Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. Dep't of Fish & Wildlife, B245131

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtTURNER, P.J.
Citation169 Cal.Rptr.3d 413
Parties CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents, v. DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE, Defendant and Appellant; The Newhall Land and Farming Company, Real Party in Interest and Appellant.
Docket NumberB245131
Decision Date20 March 2014

169 Cal.Rptr.3d 413

CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents,

The Newhall Land and Farming Company, Real Party in Interest and Appellant.


Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 5, California.

Filed March 20, 2014

Certified for Partial Publication.*

Office of the General Counsel, Thomas R. Gibson, General Counsel and John H. Mattox, Senior Staff Counsel; Thomas Law Group, Tina A. Thomas, Ashle T. Crocker and Amy R. Higuera, Sacramento, for Defendant and Appellant Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Gatzke Dillon & Ballance, Mark J. Dillon and David P. Hubbard, Escondido; Morrison & Foerster and Miriam A. Vogel, Los Angeles; Nielsen Merksamer Parinello Gross & Leoni and Arthur G. Scotland, Sacramento; and Downey Brand and Patrick G. Mitchell, Roseville, for Real Party in Interest and Appellant The Newhall Land and Farming Company.

169 Cal.Rptr.3d 419

John Buse and Adam Keats, Joshua Tree; Chatten–Brown and Carstens, Jan Chatten–Brown, Santa Monica, and Doug Carstens, for Plaintiffs and Respondents Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Sara Clara River, Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment, and California Native Plant Society.

Jason Weiner; Chatten–Brown and Carstens, Jan Chatten–Brown, Santa Monica, and Doug Carstens, for Plaintiffs and Respondents Wishtoyo Foundation/Ventura Coastkeeper.



Defendant, California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (the department), and real party in interest, The Newhall Land and Farming Company (the developer), appeal from a judgment granting a mandate petition. The judgment, entered October 15, 2012, was granted in favor of plaintiffs: Center for Biological Diversity; Friends of the Santa Clara River; Santa Clarita Organization for Planning the Environment; Wishtoyo Foundation/Ventura Coastkeeper; and California Native Plant Society. The litigation and appeal arise from the department's December 3, 2010 certification of the revised final environmental impact statement and impact report; approval of the Newhall Ranch Resource Management and Development Plan (resource management plan); the adoption of the Spineflower Conservation Plan (conservation plan) and Master Streambed Alteration Agreement (streambed alteration agreement); and issuance of two incidental take permits.

The environmental impact statement and report and other documents were jointly prepared by the department and the Army Corps of Engineers (the corps). For reasons we will explain, both federal and state environmental review were necessary for the project. For clarity's sake, the environmental impact statement and report will be referred to as the environmental impact report as we are only reviewing the relevant state law issues.

For environmental impact report purposes, there are two components to the project. First, the environmental impact report assesses the effect of the resource management plan. The resource management plan includes the streambed alteration agreement. And the resource management plan necessarily resulted in the required issuance of two incidental take permits. Second, the environmental impact report evaluates the effects on the environment of the conservation plan. Both the resource management and conservation plans are stand-alone planning documents. We reverse.


A. Newhall Ranch Specific Plan (the specific plan)

On March 23, 1999, the County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors (the county) specific plan approved a final environmental impact report; adopted findings; approved a mitigation plan; and approved various aspects of the proposed development. For environmental review purposes, the project included a water reclamation plant. None of the issues relating to the water reclamation plant construction is pertinent to our discussion. The specific plan was challenged in Kern County Superior Court. (United Water Conservation Dist. v. County of Los Angeles (Super. Ct. Kern County, 2000, No. 239324RDR).) On August 1, 2000, Judge Roger W. Randall issued a writ of mandate. The county was ordered to void its certification of the final environmental impact report with respect to five different issues. In

169 Cal.Rptr.3d 420

addition, the county was ordered to vacate the project approvals. In this regard, the county was directed to ensure consistency of the specific plan with broader general plan policies as they relate to natural resources and water supplies.

