Third District Reverses Approval of State Capitol Annex Project

In a second published reversal regarding the State Capitol Annex Project, the Third District Court of Appeal agreed with appellant Save the Capitol, Save the Trees in May 2024 that the request by the California Department of General Services to discharge a peremptory writ should have been denied because the sufficiency of a revised EIR for the Annex Project has not yet been adjudicated.

California State Capitol

Superior Court Sets Aside Approval of the Sonoma Developmental Center Specific Plan

On April 26, 2024, Sonoma County Tomorrow and Sonoma Community Advocates for a Liveable Environment (SCALE) prevailed in their lawsuit challenging approvals of the Sonoma Developmental Center Specific Plan. The remarkable property within the small unincorporated community of Glen Ellen includes a historic 180-acre campus surrounded by approximately 755 spectacular acres of open space. The community supports a smaller-scaled plan with substantial affordable housing, reuse of historic resources, and protection of wildlife corridors and natural resources.

Judge Bradford DeMeo ordered that the SDC Specific Plan and EIR approvals be set aside. In a comprehensive 60 page decision, the Court held that the County violated CEQA, because the Plan EIR failed to: include an adequate project description; address impacts on biological resources, wildlife corridors, and wildfire evacuation; address cumulative impacts; and respond to the comments of concerned community members.

The Court also ruled that the "self-mitigating" Specific Plan violated CEQA because "purported mitigation measures in the Plan are ..ineffective, vague, and devoid of any semblance of performance standards."

Finally, the Court rejected the County's findings that a reduced size project is infeasible. "The EIR and the ... record are wholly devoid of anything resembling either substantial evidence or the analytical route which could support the finding that the Preservation Alternative is infeasible."

SDC campus

Court of Appeal Reversal Protects St. James Park in San Jose

The Sixth District Court of Appeal in a unanimous 90-page opinion issued in March 2024 held that the City of San Jose complied with CEQA but violated its Municipal Code in approving the St. James Park Capital Vision and Performing Arts Pavilion Project. The Court reversed the City's approvals of the project's 5,000 seat pavilion and other changes that the City conceded would so transform the historic park and environs that it would lose eligibility for lhe National Register of Historic Places.

St. James Park

Historic Santa Cruz Wharf Case Concludes in January 2024

Following granting of a peremptory Writ by the Santa Cruz Superior Court to require additional environmental review as requested by Don't Morph the Wharf, the City of Santa Crux set side approval of the Santa Cruz Wharf Master Plan. It conducted a revised EIR process and adopted a revised Plan that removed the contested large Landmark Building proposed at the end of the wharf that would destroy sea lion viewing holes and also removed the contested Western Walkway from the Plan. The peremptory writ was then discharged by agreement and court order.

Santa Cruz Wharf

Sea Lion Viewing Holes Santa Cruz Wharf

Glendale Historical Society Protects Historic Aeroplane Craftsman and Increases Multi-Unit Project's Affordable Housing

In September 2023, the Glendale Historical Society reached agreement for revision of a multi-unit market rate housing project following a ruling by the Los Angeles Superior Court granting a peremptory writ. The court set aside an unlawful negative declaration for the project that would have had significant impacts on a historic rare "Aeroplane Craftsman" home. The agreement allowed a revised project to proceed via negative declaration, increasing the housing units from 12 to 15, providing additional affordable units, and protecting the historic Craftsman.

Kenwood Street, Glendale

CEQA: The Facts Please

Article by Susan Brandt-Hawey published in the June 2023 issue of the California Litigation Journal, a publication of the Litigation Law Section of the California Lawyers Association.

Preservation Action Council *San Jose v. City of San Jose

On May 11, 2023, the Sixth District Court of Appeal addressed an issue of first impression as requested by appellant PAC*SJ. Its published opinion holds that agencies conducting CEQA review must analyze the feasibility and nexus of "compensatory mitigation" proposed for threatened historic resources. The court also agreed with PAC*SJ as to the applicable [contested] standard of review for EIR adequacy as well as PAC*SJ's [also-contested] exhaustion of administrative remedies.

