The SANDAG Decision: How Lead Agencies Can "Stay in Step" with Law and Science in Addressing the Climate Impacts of Large-Scale Planning and Infrastructure Projects
by Janill L. Richards*
In March 2015, the California Supreme Court granted review in Cleveland National Forest Foundation, et al. v. San Diego Association of Governments, et al., framing the issue presented as follows:
Cleveland Nat. Forest Foundation v. San Diego Assn. of Governments (2017) 3 Cal.5th 497, 510 (hereinafter SANDAG).
At that time, some commentators suggested the case would provide an opportunity for the Court to "reform" CEQAâthat is, to pull back from a broad reading of the Act’s fundamental (and nearly 50-year-old) objectives. Others hoped the Court would provide clear, step-by-step guidance on how lead agencies must analyze a project’s long-term climate impacts to comply with CEQA. The Courtâquite reasonablyâdid neither. Though it resolved the particular dispute in SANDAG’s favor, the Court emphasized that, going forward, more will likely be required of lead agenciesâparticularly those with responsibilities for large-scale, long-term planning and infrastructure projects. This article explores how such agencies might endeavor to "stay in step" with the law and science related to the State’s long-term climate objectives as they carry out their duties under CEQA. See SANDAG, supra, 3 Cal.5th at p. 504; see also id. at p. 519.