California Court of Appeal Overturns Lower Court Order, Finding Caltrans Failed to Consider Project’s Impact on the Old-Growth Redwoods of Richardson Grove

SAN FRANCISCO, January 30, 2014 — The California Court of Appeal today granted an appeal filed by Gross Law and co-counsel on behalf of environmental organizations and community members and ordered Caltrans to reevaluate the environmental impacts of a proposed highway-widening project in Humboldt County that would harm old-growth redwood trees in Richardson Grove State Park. The appeals court unanimously found that Caltrans failed to follow California environmental law in assessing impacts to the redwoods, many of which are thousands of years old. Caltrans’ project—intended to allow bigger trucks to travel Highway 101 through the park—would require excavation, fill, and paving within the fragile root zones of numerous old growth trees.

In its opinion, the court found that by failing to “separately identify and analyze the significance of the impacts to the root zones of old growth redwood trees” Caltrans had “subvert[ed] the purposes of CEQA [(California Environmental Quality Act)].” Accordingly, the court overturned the lower court’s order approving Caltrans’ analysis and directed it to enter judgment, requiring Caltrans to re-examine the proposed project’s potential impact on Richardson Grove’s old-growth redwoods.

In the spring of 2012, in a separate related lawsuit filed in federal court by Gross Law and co-counsel on behalf of substantially the same parties, Northern District of California Judge William Alsup ordered Caltrans to redo critical aspects of its environmental analysis of the proposed project’s potential impact on old-growth redwoods, finding the analysis in violation of federal environmental laws and “based off of false data.”

In 2011, Judge Alsup had preliminarily enjoined all work on the proposed project. The work remains enjoined.

The California State court lawsuit is captioned Lotus, et al. v. Caltrans, et al., No. 110002 (Humb. Cnty. Sup. Crt.), A137145 (1st App. Div.).

The lawsuit is captioned Bair et al. v. Caltrans et al., No. 10-04360-WHA (N.D. Cal.).

Order Granting Motion for Preliminary Injunction - Bair et al. v. Caltrans et. al., No. 10-04360-WHA (N.D. Cal.).pdf

Order Granting Motion for Summary Judgement - Bair et al. v. Caltrans et al., No. 10-04360-WHA (N.D. Cal.).pdf

Decision Granting Appeal and Ordering Entry of Judgment in Plaintiffs' Favor - Lotus, et al. v. Caltrans, et al., A137145 (1st App. Div.).pdf