If You Like The View, Buy The View: No Inverse Condemnation Claim Where City Trees Obstruct View Of The "Hollywood" Sign From Beverly Hills Homes

Boxer v. City of Beverly Hills (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 1212

By Glen C. Hansen

In Boxer v. City of Beverly Hills (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 1212, the Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District held that the trial court properly sustained the City of Beverly Hills’ (“City”) demurrer to an inverse condemnation cause of action brought against the City by homeowners whose views of the Los Angeles Basin and surrounding hills, including the Hollywood sign, were blocked by the City’s planting and maintaining of coastal redwoods on a City park adjacent to the homeowners’ property. In an inverse condemnation action, the property owner must establish the first element that the public entity has “taken or damaged” his or her property, before the second element of just compensation is addressed. Property is “taken or damaged” within the meaning of article I, section 19 of the California Constitution when: (1) the property has been physically invaded in a tangible manner; (2) no physical invasion has occurred, but the property has been physically damaged; or (3) an intangible intrusion onto the property has occurred which has caused no damage to the property but places a burden on the property that is direct, substantial, and peculiar to the property itself.  In this case, the plaintiffs failed to establish any one of those three alternatives.

Plaintiffs did not allege that either the trees or anything associated with the trees physically invaded their property. Thus, plaintiffs failed to allege any physical intrusion, occupation, or invasion of their property or any physical damage to their property. Also, plaintiffs failed to show any “intangible intrusion” onto their property. When the conduct of a public entity results in an “intangible intrusion” onto the plaintiff's property that does not physically damage the property, the plaintiff must allege that the intrusion has resulted in a burden on the property that is direct, substantial, and peculiar to the property itself. Here, plaintiffs argued that an “intangible intrusion” existed because the trees unobstructed their view of Los Angeles and its surrounding hillsides and prominent landmarks. However, under California law, plaintiffs had no right to an unobstructed view over adjoining property. The visual impairment from the City’s trees could not, itself, constitute an unconstitutional taking. Plaintiffs’ alternative argument regarding diminution in the value of their property from the obstructed view was also unavailing, because that argument failed to establish the first element of a compensable taking or damaging of their property. Diminution in value is a component of the second element of just compensation, which is not considered until after the first element of a “taking or damage” has already been proved. Accordingly, plaintiffs failed to allege an inverse condemnation cause of action, and the demurrer was properly sustained by the trial court.

Glen Hansen is Senior Counsel at Abbott & Kindermann, LLP.  For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, real estate, environmental and/or planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann, LLP at (916) 456-9595.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, LLP, or the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because of the changing nature of this area of the law and the importance of individual facts, readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.

 

COURT CLARIFIES HOW INDIRECT COSTS OF PROVIDING GOVERNMENT SERVICES SHOULD BE CALCULATED FOR DETERMINING THE FEES CHARGED FOR THOSE SERVICES

By Glen C. Hansen

California Public Records Research, Inc. v. County of Stanislaus (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 1432.

In California Public Records Research, Inc. v. County of Stanislaus (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 1432, plaintiff California Public Records Research, Inc., sought a writ of mandate to compel the County of Stanislaus to reduce the fees it charges for copies of official records. Plaintiff alleged the fees of $3 for the first page and $2 for each subsequent page exceeded County’s cost of providing the service. Plaintiff argued that such rates violated Government Code section 27366, which provides that copying fees “shall be set by the board of supervisors in an amount necessary to recover the direct and indirect costs of providing the product or service ….” The trial court denied the writ. Plaintiff appealed. The Court of Appeal reversed.

The evidence demonstrated that the County’s Board of Supervisors based its decision on a study that estimated the cost of a particular service by multiplying (1) the amount of staff time used to provide the service by (2) the cost to County of that staff time. The time figure included an estimate of the average number of minutes needed by staff to provide the service plus an allocation of general and support minutes. The study estimated it cost County an average of $2.97 to process a request for a copy of an official record. The study therefore recommended charging $3 for the first page copied and $2 for each subsequent page. However, the study and other evidence presented information on a per document basis, not a per page basis. The Court of Appeal concluded that the record lacked evidence showing that the fees charged per page reflect the County’s actual costs.

