreme Court Ruling Clarifies CEQA in favor of the Sierra Club, Revive the San Joaquin, and League of Women Voters of Fresno, confirming inadequate environmental review of the Friant Ranch project. Project approval set aside; new air quality analysis required Fresno (Dec. 27, 2018) – The California Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling on Christmas Eve in favor of the public-interest appellants Sierra Club, Revive the San Joaquin, and the League of Women Voters of Fresno. Underscoring the import of the Supreme Court’s ruling, prominent environmental attorney Richard Drury of Lozeau Drury in Oakland stated “This is the most significant CEQA case in a decade.” The unanimous opinion by Supreme Court Justice Ming Chin holds that EIRs (environmental impact reports) must explain the nature and magnitude of a proposed project’s significant air pollution on public health in a way that the public can understand. The decision also clarifies California law as to the long-debated “standard of review” that courts must apply when a public agency’s project approval is challenged for violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The Supreme Court has now definitively resolved the dispute, fully agreeing with the appellants and with the Fifth District Court of Appeal’s ruling in 2014: courts must exercise independent judgment as to whether EIRs comply with CEQA’s information disclosure mandates, and cannot simply defer to evidence and arguments presented to the court by the agency and project sponsors, as argued by Friant Ranch. This decision will not only improve the environmental review of the Friant Ranch project in Fresno County — requiring meaningful analysis of public health impacts from significant levels of project-related air pollution — but also profoundly affects the way the state environmental law must be implemented throughout California. Friant Ranch L.P. petitioned the Court for review on two primary issues affecting CEQA cases statewide: “1. Does the substantial evidence standard of review apply to a court's review of whether an EIR provides sufficient information on a topic required by CEQA, or is this a question of law subject to independent judicial review? 2. Is an EIR adequate when it identifies the health impacts of air pollution and quantifies a project's expected emissions, or does CEQA further require the EIR to correlate a project's air quality emissions to specific health impacts?” (Friant Ranch Opening Brief, Supreme Court.) The Supreme Court answered both questions in the affirmative, as argued by appellants Sierra Club, League of Women Voters, and Revive the San Joaquin. As explained by counsel Sara Hedgpeth-Harris, “The Supreme Court’s landmark ruling will benefit our California environment by enforcing CEQA not only for Friant Ranch but also for other projects statewide. Even the section of the ruling addressing mitigation measures protects environmental values and appellants are very satisfied with the result.” Counsel Susan Brandt-Hawley offered that “the unanimous Court’s clear explanation of how California courts must review EIR adequacy will greatly benefit agencies, project sponsors, and citizens alike.” “It’s good to see CEQA working as it was intended,” added Gary Lasky of the Sierra Club Tehipite Chapter. “Consultants preparing EIRs should provide information and analysis that fully and meaningfully explains the environmental and public health consequences of proposed projects.” “We are very happy that our groups were able to prevail at the Supreme Court on the issues most critical to us in this long battle and that this case has clarified the way EIRs are required to address environmental impacts and public health statewide,” said Marianne Kast, President of the League of Women Voters chapter in Fresno. “At its heart, CEQA requires transparency, so that the public can understand the environmental consequences of proposed projects and hold elected officials accountable for their decisions.”  CA Supreme Court Ruling Friant Ranch

 

 

 

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