Summary of case involving the role of CEQA in assessing impact of global warming on project: Ballona v. Los Angeles (Nov. 9, 2011)

Ballona Wetlands Land Trust v. City of Los Angeles ((November 9, 2011)

Cal. Court of Appeal (Second District, Division 3) B231965

Interesting case involving the role of California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in assessing potential flooding of proposed project due to global warming sea level rise:

SUMMARY OF KEY FACTS:

Ballona Wetlands Lands Trust and other environmental organizations challenged a revised EIR certified by the City of Los Angeles concerning a proposed mixed-use development. The revised EIR included a new section about possible impacts of climate change, addressing the project’s projected contributions to greenhouse gases and noting the potential for sea level rise that could inundate coastal areas.

Of interest here is that Ballona submitted comments and complained the revised EIR had failed to address the impacts of a sea level rise on the project. The City engineer responded that the flood risks were overstated. He concluded the project was two miles from the sea, separated by higher topography from the sea, and that the sea level rise projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was lower and more reliable than the extreme worst-case scenario that Ballona relied upon from a report prepared by the California Climate Change Center.

SUMMARY OF COURT RULING:

The Court of Appeal held that CEQA requires the EIR identify the significant effects of a project on the environment, not the other way around. While the Court agreed an EIR should identify environmental effects of attracting development and people to an area, it disagreed that the EIR has to identify the environmental effects on a project and people in a particular environmental setting.  The Court disagreed with CEQA Guidelines section 15126.2, which say an EIR should analyze how a project that brings development and people into risky areas such as an active earthquake or flood zone. The Court found such Guidelines inconsistent with the requirements of CEQA and thus invalid.

Prepared by John Reaves

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