The court then explained how the fee determination should be made. Section 27366 requires an exercise of judgment and is not simply a matter of performing a mathematical calculation that produces a single correct answer. Thus, that section grants a board of supervisors some discretionary authority when setting copying fees, limited by the phrase “direct and indirect costs.” The term “direct costs” is unambiguous. The term “indirect costs” requires that such costs be “reasonably attributed to (i.e., reasonably related to) the service of providing copies and by excluding costs not reasonably attributed to the service of providing copies.” The choice of methodology for calculating a county’s cost of providing copying services is a matter committed to the discretion of the board of supervisors because there is no single legally correct methodology. The court therefore remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with this proper determination of the copying fees.

Glen C. Hansen is Senior Counsel at Abbott & Kindermann, LLP. For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, real estate, environmental and/or planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann, LLP at (916) 456-9595.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, LLP, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because of the changing nature of this area of the law and the importance of individual facts, readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.

 

Discovery Rule Does Not Apply To Statute Of Limitations In A CEQA Action

Communities for a Better Environment v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District (2016) 1 Cal.App.5th 715

By Glen Hansen

In Communities for a Better Environment v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District (2016) 1 Cal.App.5th 715 (“Communities”), the Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District affirmed the dismissal of  an action under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) that challenged an agency’s approval, made without a notice of exemption, of a permit for a rail-to-truck facility under a ministerial exemption, because the action was not filed within 180 days after the agency’s decision; and because the discovery rule did not apply in that context. 

In Communities, respondent Kinder Morgan Material Services, LLC (“Kinder Morgan”), began operating an ethanol rail-to-truck transloading facility in Richmond, California, around 2009. In February 2013, Kinder Morgan applied to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (“BAAQMD”) for approval to alter the facility and begin transloading crude oil from the Bakken Formation in the Great Plains. According to petitioners Communities for a Better Environment, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Sierra Club, and Natural Resources Defense Council (collectively, “CBE”), Bakken crude oil is “highly volatile and explosive” and “[t]he range of significant adverse environmental impacts of Kinder Morgan’s operation includes a high risk to public health and safety from derailment, significant increases in toxic air contaminants, potential contamination of California’s precious waterways (that support entire ecosystems), and significant increases in greenhouse gas emissions.” BAAQMD determined that the project was “ministerial” and not subject to CEQA review. BAAQMD authorized Kinder Morgan to begin transloading crude oil by issuing a permit in July 2013 called an authority to construct. BAAQMD never issued an optional notice of exemption (“NOE”) that would have publicly announced its determination that the project was exempt from CEQA review. Kinder Morgan began transloading crude oil in mid-September 2013. 

On March 27, 2014, CBE filed a petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory relief on the grounds that BAAQMD’s approval of the operational change at the transloading facility was not ministerial and an environmental impact report (“EIR”) was required pursuant to CEQA because there was a fair argument that the change would have a significant impact on the environment. The trial court dismissed the petition and complaint without leave to amend, concluding that the suit was time-barred under Public Resources Code section 21167, subdivision (d). The Court of Appeal affirmed. 

The only issue on appeal was whether CBE could successfully amend its petition and complaint to allege that the action was timely by virtue of the discovery rule. CBE argued that it did not learn, and could not with reasonable diligence have learned, of the project any earlier, because BAAQMD “gave the public no notice of Kinder Morgan’s switch to … Bakken crude oil” and “Kinder Morgan’s transloading operation is entirely enclosed, making the transported commodity, and any change to it, invisible.”  In response, the court explained that an action to challenge such a determination accrues not at the time of the determination but instead on one of three alternative dates explicitly provided in section 21167(d). Those dates are: First, if the agency files an NOE under section 21152, subdivision (b), the action must be brought within 35 days of the NOE’s filing; second, if the NOE has not been filed, then the action must be brought within 180 days of the agency’s decision to carry out or approve the project; and third, if a project is undertaken without a formal decision by the agency, the action must be brought within 180 days of commencement of the project. Here, the action was not filed within 180 days after the agency’s formal approval of the project. Rejecting CBE’s argument, the court concluded that the discovery rule cannot be applied to postpone the running of those limitations periods in section 21167(d). A plaintiff is deemed to have constructive notice of a potential CEQA violation on all three alternative dates of accrual under section 21167(d). The court stated that “[t]he discovery rule has never been applied to postpone the accrual of an action beyond the date the plaintiff has constructive notice of an injury, and we decline to so apply it here.” As CBE offered no theory under which the operative events occurred less than 180 days before the lawsuit was filed, the court assumed that CBE could not amend its petition and complaint to allege that it lacked any actual or constructive notice in that timeframe. Therefore, applying the discovery rule in this case would not postpone accrual of the action. Accordingly, the court affirmed the dismissal of the action.