PAC*SJ's trial court mandamus petition primarily focused on its contention that the City failed to adequately analyze feasible alternatives to the 8 million square-foot high-rise "CityView" office project. The project, designed pre-pandemic, called for demolition of historic resources including the 1973 Cesar Pelli brutalist Bank of America building, colloquially known as the Sphinx. While the CityView proponents have not otherwise moved the project physically forward in the current context of remote employment, they precipitously demolished the Bank a few days after judgment in 2021.

PAC*SJ did not prevail on the merits of its sole contention on appeal: that the EIR inadequately considered compensatory mitigation for demolition. It nonetheless successfully requested publication. The holdings of the comprehensive opinion address important CEQA issues regarding the standard or review and exhaustion of remedies, and will now newly inform the analysis and imposition of compensatory mitigation when demolition of a threatened historic resource cannot be avoided.

Bank of California
170 Park Center Place, San Jose
1973, Cesar Pelli for Gruen Associates

Calffornia Preservation Foundation Award

Fort Mason, San Francisco, April 20, 2023

"At our 40th Annual Awards program this year, The California Preservation Foundation Board of Trustees selected three winners for the President's Award, a special honor reserved for a few recipients each year. Winners included two Lifetime Achievement Award recipients and one recipient for the Advocacy Award.

Winners this year included:

Lifetime Achievement Award

Susan Brandt-Hawley, who was selected for her life's work protecting a broad scope of cultural resources through legal advocacy. Susan has worked for decades to protect at-risk resources and generously shares her time to teach a range of audiences about the legal aspects of preservation in California."

Save the Capitol, Save the Trees and Save our Capitol! v. Department of General Services

On January 18, 2023, the Third District Court of Appeal reversed a Sacramento Superior Court decision in significant part in a published ruling regarding a project implementing the State Capitol Annex Act. The Court agreed with appellants in two related cases that the project EIR failed to provide analysis and mandatory public review of the planned new glass Annex design, environmental impacts, and potentially feasible alternatives to avoid significant impacts to the iconic West Lawn of the Historic Capitol, the site of countless demonstrations and speeches.

Capitol Complex

Judgment in Favor of George Washington High School Mural Petition

The George Washington High School Alumni Association challenged violations of CEQA in actions taken to block ongoing public view of a dramatic 1936 mural painted on the plaster walls of the historic high school.

Artist Victor Arnautoff completed the expansive mural in the school lobby under auspices of the 1930s New Deal. The San Francisco Board of Education objects to 2 of the 13 frescoes that truthfully portray the tragic realities of early America by depicting African-American slaves and frontiersmen standing over the body of a Native American.

The Alumni Association sought CEQA review of the Board's decision to alter character-defining features of the historic high school by removing the mural from public view. The effort to censor public art of great educational and aesthetic value received national and international attention.

In September 2021 San Francisco Judge Anne-Christine Massullo granted the Alumni's petition for writ of mandamus, ruling that the school district and school board unlawfully precommitted to remove the mural from public view without conducting CEQA review. A writ issued to void the unlawful actions.

The school district and board filed an appeal but dismissed it in May 2022. The school district has complied with the peremptory writ and set aside its unlawful actions.

GWHS Mural

Writ Issues to Protect Historic Santa Cruz Wharf

The association Don't Morph the Wharf! prevailed in February 2022 in its CEQA challenge to the Santa Cruz Wharf Master Plan. Santa Cruz Superior Court Judge Paul Burdick granted judgment and a peremptory writ ordering that the Plan be set aside and not considered for reapproval pending further study and adoption of feasible mitigation and alternatives regarding significant impacts to the historic wharf's sea lion viewing holes and fishing recreation affected by proposed new high-rise buildings and the proposed new western walkway affecting bird habitat. The parties agreed that other important projects that are part of the Wharf Master Plan may proceed, including replacement of wooden piles.

SC Wharf

Supreme Court Issues Ruling in Sierra Club v. County of Fresno

In December 2018, the California Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling authored by Justice Ming Chin. The Court ruled in favor of the Sierra Club and League of Women Voters of Fresno on the primary two issues accepted for review.

