CEQA Judicial Outcomes: Fifteen Years of Reported California Appellate and Supreme Court Decisions
As the debate over the future of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) continues, objectively verifiable statistics about how CEQA actually functions rarely enter the discussion. Holland & Knight addresses this with a report that provides stakeholders with intriguing new data about the law's recent litigation history.
The report analyzes all published opinions from 1997 through 2012 litigated to the California Court of Appeal or Supreme Court concerning the analytical validity of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) or Negative Declaration – or the applicability of a Categorical Exemption – under CEQA. It looks at the types of parties that file CEQA lawsuits, the kinds of projects that are targeted, the "win-loss" record of CEQA petitioners seeking to overturn an agency decision based on alleged CEQA compliance flaws, and the environmental study topics that California appellate courts most often consider in CEQA lawsuits.
Among the report's findings:
- During the 15-year period studied, the adequacy of an agency's compliance with CEQA was upheld in only 56% of the decisions.
- Of the cases that could be characterized as involving "greenfield" or "infill" construction projects, the clear majority (62%) involved infill development projects.
- More than one-third of the projects challenged were public projects, rather than projects proposed by a private sector applicant.
- Only 9% of the cases involved industrial, manufacturing or port cargo projects, despite the alleged importance of CEQA in fighting industrial pollution.
- The most commonly challenged types of projects were those involving residential housing (17%), followed closely by commercial (16%) and public infrastructure (15%) projects.
- Two-thirds of cases were brought by a local organization or an entity created for the purpose of filing the lawsuit, of which half were unincorporated.
(This report is an expansion of two 2012 Holland & Knight publications: Analysis of Recent Challenges to Environmental Impact Reports and Judicial Review of CEQA Categorical Exemptions from 1997-Present.)