The ramifications of this decision were evident in the comments of BAAQMD’s district counsel: “These [permit] decisions are made hundreds or even thousands of times across all the government entities every day. … What the statute said is in those circumstances, you don’t have to give notice. … I think most agencies don’t [give notice] for very routine permits.”[1]

Glen Hansen is a Senior Counsel at Abbott & Kindermann, LLP.  For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, real estate, environmental and/or planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann, LLP at (916) 456-9595.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, LLP, or the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because of the changing nature of this area of the law and the importance of individual facts, readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.


[1] Comments of Brian C. Bunger, quoted in Logan Noblin, “Environmental Groups Lose CEQA Appeal,” The Daily Recorder (July 21, 2016), p.2

 

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Agency's Historical Resource Determinations Subject to Deferential Substantial Evidence Review Standard

Friends of the Willow Glen Trestle v. City of San Jose (2016) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.

By Daniel S. Cucchi

As part of its plan to upgrade its trail system, the City of San Jose (the “City”) proposed to demolish the Willow Glen Railroad Trestle (the “Trestle”), a wooden bridge built in 1922 as part of a rail line accessing the canning districts near downtown, and replace it with a new steel pedestrian bridge.  The City prepared a mitigated negative declaration (“MND”) in support of the project, which found that because the Trestle design was common and was likely largely rebuilt within the last 30-40 years, it was not a historical resource, and, thus, there was no significant impact on the environment.  The Friends of the Willow Glen Trestle (“Friends”) challenged that determination and filed a writ of mandate challenging the MND, arguing that there was a “fair argument” that the Trestle was an historical resource and an environmental impact report (“EIR”) was required.  The trial court agreed with Friends, asserting that the standard of review applied in Architectural Heritage Assn. v. County of Monterey, 122 Cal.App.4th 1095 (2004), was the correct standard.  The City appealed and the appellate court reversed.

The appellate court first dismissed the argument that it was required to follow the holding in Valley Advocates v. City of Fresno, 160 Cal.App.4th 1039 (2008), concluding that it could complete its own determination of the proper legal standard.  It reasoned that, while the case held that the substantial evidence review standard applied to an agency’s determination of whether a resource was historical, the California Supreme Court’s discussion of Valley Advocates in Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley (2015) 60 Cal.4th 1086 (2015), was limited to the question of whether a bifurcated standard could apply to a multi-part agency decision and avoided the question that was now before the court. 

The court next turned to the applicable language in Public Resources Code section 21084.1, noting that local agencies have the power to determine that a “presumed” historical resource (see Pub. Res. Code §§ 5020.1(k), 5024.1(g)), is not historic when supported by the preponderance of the evidence.  Thus, it reasoned, that application of the fair argument standard to that decision would directly contradict the statutory language. 

The court completed its analysis by reviewing the line of cases involving the review of agency decisions involving historical resources, concluding that the only cases specifically addressing the issue, Valley Advocates and Citizens for Restoration of L Street v. City of Fresno, 229 Cal.App.4th 340 (2014), were in alignment with the court’s reading of the applicable statutes.  It, therefore, held that the City’s determination of whether the Trestle was an historical resource must be reviewed under the substantial evidence standard and remanded the case back to the trial court to make that determination.      

Daniel S. Cucchi is an associate at Abbott & Kindermann, LLP.  For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, real estate, environmental and/or planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann, LLP at (916) 456-9595.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, LLP, or the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because of the changing nature of this area of the law and the importance of individual facts, readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.

 

2016 MID-YEAR ENVIRONMENTAL LAW UPDATE

By Diane G. Kindermann, William W. Abbott, Glen Hansen, Brian Russell and Dan Cucchi

Welcome to Abbott & Kindermann’s 2016 Mid-Year Environmental update. This update discusses selected litigation, regulations / administrative guidance and pending legislation, on both the federal and state levels, in the following general areas of environmental law: (A) Water Rights and Supply, (B) Water Quality, (C) Wetlands, (D) Air Quality and Climate Change, (E) Endangered Species, (F) Renewable Energy, (G) Hazardous Substance Control and Cleanup, (H) National Environmental Protection Act, and (I) Mining / Oil & Gas.

