California Environmental Law and Policy Update - May 2014

by Allen Matkins

Environmental and Policy Focus

New high-speed train route approved despite 'unavoidable' effects in Valley

The Fresno Bee - May 12

The California High-Speed Rail Authority approved a section of rail line from Fresno to Bakersfield that would displace hundreds of homes and businesses and take as much as 5,000 acres of farmland out of production on at least a temporary basis during construction. Basing its decision on a detailed 20,000 page environmental impact report, the Authority found that the environmental impacts of the project could not be mitigated to a level of insignificance and were hence "unavoidable." The Authority nevertheless concluded that the impacts were acceptable due to overriding considerations and benefits expected to result from the train system.

New entity to manage planning for massive Delta tunnels

The Sacramento Bee - May 19

Construction planning for the giant water diversion tunnels proposed in the California Delta is about to be handed off by the California Department of Water Resources to a new entity created by a joint powers arrangement that includes the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Kern County Water Agency. The arrangement will be operational as of June 1, according to a memo sent to employees last week by DWR Director Mark Cowin. The tunnel project is the centerpiece of Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to improve water deliveries from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a source of water for 25 million people and 3 million acres of farmland across the state. The project, slated for approval by the end of this year, calls for building three large water intakes on the Sacramento River near Courtland. These would feed two tunnels, each 40 feet in diameter and 150 feet underground, which would divert the water to existing state and federal diversion canals near Tracy.

Environmental groups appeal Tahoe plan ruling

The Sacramento Bee - May 16

Two environmental groups are appealing a federal judge's ruling that found no NEPA violations in a regional plan regulating development in the Lake Tahoe Basin straddling the Nevada-California line. In the appeal, Sierra Club and Friends of the West Shore argue that the environmental impact statement (EIS) on the plan failed to analyze its negative impacts on soil conservation and water and air quality, and erroneously concluded that the plan would protect Tahoe's environment. According to the EIS, the new plan authorizes less than half as much new development as the 1987 regional plan, maintains growth caps and urban boundary limits on all development, bars new high-rises, and authorizes no new hotel units. But the two environmental groups say the plan will allow an additional 3,200 residential units and 200,000 square feet of new commercial floor space in the Tahoe Basin.

Judge halts California highway-widening plan

Courthouse News - May 16

U.S. District Judge James Donato ruled last Friday that a Caltrans plan to widen highways near California's Smith River in order to make the roads safer for commercial trucks must be halted until the impacts of the project on the environment are adequately analyzed under NEPA. The legal challenge, brought against Caltrans and the National Marine Fisheries Service, was filed last September by Friends of Del Norte, Environmental Protection Information Center and Center for Biological Diversity, and an individual plaintiff. Formed at the confluence of its north and south forks in Del Norte County, the Smith River flows 300 miles through scenic old-growth forests to empty into the Pacific Ocean just south of the Oregon border. As the last free-flowing river in the state, the Smith River provides critical habitat for coho salmon, has been designated as "wild and scenic" under state and federal law, and is considered "one of the 'crown jewels' of the National Wild and Scenic River System," the Court noted in its ruling.

Lawsuit brings halt to school construction in Burlingame

ABC7 News - May 16

A San Mateo County judge has ordered a halt to construction of the Hoover Elementary School in Burlingame, holding that an environmental impact report is required under CEQA on account of increased traffic that may put children at risk. Burlingame School District Superintendent Maggie MacIsaac said that all construction will be stopped, but that the District has not yet decided what its next move will be.



DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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