Jeff Melching is a partner in the Government & Regulatory Law section and devotes a substantial portion of his practice to land use planning and entitlement activities. In connection with that work, Jeff routinely handles matters related to the drafting and review of master, program, project, subsequent and supplemental environmental impact reports; negative declarations; addenda; and notices of exemption under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Jeff has drafted and negotiated many development agreements and other contractual instruments that typically accompany land use entitlement applications. In addition, Jeff provides telecommunications advice to various clients throughout California in both entitlement and litigation contexts.
Jeff headed up the preparation and defense of the environmental documentation for the City of Irvine’s “Great Park” project, where he regularly consulted with environmental and technical consultants on issues ranging from agricultural resources to traffic circulation. He also lead the legal team on Irvine’s Northern Sphere entitlement project and associated environmental review, which involved over 12,000 homes and several million square feet of commercial development. For the City of Orange, Jeff served as successful litigation counsel when that City’s entitlement processing for the East Orange development of 4,000+ homes was challenged by the Sierra Club. Jeff also successfully defended the entitlement and CEQA compliance work for Santa Ana’s One Broadway Plaza office tower and related specific plan amendments. Most recently, Jeff worked in concert with Irvine city staff to obtain entitlements for a general plan amendment, zone change, overlay zone adoption, and program/project environmental impact report certification for a residential mixed use development project in the Irvine Business Complex.
Other significant components of Jeff’s practice include telecommunications law, cable law, adoption and implementation of fee programs under the Mitigation Fee Act, and land use litigation involving Constitutional (Free Exercise and/or Free Speech) issues.
Jeff has tried many cases before the California Superior Court as well as the United States District Court, and has argued multiple cases to the California Court of Appeal and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
- Irvine Business Complex Residential Mixed Use Entitlement Project (2010): Jeff lead the City of Irvine’s legal team in the development of land use entitlement and environmental review strategies for the creation of an overlay zone to allow for residential mixed use development in a predominantly commercial/industrial district. The entitlements allow for 15,000 residential dwelling units, provide development incentives for residential-serving retail development, and utilize flexible zoning concepts to allow for market-driven changes to development types. From an environmental review standpoint, the entitlements required a hybrid program/project EIR. The city’s project was highly controversial, but ultimately neither the entitlements nor the environmental review document were challenged.
- Orange County Great Park Development Agreement (2009): Jeff was the lead negotiator on the City’s legal team for a comprehensive set of amendments to the development agreement that accompanies the land use entitlements for the Orange County Great Park. The negotiation involved the joint phasing of infrastructure development for the simultaneous development on public land (Orange County Great Park) and private lands (4,900+ residential units and millions of square feet of commercial development). The matter also involved the granting of a 35% density bonus under the state density bonus law.
- Sierra Club v. City of Orange (2008) 163 Cal.App.4th 523. Jeff was the City of Orange’s lead attorney in successfully defending, at both the trial court and court of appeal levels, the entitlement of 4,000+ residential dwelling units on the urban edges of the City of Orange. The case involved complex and novel issues concerning the proper baseline for environmental analysis, the use of (and limitation on) supplements to EIRs, and extra-jurisdictional traffic analysis methodologies.
- Defend the Bay v. City of Irvine (2004) 119 Cal.App.4th 1261. Jeff was the City of Irvine’s lead attorney consultant on the 7000+ acre Northern Sphere project, which will involve the construction of over 12,000 homes over the next 10 to 15 years. The project includes significant circulation improvements, and involved discussions/negotiations with CalTrans over potential impacts from the project on I-5. Jeff played a key role in all aspects of the project, including (i) devising planning and zoning strategies to minimize environmental impacts and/or the potential for challenging the EIR, (ii) drafting the EIR, (iii) devising methodologies for technical studies in support of the EIR, and (iv) handling the litigation instigated in opposition to the project.
- San Jose Christian College v. City of Morgan Hill, 360 F.3d 1024 (9th Cir. 2004). In this case, Jeff represented the City of Morgan Hill on a challenge to a zoning denial that, if approved, would have allowed a college to relocate to a vacant hospital facility. One of the principal issues in the litigation was whether the college adequately described the scope of its intended development, so as to satisfy CEQA’s requirement for a stable, accurate, and finite project description. Jeff was successful in arguing to the United States District Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that the College’s CEQA compliance was inadequate, thereby providing grounds to uphold the City’s determination to deny the zone change.
- Airport Working Group v. City of Irvine (2004), Orange County Superior Court Case No. CC00178. Jeff headed up the City of Irvine’s environmental work relating to the reuse of the Former Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro. He has drafted portions of the various environmental documents prepared on behalf of the City of Irvine, including the EIR for the City’s “Great Park” project and the various related technical reports. Jeff’s primary role was to ensure that the environmental documentation generated by the City withstood attack in litigation. When the EIR was ultimately attacked, Jeff successfully defended the matter in Orange County Superior Court.
- Charter Communications v. County of Santa Cruz (2002) 304 F.3d. 927. This case involved the interpretation of the Federal Cable Act provisions relating to cable television franchise renewals. In the case, the Ninth Circuit recognized that the broad deference owed to local agency franchising decisions. Jeff represented the County of Santa Cruz at the trial court and Ninth Circuit levels.
- City of Glendale Telecommunications Ordinance. Jeff assisted the City of Glendale with the drafting of a moratorium on the approval of telecommunications applications, followed by the drafting and public outreach efforts associated with the adoption of an updated telecommunications ordinance. Jeff has provided similar services to the City of Irvine and the City of Torrance.
- Level 3 Communications v. County of San Luis Obispo, Case No. 05-7181 RSLW, United States District Court, Central District of California. This case involved a dispute over a telecommunications company’s breach of a dark fiber agreement. Jeff represented the County through a successful defense to pre-trial motions that attempted to use the Federal Telecommunications Act to preempt the dark fiber agreement. Jeff then assisted the County in achieving a mediated settlement of the case.
Areas of Expertise
- Environmental Law Under the California Environmental Quality Act
- Land Use Entitlement
- Telecommunications Law
- Cable Law
- Religious Land Use
- Development Agreements
- Civil Litigation
- Author/Updater “Liability and Litigation,” Chapter XIII of the Municipal Law Handbook, 2007-2009.
- Speaker, “Advanced CEQA Topics 2007,” Association of Environmental Professionals, March 2007 and March 2008.
- Speaker, “Beginning CEQA,” Association of Environmental Professionals, November 2006 and November 2007.
- Speaker, “Wireless Issues Update” presented to the City Attorney’s Division of the League of California Cities, May 6, 2010.
- Speaker, “Significant Developments in Telecommunications Law and Litigation,” presented to the Los Angeles City Attorneys’ Association, November 2009.
- Author, “Addressing Religious Freedom in Land Use,” presented to the California County Counsel’s Association, April, 2007.
- Author, “What General Practitioners Need to Know Before Suing a Public Entity,” Journal of the State Bar of California, September 2000.
- Author, “To Issue, or Not to Issue: A Look at Local Government’s Role in Enforcing the ESA under CEQA and that Pesky Constitution,” paper presented at Continuing Legal Education Seminar, June 2000.
- Author, "The Existing Legal Framework for Intergovernmental Cooperation," Western Cities Magazine, June 1996.