Click Here to read the complete update.

 

If you have any questions about these court decisions, contact Diane Kindermann, William Abbott or Glen Hansen. The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, LLP, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because of the changing nature of this area of the law and the importance of individual facts, readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.

 

Appellate Court Permits The Real Party In Interest To Recover Attorney And Paralegal Costs Incurred In Preparing The Administrative Record In A SMARA Vested Rights Proceeding

No Toxic Air, Inc. v Lehigh Southwest Cement Co. ( 2016) 1 Cal.App.5th 1136

By William W. Abbott

If required due to the complexity of the matter, a prevailing party may be able to recover reasonable legal and paralegal costs incurred in preparing an administrative record required by an action in administrative mandamus.

Project opponents unsuccessfully challenged in court a vested rights determination made by Santa Clara County pertaining to a long time mining operation.  At issue was a mine begun in 1903 and had been an ongoing concern ever since, expanding in terms of physical scope and mine related activities through the years.  In 2010, the then owner sought a determination of vested rights from the County.   The County made the vested rights determination and was unsuccessfully challenged in court. The real party in interest filed a cost bill which included the attorney and paralegal costs associated with assembling the administrative record.  The unsuccessful plaintiffs moved to tax costs.  The trial court determined that the costs were reasonably incurred and appropriate for the complexity of the case, but granted the motion to tax for lack of authority to allow those costs. The real party in interest appealed. 

Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5 provides in part “if the expense of preparing all or any part of the record has been borne by the prevailing party, the expense shall be taxable as costs.”  Looking to CEQA cases for guidance on this question, the appellate court concluded once the trial court determined the appropriateness and need for the attorney and paralegal work to prepare the record, that the motion to tax costs should have been denied and reversed.

William W. Abbott is a partner at Abbott & Kindermann, LLP. For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, real estate, environmental and/or planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann, LLP at (916) 456-9595.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, LLP, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because of the changing nature of this area of the law and the importance of individual facts, readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.

 

 

GENERAL PLAN CONSISTENCY ANALYSIS IS INSUFFICIENT TO ESTABLISH PROJECT CONFORMITY WITH A "FUNDAMENTAL" GENERAL PLAN IMPLEMENTATION ACTION

Spring Valley Lake Assn. v. City of Victorville (2016) 248 Cal. App. 4th 91

By William W. Abbott

The Tamarisk shopping center project in Victorville consists of 214,596 square feet of commercial retail uses on approximately 23.72 acres of land, currently vacant and undeveloped. Among the project's proposed commercial retail uses includes a Walmart store of approximately 184,946 square feet. The land use approvals included a general plan amendment, a zone change, a site plan, a conditional use permit, and a parcel map. The City approved the project, and the Association filed a combined petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief (petition) challenging the City's decision, alleging land use and CEQA claims. The trial court granted partial relief, holding that the EIR did not adequately discuss the project’s consistency with the City’s onsite electrical generation policy or project impacts on greenhouse gas emissions. The trial court also concluded that there was insufficient evidence of consistency with the onsite electrical generation policy to support the zoning change and parcel map. Wal-Mart appealed the lower court decision contending that there is substantial evidence to support the City's finding the project is consistent with the general plan and the project's EIR adequately analyzed the project's greenhouse gas emissions impacts. The Association cross-appealed, contending that the City violated CEQA by failing to recirculate the EIR after the City revised the traffic and circulation impacts analysis, air quality impacts analysis, hydrology and water quality impacts analysis, and biological resources impacts analysis. The Association also contended that the City violated the Planning and Zoning Law by failing to make all of the findings required by Government Code section 66474 before approving the project's parcel map. The appellate court rejected Wal-Mart’s arguments on appeal, and granted additional relief to the Association.

