Daily Journal Profiles Amrit Kulkarni re: California Supreme Court CEQA Victory

In a highly anticipated decision regarding the California Environmental Quality Act, Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley (S201116, filed March 2, 2015), the California Supreme Court essentially set a new standard of review in a landmark case that Law360 considers to be “the biggest CEQA case” and the Daily Journal describes as one that affects “how public agencies handle common exemptions from California’s bedrock environmental law.”

The Court resolved years of uncertainty by holding that a project’s purported environmental effects must be “due to unusual circumstances” before an environmental impact report can be required under Guidelines section 15300.2(c). The Court also resolved another long-standing divide among Courts of Appeal, holding that an agency’s findings as to unusual circumstances are subject to the substantial evidence standard.

Please click here to read the Daily Journal’s March 3 Cover Story on Amrit Kulkarni’s victory before the California Supreme Court. For more information about this case and CEQA, please contact Amrit Kulkarni at (213) 626-2906 or akulkarni@meyersnave.com.

The Unfiring of a Menlo Park Police Officer

Questions linger months after the Almanac broke the story about the arrest, firing and reinstatement of veteran Menlo Park police officer Jeffrey Vasquez: How, exactly, does a police officer keep his job after being caught naked with a prostitute in a Sunnyvale motel room? How does he not only get reinstated after his firing, but awarded $188,000 in back pay, despite reportedly admitting that wasn’t the first time he’d solicited a hooker for sex?

A commentary written by the police union lawyer who represented Officer Vasquez throughout the binding arbitration that led to his reinstatement finally gives the public some possible answers.

Please click here to read the article in its entirety.


Binding Arbitration Leaves Public in Dark

Menlo Park and at least 15 other jurisdictions in California rely on binding arbitration to resolve police disciplinary cases.

The Almanac spent five months investigating the process to find out how Officer Jeffrey Vasquez got his job back, with $188,000 in back pay, despite being fired after he was caught naked with a prostitute in a motel room, and admitting, according to the police report, that it wasn’t his first time soliciting a hooker for sex.

Please click here to read this article in its entirety.


How They Were Built

What does it take to start a law firm? What’s it like? Was it easier a few decades ago? What has changed? Where do the pitfalls lie? To try to answer some of these questions, Don Oppenheim, former law firm executive director and consultant to many California law firms, interviewed three founders or co-founders of leading Bay Area law firms, each now in the later stages of his career.

The three Bay Area firms: Gordon & Rees, which now has 550 attorneys spread nationally over 29 offices; Meyers Nave Riback Silver & Wilson, one of California’s leading public agency practices with more than 80 attorneys, operating from five offices across the state; and Shartsis Friese has one office in San Francisco, with more than 50 attorneys. All started in the 1970 or ’80s. Each has become a solid institution in the Bay Area, but each has a very different operating model. Each is branded. Each is successful.

Please click here to read this article in its entirety.

Workshop Informs Residents on Potential Tax District Options in San Benito County

The San Benito County Parks and Recreation Commissioners held a public workshop March 13 to share different types of special districts that could be pursued to support community services as well as the funding mechanisms behind them.

Sky Woodruff and John Bakker, of Meyers Nave Law Firm, led the presentation and answered questions for those in attendance.

“Meyers Nave Law firm has 25 years of municipal finance and special district experience,” said Janelle Cox, a management analyst for San Benito County. “Tonight’s purpose is to learn about different types of districts, the pros and cons, and funding mechanisms.”

With about 40 people in attendance, including some county supervisors, Friends of the Library members, city and county staff members and some residents, Cox explained that there would be no policy discussions at the meeting. Any issues would be noted for a future agenda item.

“We are rich with recreation opportunities,” Cox said, noting Pinnacles National Monument, Hollister Hills State Vehicular Area, Fremont Peak and DeAnza Trail.

The top recreational activities desired by local residents in past surveys have included jogging, running, biking and hiking.

Cox said the group was including library services in the discussion because the San Benito County Free Library provides “passive recreation.”

“It serves as a support for schools and a safe place for kids to get together,” she said. “We are recognizing the need.”

The San Benito County supervisors have started discussions of closing an anticipated $5.3 million gap in the 2012-13 budget. The library is one of the discretionary spending items considered for cuts in the past – last year the supervisors considered completely shuttering the library.

The total cost of library services, and parks and recreation – which includes parks maintenance – is $954,000.

“We are looking at about $1 million and there are several ways to fund those services,” Cox said. “We need to look at all the options.”

Bakker, of Meyers Nave, led a presentation about the process for creating districts, along with pros and cons for each type.

“There is a lot of pressure on the general fund,” Bakker said. “Special districts are separate from the county so it could relieve general fund pressure.”

He explained that a library district could provide just library services, and a parks and recreation district can only provide parks and recreation services. But a community services district could provide both services in addition to other potential amenities. The districts can be dependent, meaning that an existing governing board, such as the board of supervisors, would also oversee the district. They can also be independent, meaning they have a separate elected board that oversees the district. An example of this would be the San Benito County Water District, which has its own board.

