Articles Posted in Litigation

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An Overview of CalCIMA’s Current Judicial, Legislative, and Regulatory Activities

by Kerry Shapiro, General Counsel to CalCIMA and Chair of JMBM’s Natural Resources and Mining Group
and
Martin Stratte, Attorney in JMBM’s Government, Land Use, Environment & Energy Group

This article was first published in the Summer 2019 issue of The Conveyor, a publication of the 
California Construction and Industrial Materials Association (CalCIMA), and is published with permission.

2019 has been an active year for CalCIMA, as its members remain busy supplying the materials necessary to build our homes, roads, and critical public infrastructure projects.  To ensure its members may continue to do so successfully, CalCIMA has stepped forward in response to a number of legal, legislative and regulatory developments that threaten to increase the challenges facing its members doing business in California.

Below is an overview, from the perspective of CalCIMA’s legal counsel, of some of CalCIMA’s most important legal activities undertaken in 2019.  They include the following:

  • Ventura County Habitat Connectivity and Wildlife Corridor Litigation
  • John D. Sweeney v. State Water Resources Control Board and San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board Amicus Brief
  • Waters of the State Rulemaking Proceedings
  • Pending Amendments to Riverside County Mining Ordinance
  • Point San Pedro Road Coalition v. County of Marin (San Rafael Rock Quarry, Inc.) Amicus Letter of Support
  • Various Legislative Activities

Litigation Challenging Ventura County Habitat Connectivity and Wildlife Corridor

At the top of the list is CalCIMA’s efforts to protect regionally significant mineral resources through proactive litigation.  In March 2019, Ventura County adopted its Habitat Connectivity and Wildlife Corridor Project, which amends its general plan and zoning code and imposes new land use restrictions, including restrictions on land located within 200 feet of “surface water features”.  The reported purpose of the Project is to protect wildlife, namely mountain lions, by restricting land use and development on public and private lands that have been included within the Project’s overlay zone.  In total, the Project includes more than 160,000 acres of land.

The Project also overlaps onto more than 13,000 acres of mineral resources that were previously classified and/or designated by the California Geological Survey (CGS) and State Mining and Geology Board (SMGB), respectively.  Notably, the SMGB designation process was subject to environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and therefore, required the preparation of an environmental impact report and related studies.

Despite the Project’s inclusion of 13,000+ acres of classified and/or designated mineral resources, which are a natural resource protected under CEQA (like air, water, and wildlife), the County approved the Project without (i) consulting with either CGS or SMGB in accordance with sections 2762 and 2763 of the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA), or (ii) undertaking a CEQA analysis of the Project’s environmental impacts, including the impacts to mineral resources.

In approving the Project without environmental review, the County invoked the class 7 and 8 CEQA exemptions for projects intended to protect natural resources and the environment.  (14 CCR §§ 15307, 15308.)  The County also rejected multiple written requests from CGS to discuss the Project and its potential impacts to important mineral resources prior to approval.

During the public hearing process in early 2019, CalCIMA submitted two detailed comment letters outlining its concerns with the County’s lack of compliance with SMARA and CEQA.  However, the County maintained its position that the Project was exempt from CEQA and that consultation with CGS regarding the potential impacts to the 13,000+ acres of classified and/or designated mineral resources was not required. Continue reading

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On May 1, 2019, Petitioner San Joaquin Tributaries Authority, a Joint Powers Authority (Petitioner/Authority) filed a petition for writ of mandate in Sacramento County Superior Court against the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB).  The Authority includes the City and County of San Francisco as petitioners.  The petition challenges SWRCB’s approval of the “State Wetland Definition and Procedures for Discharges of Dredged or Fill Material to Waters of the State” (Procedures) on April 2, 2019.

SWRCB released the Procedures in January 2019, shortly after President Trump announced his plan to rescind and replace the Obama Administration’s 2015 definition of “Waters of the U.S.”  President Trump’s proposed definition of Waters of the U.S. is more narrow, and would reduce the scope of waters subject to federal regulation under the Clean Water Act, including activities within those waters, such as the discharge of dredge and fill material.

The SWRCB’s Procedures are intended to, among other things, codify California’s regulatory authority over the discharge of dredge and fill material into waters being proposed for exclusion from federal regulation through Trump’s proposed definition.  The Procedures also seek to regulate dredge and fill activities within all “Waters of the State”, which is broadly defined to include “any surface water or groundwater, including saline waters, within the boundaries of the state.”  This broad definition includes all natural wetlands, modified wetlands, and even some artificial wetlands.

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On April 25, 2019, the California Construction and Industrial Materials Association (CalCIMA) filed a petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief (“Petition”)  in Ventura County Superior Court challenging the County of Ventura’s approval of a proposed “Habitat Connectivity and Wildlife Corridor” Project and its implementing regulations.  The Project was approved by the County Board of Supervisors in March 2019 and is intended to “discourage” development within the Project area.  The County approved the Project without completing environmental review in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The Project is essentially an overlay zone that is several hundred thousand-acres in size and includes thousands of acres of important mineral resource deposits (construction aggregate) that have been previously identified by the California Geological Survey and, in some instances, designated by the State Mining and Geology Board (both of which are separate divisions of the Department of Conservation) as being “regionally significant” in meeting the region’s building material needs. These important mineral deposits are a protected natural resource under CEQA and are necessary for use in future housing projects, road construction and repairs, and public infrastructure projects.

Due to the importance of these mineral resources, the County previously approved a Mineral Resources Protection overlay zone intended to ensure the resources were available for future extraction, and not encumbered by incompatible land uses.  The County also enacted specific “Goals, Policies and Programs” in its General Plan to provide enhanced protection for these mineral resources.

Despite the importance of these mineral resources, the County approved the Project overlay zone without completing any CEQA review.  The County concluded that CEQA compliance was not required because the Project is intended to benefit the environment.  However, notwithstanding these potential benefits, the Project and its implementing regulations will cause significant environmental impacts that require environmental review in accordance with CEQA, including the Project’s effects on future efforts to extract critical mineral resources. Continue reading

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by Kerry Shapiro

As reported earlier this week, the recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Center for Biological Diversity v. Salazar allowed a uranium mine on federal lands in Arizona to re-open after being idled for seventeen years absent any new federal approval or supplemental environmental review. This decision is notable on its own, but carries added significance in California, where it now highlights a potential conflict between federal and state law regarding idle mines and the resumption of mining operations at such mines.

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