The case largely turns on an implementation measure of one policy contained within the general plan. That implementation measure (IM 7.1.1.4) “requires all new commercial or industrial development to generate electricity on-site to the maximum extent feasible.” The EIR discussed the feasibility of onsite generation, and noted that feasibility was determined in part by the availability of tax credits along with other information relevant to the feasibility of onsite solar generation. The EIR also noted that the roof would be “solar ready” in the event that solar installation became financially feasibility. No enough according to the appellate court. Citing Topanga Assn. For a Scenic Community v. County of Los Angeles (1974) 11 Cal.3d 506, the cornerstone case on administrative findings in California, the EIR analysis was insufficient to adequately explain the infeasibility of solar, and did not discuss any other onsite generation options. Wal-Mart also argued that a project is not required to be consistent with every goal and policy which the appellate court recognized as a general proposition, but the court applied the exception for “fundamental” policies (Families Unafraid v. County of El Dorado (1998) 62 Cal.App.4th 1332).

The court then turned to the EIR evaluation of greenhouse gases. The analysis concluded that the project would not substantially contribute to GHG emissions, resting in part upon a general plan requirement that a project exceed Title 24 standards by 15 percent. However, the EIR included information suggesting that the project would exceed the Title 24 standards by at least 10 percent and in another part of the EIR, by 14 percent. Because of this conflict, the court concluded that the record did not support the City’s determination that the project’s contribution was less than significant based upon meeting the 15 percent target over Title 24.

With respect to the Association’s cross appeal, the appellate court agreed that a city or county must address both the affirmative and negative findings of the Subdivision Map Act. Government Code section 66474. Thus, tentative map approvals, including parcel maps, must include findings relating to general plan consistency, physical suitability of the site for the type and density of development, impacts to fish, wildlife and habitat, public health problems and public access easements.

The Association’s final issue on cross appeal asserted that the City was required to recirculate the FEIR due to revisions pertaining to traffic, biological resources, air quality, and hydrology and water quality. As to traffic, the text dealt with the effect of a delay in an assumed improvement and the information indicated that service would degrade, but the significance level would not change. With respect to biological resources, the revisions reflected that the streambed impact area would increase, and that the number of special status species tested in spring surveys would also increase. None of these revisions constituted substantial new information or deprived the public of a meaningful opportunity to comment. The appellate court agreed with the Association as to air quality and hydrology. Because the appellate court had concluded that there was a lack of substantial evidence to support the conclusion of consistency with the general plan implementation measures, the appellate court concluded that there was a significant adverse impact and that the public had been denied a meaningful opportunity to comment. The revisions to the hydrology section was a significant rewrite and redesign (replacing 26 pages with 350 pages of technical reports.) The changes were sufficient in degree (and no redline of changes was included to facilitate tracking) that the court concluded the revisions denied the public a meaningful opportunity to review and comment.

Commentary:

  1. I think that decision potentially overstates the EIR’s obligation to discuss general plan consistency issues. The court noted that nowhere in the record was there evidence to explain consistency with the policy, leaving the door open that the requisite explanation and supporting evidence may lie elsewhere. To this practitioner, the EIR is not intended nor designed to be the resolution of broader general plan consistency issues as the CEQA Guidelines provisions on general plans are specific and narrow. See CEQA Guidelines sections 15063(d)(5) (initial study);  section 15125 (environmental setting); section 15130 (cumulative impacts); Appendix G, section N. A robust consistency analysis is best addressed through the staff report. Best practices in an EIR would include language directing the reader to the staff report for an evaluation of project consistency with the general plan.
  2. The decision draws no distinction between legislative and adjudicatory findings, although ultimately this would not have been determinative.
  3.  General plan practitioners should ponder the ramifications of the court’s use of the general plan. The case vividly illustrates the risk of over committing future action in a general plan and supports the idea of under promising when drafting general plan text. As this case also illustrates, the court should not be left to its own devices to determine which policies or implementation measures are fundamental and mandatory in every instance. Best practices suggests inclusion of language in a general plan specifically disavowing characterization of policies as “fundamental” unless specifically noted as such.
  4. The court’s decision on the SMA findings will not come as a surprise or burden to many cities and counties. The court’s conclusion begs the question as to the other denial findings found in chapter 4 of the SMA. Cities and counties may be well served to develop and apply a comprehensive list of all the approval/denial related findings to every tentative subdivision and parcel map.

William W. Abbott is a partner at Abbott & Kindermann, LLP. For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, real estate, environmental and/or planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann, LLP at (916) 456-9595.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, LLP, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because of the changing nature of this area of the law and the importance of individual facts, readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.