Woodruff went over the different revenue options to support a district, including taxes, assessments and fees.

“Special taxes are restricted for a specific purpose,” Woordruff said. “A public safety tax would fund police and fire. They need a two-thirds majority and may appear on a ballot in any election.”

“It is not worth pursuing unless you have had a conversation with the community,” Woodruff said, of moving forward with a ballot measure to approve a district and a revenue stream. “One thing that is helpful is the use of polls.”

He said using a poll firm can help decipher what the community will support and what they would not support. He also suggested community meetings, such as the workshop hosted last week. He said public funds can be used to provide information to community members before an item is placed on the ballot. After that, funds cannot be used to advocate for the measure. Employees and officials can advocate for it on their own time with their own funds.

After the presentation, a few residents asked questions about district boundaries. Since the cities have their own established parks and recreation departments, some residents wanted to know if they would have to pay into a countywide district.

Bakker and Woodruff said the district could be drawn in such a way as to exclude the cities, or a tax rate could be developed to charge less to residents in some areas. Cox noted that the district would likely support regional parks, which would be available for the use of city and county residents alike.

Steve Wittry, of the county public works, asked if it would be easy to increase the revenue as parks are completed and maintenance costs go up. Woodruff said a tax measure could be written in such a way that the tax can go up a specific amount upon the completion of other infrastructure.

“If you anticipate that, you can build it into the formulation,” Woodruff said.

Rich Inman, the county administrative officer, asked if the residents and officials decide to go with a community services district if they would need to go back for approval to fund other services such as fire service, for example. Woodruff said they would have to get approval from Local Agency Formation Commission, which approves a district proposal initially, but if property owners protest it could trigger an election to get voter approval.

“If the revenue is not enough to cover the new services, you would have to go back to the voters for additional revenue,” Woodruff said.

Joe Paul Gonzalez, the county clerk-auditor-recorder, said San Benito has had special taxes on the ballot before. In 1997, Measure G failed to get a two-thirds majority, with 61.9 percent of voters. In 1998, Measure 11 also failed.

“It’s good we are here tonight to discuss this,” he said. “It needs to be addressed with a different vehicle.”

Woodruff said it is not uncommon for communities to have a couple failed attempts before getting voters to approve a special district or tax.

“It is imperative for us to learn about the different ways of funding,” said Dan Dungy, chair of the county’s parks and recreation commission. “People are not just thinking about parks and recreations or libraries today.”

Please click here to read the article in its entirety on the San Benito County Today website.

Judge Rambles Musingly, Hands Victory to Meyers Nave Land Use Lawyer

Take a guess – is this a spiritual observation or lesson in wavelengths? “A rock dropped into a smooth pond can cause ripples on distant shores.”

Neither! It’s an Environmental Impact Report observation by Orange County Superior Court Judge Ronald Bauer, part of his recent written order rejecting the City of Riverside’s attempt to stop an expansion project at the Port of Los Angeles – a victory for Meyers Nave attorney Amrit Kulkarni.

Riverside, 62 miles away from the port, had argued that the expansion project would result in increased rail traffic through Riverside, which would lead to longer traffic stoppages and degraded environmental quality.

Bauer, in his order, says the ripples of the port expansion project undeniably will reach the distant shores of Riverside – but that’s not reason enough to stop it on the basis of the port’s Environmental Impact Report. The judge was persuaded by the port’s “reasonable and reasoned analysis” of potential impacts on Riverside.

Kulkarni, head of Meyers Nave’s land use litigation practice and the port’s lawyer, said the case was among the first to closely address the question of how far out government agencies have to study environmental impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act. 

The court is saying “you do have an obligation to look, but you don’t have to study it to the point of minutiae,” Kulkarni said. “As long as you have credible expert evidence, that’s good enough.”

Meanwhile, Bauer expanded on his ripple analogy in a paragraph he described as the court’s “rambling musings”: “Lurking in the background of this entire case is the question of whether any increase in Riverside rail traffic is caused by this Port expansion…There are more children in Riverside (and San Berardino and Barstow) wearing clothes from Bangladesh. There are more households in Riverside buying refrigerators made in the Republic of Korea…Those new residents of Riverside, and of points east, are the direct cause of increased traffic on the streets and rails of Riverside.”

Kate Moser

To read the full article on Legal Pad, please click here.

3-Way Legal Snarl Stalls Redevelopment on Folsom Boulevard

Meyers Nave eminent domain attorneys David Skinner and Neli Palma are defending the Rancho Cordova Redevelopment Agency against landowner-developer, Lily Company, which is fighting to block the Agency from taking 9.5 acres through eminent domain.

The attorneys for Lily are claiming that the Agency did not properly follow the law in seeking to acquire the landowner’s property.

Superior Court Judge Raymond Cadei is presiding over the eminent domain case. If he rules that Rancho Cordova’s Redevelopment Agency had the right to take the Lily Company’s land, then a jury trial in 2011 will decide the fair market value owed to Lily.

Read the full article, “3-Way Legal Snarl Stalls Redevelopment on Folsom Boulevard.”