The Court resolved the outstanding question as to the standard of judicial review for considering sufficiency of EIRs, which Susan Brandt-Hawley argued before the Court. The opinion makes clear that the question is one of law to be decided by a court without deference to public agencies. The case also holds that EIRs 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.

Protect Niles v. City of Fremont

In July 2018, the First District Court of Appeal Division 5 affirmed the judgment of the Alameda County Superior Court in a published decision. The opinion holds that approval of the Niles Gateway project in an historic area of Niles requires an environmental impact report process due to a fair argument of significant environmental impacts relating to aesthetics and traffic.

SOHO v. City of San Diego

In March 2018 the San Diego Superior Court granted a petition for writ of mandate filed by Save our Heritage Organization (SOHO), agreeing with SOHO that an environmental impact report prepared for a project calling for demolition of the historic California Theater failed to include a full rehabilitation alternative.

California Theatre

Supreme Court Rules in Friends of the College of San Mateo Gardens

In September 2013 the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of the San Mateo County Superior Court granting the Petition for Writ of Mandate sought by Friends of the College of San Mateo Gardens. The Friends -- College students and community members -- successfully argued that environmental review is required to study impacts and alternatives to demolition of the College horticulture complex, including a beloved 60-year old garden proposed to be razed for a parking lot.

The California Supreme Court granted the petition for review filed by the College District, and ultimately held that changes to a project approved via negative declaration are reviewed under CEQA using the 'fair argument' standard, as argued by the Friends. On remand, in May 2017 the First District Court of Appeal again affirmed, in a published decision, the trial court’s 2012 ruling that the College of San Mateo illegally approved the demolition of the College gardens based on a CEQA addendum. An EIR was subsequently prepared.

College of San Mateo

Los Angeles Conservancy v. City of Los Angeles

In April 2017, the Los Angeles County Superior Court granted the petition for writ of mandate and issued a peremptory writ setting aside the City’s approval of demolition of the historic mid-century Lytton Savings Bank in Hollywood, ruling that as found by the project EIR adaptive reuse of the building would be feasible within the 300,000 square foot project designed by architect Frank Gehry.

In 2018, the judgment was reversed by the Second District Court of Appeal in an unpublished decision.

Whittier Conservancy v. California Public Works Board

Following a peremptory writ issued by the Alameda County Superior Court setting aside the state’s extension of an escrow for sale of the surplus property known as “Nelles” in Whittier for failure to comply with Chapters 1 and 2 of CEQA, the Whittier Conservancy settled the case on appeal with additional protections for the Nelles resources and other historic properties in Whittier.

Nelles Infirmary

Court of Appeal Upholds Ruling re State Lands Commission Violation of CEQA

In a published decision on September 17, 2015, in Defend our Waterfront v. California State Lands Commission, the First District Court of Appeal affirmed the granting of a peremptory writ setting aside the State Lands Commission's statutory exemption for the public trust land exchange on the San Francisco Waterfront in connection with the 8 Washington project and Seawall Lot 351.

Court Overturns 8 Washington Project Due to Inadequate EIR

In March 2015, the San Francisco Superior Court ruled in favor of the Neighbors to Preserve the Waterfront and other environmental groups, holding that the EIR prepared for the luxury condominium 8 Washington project proposed on the waterfront was inadequate, and issued a writ ordering that all project approvals be set aside. No appeal was filed.

Ventura Foothill Neighbors prevail in Court of Appeal

The Sixth District Court of Appeal affirmed a trial court judgment in a published opinion in December 2014, holding that the County of Ventura violated CEQA in failing to conduct supplemental environmental review after substantially altering a project without public notice.

Court of Appeal Affirms City of Fresno Error

The Fifth District Court of Appeal published a decision In August 2014 affirming the Fresno Superior Court's ruling that the City's Historic Preservation Commission was not a decisionmaking body authorized to approve a Mitigated Negative Declaration. The demolition challenged by the Citizens for the Restoration of L Street was affirmed as unlawful. However, the Court rejected a cross-appeal relating to identification of historic resources.

Balboa Park Judgment Final

The Fourth District Court of Appeal in San Diego dismissed the City of San Diego's appeal in December 2013 as requested by Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO). The judgment held that the City had unlawfully pre committed to the Plaza de Panama project that threatened the historic integrity of Balboa Park. SOHO prevailed in the CEQA case in 2012, and successfully contended that the case was moot.