 

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Plan Bay Area EIR and Sustainable Communities Plan Upheld

Bay Area Citizens v. Association of Bay Area Governments (2016) 248 Cal.App.4th 966.

By William W. Abbott

In a case perhaps driven primarily by philosophical considerations, the Court of Appeal (First Appellate District) upheld ABAG’s Sustainable Communities plan (the “Plan”), adopted under the authority of SB 375 (Steinberg).  SB 375, adopted in 2008, created a framework for linking transportation investment and land use planning in a manner to move the state closer to its targeted reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by passenger vehicles and light trucks. The heavy lifting under SB 375 is by the regional planning agencies, in this case Association of Bay Area Governments (“ABAG”) in consultation with the California Air Resources Board (“CARB”) as it discharges its responsibilities developing and implementing the State Scoping Plan.

In response to the targets set by CARB, ABAG developed and released a Draft Plan. The Plan identified land use and transportation strategies believed to meet the required per capita reductions. These strategies included land use intensification around transit corridors. Ultimate implementation of the strategies would rest with the individual cities and counties as the ABAG Plan did not directly control land use decisionmaking. ABAG prepared an EIR to go with the Draft Plan. The EIR evaluated (a) the Plan’s ability to meet the regional SB 375 generated targets, (b) anticipated changes in greenhouse emissions (direct and indirect) by 2040, and (c) compliance with the Executive Orders (S-3-05 and B-16-2012). With respect to the first analysis (meeting the regional targets), the EIR excluded any benefits from the Pavley I legislation and low carbon fuel requirements, whereas Pavley I and low carbon adjustments were factored into the analysis for the second and third evaluations.  ABAG submitted its Draft Plan to CARB for technical review as provided for by SB 375, and CARB approved the methodology.

Bay Area Citizens was critical of the Draft Plan along with the EIR, and offered its own alternative. Citizens claims included the argument that the Plan had to account for reductions from Pavley I and low carbon fuels and that ABAG should have considered its alternative which avoided “draconian” land use and transportation strategies. Dissatisfied with the Plan and EIR, Citizens following adoption filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the adoption. The trial court denied relief as did the appellate court.

The appellate decision is quite detailed, setting forth the full regulatory structure for the adoption of the regional plans, including CARB’s role. Citizen’s primary attack dealt with the role of reductions from Pavley I and low carbon fuels. As the court noted, the regional targets for reductions are separate and distinct from the reductions taken under the Scoping Plan for Pavley I and low carbon fuels. The appellate court agreed with ABAG that factoring Pavley I and low carbon into the regional targets would result in double counting. As most of Citizen’s arguments were tied to its fundamental attack regarding exclusion of Pavley I and low carbon fuels into the regional targets, the appellate court rejected those as well.

Although the appellate decision is mostly dedicated to SB 375, Citizens also challenged the EIR. Its first argument challenged the project description, reintroducing the theme that Pavley I and low carbon should have been factored in as part of the project description. The appellate court readily disposed of this argument, reciting that the seven identified goals for the Plan were sufficiently broad and appropriately linked to SB 375. The appellate court then turned to Citizens’ challenge to the EIR’s alternatives. Citizens first argued that the No Project alternative was required to reflect the benefits of other state programs (notably Pavley I and low carbon fuels) which largely centered upon an argument that the EIR should have included the Citizen’s alternative. Again, the appellate court disagreed noting that the targets in greenhouse gas reduction and climate change from the Plan were developed independent from and were additive to the anticipated benefits of Pavley I and low carbon fuels. The appellate court also determined that the Pavley II impacts were not known until too late in the EIR process and therefore were not required to be reflected in the EIR. Citizens also argued that the EIR was required to review its plan as an alternative, suggesting that its plan would have met basic project objectives without the secondary effects of higher density development. The court rejected this argument finding that the EIR included a reasonable range of alternatives and that Citizens had failed to demonstrate any shortcomings against that legal standard. Citizens last argument was a variation on the same theme: because the Agency failed to account for the benefits of Pavely I and low carbon fuels, the Agency failed to adequately respond to the Citizens comments as to those issues. Again noted the appellate court, the Citizens had it wrong.

