The Sohagi Law Group

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The Sohagi Law Group, PLC is pleased to announce the promotion of R. Tyson Sohagi to Partner in the firm

Mr. Sohagi represents public agencies on complex environmental and land use matters at the administrative, trial court, and appellate level. His practice focuses on the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA"), the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), the Coastal Act, Election Law, and Land Use Planning/Zoning Law. Mr. Sohagi has worked on complex projects involving public infrastructure, public/private partnerships, and projects involving airports, ports, multi-modal transportation improvements, mixed use, hotels, retail, General Plans, Specific Plans, Climate Action Plans, Zoning, and Local Coastal Programs

September 1st, 2015 - Court Denies Sierra Club's Challenge to Coastal Development Permits Approved by California Coastal Commission

Sierra Club v. California Coastal Commission; 22nd District Agricultural Association (Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. BS151130)

On Tuesday, September 1st, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant upheld the California Coastal Commission's approval of two coastal development permits for the Del Mar Fairgrounds, rejecting arguments by the Sierra Club that the development authorized by the permits violated the Coastal Act.

The challenged permits resulted from the Consent Cease and Desist and Restoration Orders, a historic settlement agreement negotiated and approved by the Commission and the 22nd DAA in early 2012. The Consent Orders resolved long-standing disputes between the two agencies regarding uses and development on the Fairgrounds, and set forth a framework for future Coastal Act compliance. The permits challenged by the Sierra Club, approved in November 2013 and a key requirement of the Consent Orders, authorized a second thoroughbred horse racing meet in the fall, as well as year-round parking and temporary events on the East Overflow Lot and Golf Driving Range, and other non-Fair/Race time events on the main Fairgrounds property. The Commission's approval of the permits also triggered a $5 million restoration of the remaining portion of the South Overflow Lot, approximately 9.5 acres, to fully functioning wetlands.

"Following a careful review of the facts and the applicable law, we are pleased that the court properly upheld the two coastal development permits approved by the California Coastal Commission, thus allowing the 22nd DAA to continue providing the citizens of San Diego with the long standing services to which they are entitled," stated Frederick Schenk, President of the 22nd District Agricultural Association.

In rejecting the Sierra Club's petition to overturn the Coastal Commission's decision, Judge Chalfant found that the Commission had correctly applied the Coastal Act's conflict resolution principles when it determined that approval of the permits would allow the 22nd DAA to expand and vastly improve the quality of the surviving wetlands on the Fairgrounds property by restoring the SOL, while also furthering Coastal Act policies favoring increased public access and public recreational uses in the coastal zone by consolidating parking and event uses in the East Overflow Lot and Golf Driving Range. The Commission found that this outcome, even though it would result in fill of degraded wetland areas of the EOL and GDR, was more protective of coastal resources than denial of the permit application, which would leave all three lots in their current disturbed state and curtail important Fairgrounds operations. The court's decision rested in large part on its acknowledgement of the Fair's vested right to use all three overflow lots for parking during the summer Fair and Races, which precluded the Commission from unilaterally ordering restoration of any of the lots.


August 5th, 2015 - California Supreme Court Rules State Agencies' Duty to Mitigate Not Solely Dependent on Legislative Appropriations

City of San Diego et al. v. Board of Trustees of the California State University (California Supreme Court Case No. S199557)

In a unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court yesterday held that CSU failed to proceed in a manner required by law when it found that mitigation for the off-campus environmental impacts of its San Diego State University (SDSU) 2007 Campus Master Plan would be infeasible absent an explicit appropriation from the Legislature to fund its fair-share of such mitigation. The Court rejected CSU's proposed rule that the feasibility of mitigating its project's off-site environmental effects depends on a legislative appropriation of funds. The Court instead agreed with the City of San Diego, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS), who had challenged CSU's EIR for the Master Plan under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for its failure to adequately mitigate impacts associated with the expansion of both the student population and campus facilities. The Supreme Court's opinion affirms the Fourth District Court of Appeal's 2011 decision directing CSU to vacate its certification of the EIR.

The question before the Court involved interpretation of its 2006 decision in City of Marina v. Board of Trustees of California State University (2006) 39 Cal.4th 351, addressing a state agency's mitigation responsibilities. In City of Marina, the Supreme Court discussed an entity's obligation to make a "fair-share" contribution as mitigation for a project's significant off-site impacts under CEQA. In finding that CSU failed to take appropriate mitigation measures in its development of its Monterey Bay campus, the Supreme Court in City of Marina stated: "[A] state agency's power to mitigate its project's effects through voluntary mitigation payments is ultimately subject to legislative control; if the Legislature does not appropriate the money, the power does not exist."

In yesterday's decision, Justice Werdergar (who also authored the City of Marina majority) confirmed that this statement from City of Marina was dictum. That dictum, the Court found, is "simply an overstatement" and "does not justify [CSU's] assumption that a state agency may contribute funds for off-site environmental mitigation only through earmarked appropriations, to the exclusion of other available funding sources." Instead, the Court found, a public agency, in mitigating a project has access to all of its discretionary powers, not just the power to spend appropriations, including adopting changes to proposed projects, imposing conditions on its approval, adopting plans or ordinances to control a broad class of projects, and choosing alternative projects. CEQA does not provide an exception to the general rules of mitigation for state agencies.

The Court's decision was also based on the "unreasonable consequences" that would follow from CSU's proposed rule that fair-share payments for off-site mitigation may be funded only with an appropriation earmarked for that purpose, and that without such an appropriation, mitigation is infeasible. Specifically, applying this rule to all state agencies would force the Legislature to sit as a "standing environmental review board to decide on a case-by-case basis whether state agencies' projects will proceed despite unmitigated off-site environmental effects." The Court also found that CSU's proposed rule would impose on local and regional government agencies the cost of addressing a state agency's project's contribution to cumulative impacts on local infrastructure. Finally, under CSU's proposed rule, off-site mitigation would be found infeasible in most cases and nothing would compel the Legislature to make appropriations for funding off-site mitigation.

For these reasons, the Court rejected CSU's conclusion that the feasibility of mitigating its project's off-site environmental effects depends on a legislative earmark. The Court, thus, invalidated CSU's finding of infeasibility as a failure to proceed in a manner required by law.

Margaret M. Sohagi, Philip A. Seymour, and Nicole H. Gordon represented the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) and the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) in this case.



April 8th, 2016 - Court Upholds EIR for LAX Specific Plan Amendment Study (SPAS)

On April 8, 2016, Ventura County Superior Court Judge Glen Reiser ruled that the City of Los Angeles complied with CEQA when it certified an EIR and approved a plan mapping out a strategy for upgrading the Los Angeles International Airport. The "Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion" and the cities of Inglewood and Culver City challenged the City's decision. Following a three-day trial in January 2016, Judge Reiser issued a 118-page ruling rejecting all of the petitioners' claims, including issues related to traffic, biological resources, air quality, cumulative impacts, mitigation, the project description, and the City's selection of an Alternative that would move the northernmost runway further north. In rejecting petitioners' claims, the Court ruled Los Angeles' actions were supported by a "veritable mountain range of substantial evidence" and that "the 7829-page SPAS Alternatives Study analysis presented here may be by far the most detailed project alternatives chapter and analysis in the 45-year history of CEQA." Margaret Sohagi, Nicole Gordon, and R. Tyson Sohagi of the Sohagi Law Group represented the City of Los Angeles in this litigation, along with Whit Manley (Remy, Moose, and Manley) and John Putnam (Kaplan, Kirsch and Rockwell).

Read the opinion HERE.



Published Decisions