Balboa Park

Cordilleras Creek Judgment Issued

On November 15, 2013, Judge Marie Weiner of the San Mateo Superior Court entered judgment in favor of the Friends of Cordilleras Creek and the Finger Avenue Pride Committee, enforcing Redwood City's streambank protection ordinance and setting aside the City's approval of a market-rate housing project encroaching upon the creek.

Settlement Protects First Street Store Mural

The iconic First Street Store Mural in East Los Angeles depicting "The Story of Our Struggle" was the subject of an appeal of a school project without adequate environmental review. Settlement was reached in May 2013 to allow the school project to proceed with the mural incorporated into a new plaza.

Historic Buildings at Leuzinger High School Saved

In May 2012 the Friends and Alumni of Leuzinger High School settled their case seeking designation of historic buildings at the high school and avoidance of further piecemeal demolition. Settlement was made possible by the January ruling of Judge John Torribio of the Los Angeles Superior Court for preliminary injunction as requested by the Friends and Alumni group. The Court stayed demolitions at the high school campus buildings in Lawndale, because Friends "established that the building(s) have architectural significance and have a close association with the 1932 Olympic Games...The destruction or alteration of such structures would be irreparable."

Leuzinger High School

Flanders Mansion Appeal Won

The Sixth District Court of Appeal on January 4, 2012, affirmed the ruling of Judge Kay Kingsley of the Monterey County Superior Court in significant part. The published decision agreed that the EIR challenged by the Flanders Foundation regarding the sale of the historic Flanders Mansion was inadequate and that the form of judgment was proper. The Court disagreed that the EIR was inadequate in addressing impacts relating to the Surplus Lands Act. The Foundation is hopeful that the Court ruling will lead to a cooperative solution preserving the mansion for an appropriate use without cost to the City of Carmel.

Flanders Mansion

Whittier Conservancy success

In May 2011, the California Domestic Water Company successfully moved its 1934 Art Deco office building to prepare it for rehabilitation on another portion of its historic site on Whittier Boulevard, as required by settlement in Whittier Conservancy v. City of Whittier in 2008. The building had initially been approved for demolition. The relocation will allow commercial use of the center of the water district site.

California Domestic Water Company, Whittier

Lacy Historic Neighborhood Case Settled, April 2011

Friends of the Lacy Historic Neighborhood challenged violations of CEQA in the proposed demolition of 18 vintage buildings in Santa Ana. Alleged violations included an inadequate EIR and failure to adopt feasible preservation alternatives. Following full briefing, the case settled a few days before the scheduled writ hearing. The settlement provides for rehabilitation of 10 out of 18 threatened vintage homes to provide affordable housing, establishment of a $1 million, 5-year Lacy neighborhood loan fund for historic property rehabilitation, and a survey of area vintage homes to determine historic status.

Judgment in favor of Pasadenans for a Liveable City and Pasadena Heritage

On October 22, 2010, Judge Thomas McKnew of the Los Angeles Superior Court overturned approval of the Playhouse Plaza project proposed opposite the historic Pasadena Playhouse. The Court found inadequacies in the project EIR relating to historic resource impacts, failure to consider reduced-size project alternatives, and failure to address pedestrian safety.

Pasadena Playhouse

National Preservation Award

Susan Brandt-Hawley was honored with the John H. Chafee Trustees' award for Outstanding Achievement in Public Policy at the annual conference of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in Austin, Texas, on October 29, 2010.

Lincoln Place Settlement! May 2010

After years of tireless effort by tenants and preservationists, and many lawsuits, the threats to demolish the mid-century garden apartments at Lincoln Place in Venice Beach have ended, the amazingly perseverant tenants are finally returning, and restoration is in sight. See the LA Times article, URL below. We are proud of our involvement in the early litigation that stopped the escalating demolitions, working with our friends and colleagues at Chatten-Brown and Carstens in Santa Monica. (Lincoln Place Tenants Association v. City of Los Angeles (2005) 130 Cal.App.4th 1491.)

Lincoln Place Apartments

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