Finally, as an independent ground to uphold the EIR, the Court agreed with amicus California Attorney General that the EIR was a full disclosure document. The document was clear when and where it relied upon Pavley I and low carbon fuels, and that the challengers failed show why more analysis was required. Essentially then, Citizens challenge was to the wisdom of the Plan itself, essentially at its best that the Plan did more than the minimum to meet the law.  In the end, a challenge to the wisdom of the Plan was not a CEQA challenge.

William W. Abbott is a partner at Abbott & Kindermann, LLP. For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, real estate, environmental and/or planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann, LLP at (916) 456-9595.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, LLP, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because of the changing nature of this area of the law and the importance of individual facts, readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.

 

2016 CEQA 2nd QUARTER REVIEW

By William W. Abbott, Diane Kindermann, Glen Hansen, Brian Russell and Dan Cucchi

Welcome to Abbott & Kindermann’s 2016 2nd Quarter CEQA update. This summary provides links to more in depth case write-ups on the firm’s blog. The case names of the newest decisions start with Section 3 and are denoted by bold italic fonts.

1.         2015 CEQA UPDATE 

To read the 2015 cumulative CEQA review, click here: 

2.         CASES PENDING AT THE CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT

There are 5 CEQA cases pending at the California Supreme Court. The cases, listed newest to oldest, and the Court’s summaries are as follows:

Banning Ranch Conservancy v. City of Newport Beach, S227473. (G049691; 236 Cal.App.4th 1341; Orange County Superior Court; 30-2012-00593557.) Petition for review after the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment in an action for writ of administrative mandate. This case presents the following issues: (1) Did the City's approval of the project at issue comport with the directives in its general plan to "coordinate with" and "work with" the California Coastal Commission to identify habitats for preservation, restoration, or development prior to project approval? (2) What standard of review should apply to a city's interpretation of its general plan? (3) Was the city required to identify environmentally sensitive habitat areas - as defined in the California Coastal Act of 1976 (Pub. Resources Code, § 3000, et seq.) - in the environmental impact report for the project?

Cleveland National Forest Foundation v. San Diego Assn. of Governments,

S223603. (D063288; 231 Cal.App.4th 1056, mod. 231 Cal.App.4th 1437a; San Diego County Superior Court; 37-2011-00101593-CU-TT-CTL, 37-2011-00101660-CU-TTCTL.) Petition for review after the court of appeal affirmed the judgment in a civil action. The court limited review to the following issue: Must the environmental impact report for a regional transportation plan include an analysis of the plan’s consistency with the greenhouse gas emission reduction goals reflected in Executive Order No. S-3-05, so as to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.)? 

Friends of the Eel River v. North Coast Railroad Authority, S222472. (A139222; 230 Cal.App.4th 85; Marin County Superior Court; CV1103591, CV1103605.) Petition for review after the court of appeal affirmed the judgments in actions for writ of administrative mandate. This case includes the following issues: (1) Does the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act [ICCTA] (49 U.S.C. § 10101 et seq.) preempt the application of the California Environmental Quality Act [CEQA] (Pub. Resources Code, § 21050 et seq.) to a state agency’s proprietary acts with respect to a state-owned and funded rail line or is CEQA not preempted in such circumstances under the market participant doctrine (see Town of Atherton v. California High Speed Rail Authority (2014) 228 Cal.App.4th 314)? (2) Does the ICCTA preempt a state agency’s voluntary commitments to comply with CEQA as a condition of receiving state funds for a state owned rail line and/or leasing state-owned property?

Sierra Club v. County of Fresno, S219783 (F066798, 226 Cal.App.4th 704); Fresno County Superior Court; 11CECG00706, 11CECG00709, 11CECG00726.) Petition for review after the court of appeal reversed the judgment in an action for writ of administrative mandate. This case presents issues concerning the standard and scope of judicial review under the California Environmental Quality Act. (CEQA; Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.)

Friends of the College of San Mateo Gardens v. San Mateo County Community College Dist., S214061. (A135892; nonpublished opinion; San Mateo County Superior Court; CIV508656.) Petition for review after the court of appeal affirmed the judgment in an action for writ of administrative mandate. This case presents the following issue: When a lead agency performs a subsequent environmental review and prepares a subsequent environmental impact report, a subsequent negative declaration, or an addendum, is the agency’s decision reviewed under a substantial evidence standard of review (Mani Brothers Real Estate Group v. City of Los Angeles (2007) 153 Cal.App.4th 1385)? Or, is the agency’s decision subject to a threshold determination of whether the modification of the project constitutes a “new project altogether,” as a matter of law (Save Our Neighborhood v. Lishman (2006) 140 Cal.App.4th 1288)?