On May 27, 2003, the county approved the specific plan and an 85-page document entitled, "Additional [California Environmental Quality Act] Findings and Statement of Overriding Considerations Regarding The Newhall Ranch...." The final additional findings and overriding considerations statement was necessitated by Judge Randall's judgment. According to the May 27, 2003 findings: "As approved by the Board of Supervisors, the revised Specific Plan (May 2003) would include a broad range of residential, mixed-use and non-residential land uses within five villages. As revised by the Board of Supervisors, the Specific Plan allows for up to 21,308 dwelling units (including 423 second units), 629 acres of mixed-use development, 67 acres of commercial uses, 249 acres of business park land uses, 37 acres of visitor-serving uses, 1,014 acres of open space, including 181 acres of community parks and 833 acres in other open spaces, 5,157 acres in special management areas, 55 acres in 10 neighborhood parks, 15-acre lake, public trail system, an 18-hole golf course, two fire stations, a public library, an electrical station, reservation of five elementary school sites, one junior high school site and one high school site, a 6.8 million gallon per day water reclamation plant and other associated community facilities. The buildout of the Specific Plan is projected to occur over approximately 25 to 30 years, depending upon economic and market conditions. Buildout of the Specific Plan would eventually result in an on-site resident population of 57,903 persons." The specific plan contemplated the need for future federal, state and other governmental agency environmental review, permits, agreements and authorizations.

After the May 27, 2003 approval of the specific plan as amended, the county filed a return in the Kern County litigation. Judge Randall approved the county's May 27, 2003 determination and discharged the August 1, 2000 writ of mandate. There was an appeal which resulted in a settlement. On April 1, 2004, the appeal was dismissed. Judge Randall had no further contact with any of the issues in this case. The remainder of our discussion focuses on decisions made by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann I. Jones. For clarity's sake, we refer to Judge Jones as the trial court.

B. The Approval of the Final Environmental Impact Report

1. The specific plan and adjoining areas

The documents at issue resulted in environmental decisions affecting the specific plan and adjoining areas. According to the environmental impact report, the following is the project area: "The [project] area is located in a portion of the Santa Clara River Valley within northwestern Los Angeles County, between the city of Santa Clarita to the east and the Los Angeles County/Ventura County jurisdictional boundary line to the west. The Los Padres National Forest is located to the north of the [project] area, the Angeles National Forest is to the north and east, and the Santa Susana Mountains are to the south." One of the documents promulgated as part of the environmental review and approval process was the resource management plan. The boundary of the resource management plan includes the 11,999-acre specific plan site. Also, the resource management plan area includes

169 Cal.Rptr.3d 421

the 1,517-acre Salt Creek conservation area in Ventura County. The Salt Creek conservation area adjoins the specific plan area and is southeast of the area to be developed. A component of the resource management plan is the conservation plan which we will discuss later in greater detail. The conservation plan's boundary encompasses two other planning areas. They are the Entrada and Valencia Commerce Center Planning Areas which are located to the east and northeast of the development area respectively. Thus, the environmental planning and certification process extends beyond the development and specific plan areas.

2. Environmental documents

a. Agencies

The department's approval of the project is predicated on a series of interrelated documents described in the first paragraph of this opinion: the environmental impact report; the resource management plan; the conservation plan; the streambed alteration agreement; and the two incidental take permits. The documents resulted from a joint action of the project by the department and the corps as permitted by the Guidelines for Implementation of the California Environmental Quality Act. ( Cal.Code Regs., tit. 14, § 15052.)1 The department is the lead agency under the California Environmental Quality Act. ( Pub. Resources Code, § 21067 ;2 Guidelines, §§ 15050–15051.) The corps is the lead agency under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. ( 40 C.F.R. § 1501.5(a)(2) (2013) ; see Save Our Ecosystems v. Clark (9th Cir.1984) 747 F.2d 1240, 1249.)

b. Precertification and issuance events

As noted, the specific plan contemplated further environmental review. The initial process for preparation of the environmental impact report commenced on February 9, 2000. But the scoping process was held in abeyance pending the outcome of the Kern County litigation concerning the specific plan. The scoping process for the environmental impact report began on February 9, 2000, and ended on August 24, 2005. On July 19, 2005, the corps issued a notice of intent to prepare a draft environmental impact report. ( 70 Fed.Reg. 41380 (Jul. 19, 2005).) On July 25, 2005, the department issued a notice of preparation of a...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT