Amrit S. Kulkarni
Amrit Kulkarni is a member of the firm’s Executive Committee and chairs the Land Use, Environmental Law, and Transportation & Infrastructure Practice Groups, reflecting the reality that these Practices are highly integrated, the respective laws and regulations often overlap and clients depend on his strategic insight at the intersection of the three areas. Amrit’s group has received two Tier 1 rankings in the “Best Law Firms” list developed by U.S. News – Best Lawyers® for the categories of Litigation-Environmental (Metropolitan Los Angeles, 2016) and Natural Resources Law (Metropolitan Oakland, 2015-2017).
Amrit’s specialty is providing transaction and litigation counsel on high-profile, complex and often controversial civil infrastructure and commercial and urban development projects. He also has experience advising on the unique issues that are involved in public-private partnerships.
Amrit’s project experience includes serving local, state and national clients that are involved in airports, passenger transit systems, freight rail networks, ports, harbors, highways, water resources, office buildings, mixed-use residential developments, university campus expansions, and a wide range of commercial and industrial facilities. He advises on an extensive scope of laws, including the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), State Planning and Zoning Law, Coastal Act, Tidelands Trust, Subdivision Map Act, Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Act, Mitigation Fee Act and Clean Water Act, among others.
Amrit provides transactional counsel during a project’s planning, development and implementation phases, particularly relating to the entitlement process, as well as litigation expertise when clients need to defend or challenge a project. His team is well recognized for its outstanding record of litigation victories, from trial through appeal, involving complex factual and legal issues that arise under CEQA, NEPA and the myriad of environmental laws that apply to projects in California.
- Berkeley Hillside Preservation et al. v. City of Berkeley et al. (2015) 60 Cal.4th 1086
- Berkeley Hillside Preservation et al. v. City of Berkeley et al. (2015) 241 Cal.App.4th 943
- Saltonstall v. City of Sacramento (2015) 234 Cal.App.4th 549
- Saltonstall v. City of Sacramento (2014) 231 Cal.App.4th 1437
- Save Westwood Village v. Meyer Luskin (2014) 233 Cal.App.4th 135
- Concerned Dublin Citizens v. City of Dublin (2013) 214 Cal.App.4th 1301
- Community Water Coalition v. Santa Cruz County Local Agency Formation Commission (2011) 200 Cal.App.4th 1317
- Las Lomas Land Company, LLC v. City of Los Angeles (2009) 177 Cal.App.4th 837
- Ailanto v. City of Half Moon Bay (2006) 142 Cal.App.4th 572
- City of Goleta v. Superior Court (2006) 40 Cal.4th 270
- Northern California River Watch v. City of Healdsburg (2006) 457 F.3d 1023
- City of Half Moon Bay v. Superior Court (2003) 106 Cal.App.4th 795
- Berkeley Keep Jets Over the Bay Committee v. Board of Port Commissioners (2001) 91 Cal.App.4th 1344
Land Use Processing Experience
- Port of Los Angeles (POLA)
- Pacific L.A. Marine Terminal, Tank Farms, and Pipelines Project. Advised POLA on compliance with CEQA and NEPA in connection with its preparation (along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) of a joint Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)/Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for a proposed crude oil terminal and related infrastructure.
- Berths 302-206 (APL) Container Terminal Project. Advised POLA on preparation of an EIS/EIR for improvement and expansion of the existing APL container terminal to accommodate 3.2 million 20-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) and 390 ship calls annually at full capacity. The proposed project would install up to eight new cranes and construct approximately 1,250 linear feet of new concrete wharf.
- Berths 97-109 (China Shipping) Container Terminal Project. Represented POLA on compliance with CEQA and NEPA in connection with its preparation of a joint EIS/EIR for a proposed new 142-acre container terminal and related infrastructure, and for the China Shipping Lines at Berths 97-109.
- Clean Trucks Program. Represented POLA and the Port of Long Beach in connection with environmental review of implementation of concession program to convert existing diesel trucks to liquid natural gas.
- Trapac Container Terminal Project. Advised POLA on compliance with CEQA and NEPA in connection with its preparation of a joint EIS/EIR for a proposed lease to expand container terminal operations at Berths 136-147.
- Ultramar Inc. (Valero) Marine Terminal Lease Renewal Project. Advised POLA on compliance with CEQA and NEPA in connection with its preparation of an EIR for a proposed lease renewal for a marine petroleum products terminal on a 10-acre site at Berths 163-164. Under the proposed lease renewal, annual throughput at the facility would increase to 17 million barrels from an existing rate of 14 million barrels.
- Port Master Plan. Advised POLA on preparation and environmental review of an updated Master Plan to govern all industrial projects and land use at the Port. The updated Plan replaced the prior Master Plan, which dates to 1980.
- Los Angeles International Airport. Represented Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in connection with its recent approval of a $13 billion airport expansion. Advised LAX on a broad range of land use and environmental issues, including CEQA, NEPA, the California Coastal Act, the Federal Coastal Zone Management Act, the federal and state endangered species laws, and other state and federal regulatory requirements. Served as the outside land use counsel for the CEQA review of the South Airfield Improvement Project, the first project to be implemented under the LAX Master Plan. In addition, assisted LAX in the defense against multiple lawsuits challenging the approval of the airport’s expansion plans for violations of CEQA, NEPA and the California Coastal Act.
- UC System. Representing the University of California in multiple campus expansion projects, including UC-Santa Cruz, North Campus Expansion and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Solar Energy Research Project.
- Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP). Representing LADWP on the environmental review of the Elysian Reservoir Water Quality Improvement Project and the Stone Canyon Reservoir Water Quality Improvement Project—two projects to cover existing open reservoirs to bring them into compliance with updated Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drinking water quality standards.
- Hall Equities Group, Walnut Creek, Calif. Represented the developer in obtaining entitlements for multiple projects, including a shopping center with a grocery store anchor, a fitness center, a drive-thru restaurant project and multi-family developments.
- High-Speed Rail. Advising municipalities regarding CEQA/NEPA and related issues in connection with the high-speed rail project, DesertXpress, between Victorville and Las Vegas.
- BART Silicon Valley Expansion. Representing the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in connection with CEQA compliance for the BART extension project. SCVTA has done multiple long-range plans and environmental review for those plans. We have provided assistance in the development of those plans and environmental review.
Land Use Litigation Experience
- Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF) - Southern California International Gateway (SCIG). Represent BNSF, North America’s second-largest freight railway, in seven consolidated lawsuits and related appeals challenging the company’s planned $500 million rail transfer facility on CEQA and other environmental impact and environmental justice grounds. Critical to BNSF’s national business strategy, the SCIG Project will create a new near-dock rail yard for the loading of shipping containers heading to and from the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex, the nation’s largest container port.
- Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley. Represented Lotus founder Mitch Kapor and his wife, Freada Kapor-Klein, before the California Supreme Court on a case that Law360 called the “biggest CEQA case” and the Daily Journal described as affecting “how public agencies handle common exemptions from California’s bedrock environmental law.” On March 2, 2015, the Court issued its highly anticipated decision in Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley (S201116), resolving years of uncertainty by holding that there must be “unusual circumstances” in order for an otherwise categorically exempt project to be subject to CEQA. The Court also resolved a divide among Courts of Appeal, holding that an agency’s findings as to unusual circumstances are subject to the substantial evidence standard.
- Saltonstall v. City of Sacramento (2015) 234 Cal.App.4th 549 and Saltonstall v. City of Sacramento (2014) 231 Cal.App.4th 1437. Successfully defended the City of Sacramento in defeating challenges that two groups brought against the new $477 million downtown arena that serves as the new home for the Sacramento Kings NBA team. The matters included two published appellate court decisions:
- Saltonstall I was the first appellate decision addressing the constitutionality of a project-specific CEQA streamlining statute, setting a valuable precedent for other projects. The Court rejected the project opponents’ arguments, holding that neither the expedited schedule nor the heightened factors for injunctive relief posed an unconstitutional infringement on the power of the courts. The Court also held that the project opponents failed to meet their burden for showing that injunctive relief was appropriate.
- Saltonstall II, which affirmed the sufficiency of the City's Environmental Impact Report and dismissed the project opponents’ appeal of a trial court’s denial of its CEQA challenge, was one of the fastest CEQA cases on record. The case was heard under the new statute’s expedited requirement that all legal challenges, including environmental, be resolved within 270 days after certification of the administrative record. The decision was issued on day 261. The case also was the first appellate decision addressing a CEQA streamlining statute that allowed a city to commence eminent domain proceedings prior to completing the environmental review of a proposed project.
- University of California Litigation. Representing the University in multiple campus expansion projects, including prevailing on the following cases:
- Community Water Coalition v. Santa Cruz Local Agency Formation Commission. Successfully represented UC-Santa Cruz in a lawsuit challenging the ability of the University to apply to LAFCO for water service associated with the future expansion of its North Campus. The trial court sustained the University’s demurrer to the complaint, and the court of appeal upheld the ruling in a published decision.
- Save Strawberry Canyon v. Regents of the University of California (Solar Energy Research Center Project). Successfully defended Lawrence Berkeley National Labs (LBNL) at UC-Berkeley in litigation challenging an EIR for the new Solar Energy Research Center, one of the first EIRs to address the potential environmental impacts of nanoparticle research and handling.
- Save Westwood Village v. Regents of the University of California (Luskin and UCLA Foundation). The University of California’s General Counsel engaged Meyers Nave to help “bullet-proof” the Environmental Impact Report for one of UCLA’s highest-profile projects, the 294,000-square-foot $162-million Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference and Guest Center. As expected, opposition groups filed lawsuits raising numerous challenges, including CEQA, zoning and taxation. Our guidance during the EIR administrative process, with a focus on anticipating potential litigation, was validated in a subsequent series of courtroom victories, culminating in December 2015 when an appellate judge rejected all CEQA claims filed by a community group to stop construction. Meyers Nave also convinced the Court to dismiss the project’s primary donors from the case, arguing that this was retaliation for exercising their free speech rights.
- CWCA Wrigley Creek 13, LLC v. Santa Clara VTA. Successfully defended VTA in a CEQA action challenging the adequacy of a supplemental EIR for the BART Silicon Valley Project, which extends the BART system from Fremont to Santa Clara. Issues in the case included alleged improper pre-commitment to the Project under Save Tara and adequacy of environmental review relating to traffic and parking impacts. The case also challenged VTA’s compliance with the California Public Records Act and sought to compel production of emails relevant to the settlement of the CEQA action.
- Santa Clara VTA v. Eastridge Shopping Center, LLC. Represented Silicon Valley region’s largest transportation planning and construction agency in a condemnation action to acquire property for construction of the Capitol Expressway Light Rail Project. Representation included successful motion to strike the shopping center’s allegation that VTA’s CEQA review of the Project was inadequate.
- Berkeley Keep Jets Over the Bay v. Port Of Oakland. Successfully represented the City of San Leandro in its challenge to the Port of Oakland’s CEQA review of its airport expansion plans.
- Bombay Corporation v. City of Fresno. Represented the City in a lawsuit filed by multiple developers challenging the City’s entire system of development impact fees, as well as fees for specific development approvals made over the course of more than three decades. The case involved 141 separate development impact fees imposed on the plaintiffs’ various projects, several claims for reimbursement, multiple claims alleging breach of several contracts, a claim for “accounting” of the City’s fee program, and a petition for writ of mandate seeking to invalidate portions of the City’s fee program. Based on collection and review of more than 500,000 documents, and after prevailing on numerous discovery-limitation motions, the City had the majority of claims dismissed on procedural motions and settled the remaining claims on terms advantageous to the City.
- City of Riverside v. City of Los Angeles. Successfully defended POLA in both the trial and appellate courts in a CEQA lawsuit filed by the City of Riverside challenging POLA’s certification of an EIR for the China Shipping Container Terminal Project. The lawsuit alleged that POLA failed to adequately analyze vehicle delays at rail crossings due to rail traffic associated with the project.
- Concerned Dublin Citizens v. City of Dublin. Successfully defended the City of Dublin’s use of a previously certified EIR for implementation of a residential project under the Specific Plan. This is the first published case to interpret state law in allowing reliance on a certified Specific Plan EIR for individual project approvals. The court also ruled that new information on GHGs and new air district regulations did not trigger requirements for a supplemental CEQA review. Meyers Nave advised the City during the administrative process to create a defensible record for anticipated litigation.
- Las Lomas Land Company, LLC v. City of Los Angeles. Represented the City of Los Angeles in a CEQA and land use action challenging the City’s decision to reject a large development project without completing CEQA review. The trial court sustained the City’s demurrer to the developer’s complaint for violation of CEQA and civil rights and seeking $100 million dollars in damages, and the Court of Appeal affirmed in a published decision. The Supreme Court denied review.
- Owens Valley Committee v. LADWP. Successfully defended LADWP in a CEQA action regarding changes to a mitigation measure in an EIR that analyzed a historic water agreement for the City’s aqueduct and transfer of water from Owens Valley to Los Angeles.
- United States of America Ex. rel. Pram Nguyen v. City of Los Angeles. Obtained a complete dismissal of a $200-million False Claims Act lawsuit, which alleged that Los Angeles World Airports violated the Clean Air Act and Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
Honors and Awards
- The Best Lawyers in America, Litigation-Land Use and Zoning, 2018 - 2019
- “Southern California Super Lawyer: Environmental Litigation and Land Use/Zoning,” Super Lawyers Magazine (2017-2019)
- “Northern California Super Lawyer: Environmental Litigation and Land Use/Zoning,” Super Lawyers Magazine (2012 – 2016)
- “Best Law Firms” in Litigation-Environmental, Tier 1 Metropolitan Los Angeles, U.S. News – Best Lawyers®, 2016
- “Best Law Firms” in Natural Resources Law, Tier 1 Metropolitan Oakland, U.S. News – Best Lawyers®, 2015 - 2017
- "Top 50 Development Lawyers,” Daily Journal, 2014
- “Leading Environmental Practices,” The Recorder, 2012
- "Top 20 Under 40 Lawyers,” Daily Journal, 2011
- "Top Land Use Leaders,” Daily Journal, 2011
Presentations and Publications
- Author, “Build the Arena and Lawsuits Will Come,” Daily Journal, August 20, 2015
- Author, “CEQA: New Player in Sports Stadium Wars,” Daily Journal, March 5, 2015
- Feature Profile, “CEQA Exemption for Houses Reinforced,” Daily Journal, March 3, 2015
- Presenter, “How Far Does CEQA Go? Port-Related Impacts do not Extend to the Inland Empire,” Los Angeles County Bar Association, 2011
- Moderator, “Climate Change and the San Francisco Bay Area,” San Francisco Bay Area Development and Conservation Commission, 2011
- Member, Environmental Law Section, California Lawyers Association
- Northwestern School of Law of Lewis and Clark CollegeJD, 1998
- University of California at Santa CruzBA, Environmental Studies and Policy & Planning, 1994