3.         UPDATE

A.              General Considerations: When Is An MOU A Project? 

Delaware Tetra Technologies, Inc. v. County of San Bernardino (2016) 247 Cal.App.4th 352.

Citing seminal CEQA timing cases Save Tara v. City of West Hollywood, 45 Cal.4th 116 (2008) (“Save Tara”), and RiverWatch v. Olivenhain Municipal Water Dist., 170 Cal.App.4th 1186 (2009)(“RiverWatch”), the plaintiff claimed the respondent’s approval of a Memorandum of Understanding for development of a public/private partnership groundwater pumping project in the Mojave Desert (“2012 MOU”) was a “project” under CEQA and, thus, environmental review was required before it could be approved.  The court disagreed, finding that the 2012 MOU was not a “project,” because it did not commit the County “to a particular course of action that will cause an environmental impact,” affirming the trial court.  It reasoned that the instant circumstances were distinguishable from those cases, because those defendant agencies were sufficiently committed to a course of action that foreclosed alternatives or mitigation measures normally considered as part of the project approval process.  Instead, the 2012 MOU was akin to the “term sheet” in Cedar Fair, L.P. v. City of Santa Clara, 194 Cal.App.4th 1150 (2011), because the approval was merely “a process for completing the Plan” and the MOU explicitly stated that “the County retain[ed] full discretion to consider the Final EIR and then to approve the Project, disapprove it, or require additional mitigation measures or alternatives.” 

B.              Exempt From CEQA Review 

People for Proper Planning v. City of Palm Springs (2016) 247 Cal.App.4th 640.

The City of Palm Springs amended its general plan to remove minimum density requirements.  The City asserted that the amendment was categorically exempt from CEQA (CEQA Guidelines §15305 [Minor Alterations in Land Use Limitations]), as the action was consistent with prior city interpretation and administration of the General Plan which resulted in projects as less than the minimum stated in the various land use districts.  While the trial court agreed that it was exempt, the appellate court reversed on the basis that the change undermined the city’s ability to meet its state share of housing needs when it relied upon the “anticipated densities” when developing its housing element. Consequently, given the exemption’s facial exclusion for projects that result in changes to land use density, the exemption was inapplicable.

Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, Inc. v. City of Upland (2016) 245 Cal.App.4th 1265.

In 2007, the City of Upland adopted an ordinance banning both “fixed or mobile” medical marijuana dispensaries within the city limits. In reaction to the likely operation of marijuana delivery services within the city limits, the council adopted a new ordinance in 2013 that explicitly banned mobile dispensaries.  The Union of Medical Marijuana Patients (“UMMP”) filed a petition for writ of mandate, arguing that adoption of the ordinance was a “project” subject to the California Environmental Quality Act and the trial court denied.  The 4th appellate district court affirmed, holding that the ordinance was not a project under CEQA.  It reasoned that the 2013 ordinance was nothing more than a ratification of the previous existing ordinance which banned mobile dispensaries. It then further found that even if the 2013 did not restate existing law, the potential environmental effects raised by UMMP through studies evaluating industrial-scale indoor growing operations—increases in electrical and water, waste plant material and odors, hazardous waste materials, increased traffic—were speculative and, thus, not reasonably foreseeable environmental effects.  It reasoned that these concerns “rest on layers of assumptions” about the similarity of the potential acts and consequences of small-scale medical marijuana patients and those on an industrial-scale if the mobile delivery service ban is upheld.  

C.              Negative Declarations 

Joshua Tree Downtown Business Alliance v. County of San Bernardino (June 15, 2016, E062479) ___ Cal.App.4th ___. 

In a challenge to the adequacy of the county’s adopted Negative Declaration, the appellate court held that petitioner failed to provide substantial evidence of a potentially significant effect from urban decay resulting from the approval of a 9,100 sq. ft. Dollar General store, because there were legitimate credibility issues regarding the opinions of the local business owner regarding the impact.  The court also held that given the relatively moderate size of the business, it was reasonable for the county to conclude that the project was consistent with the county policies for the area which favor small businesses.

Preserve Poway v. City of Poway (2106) 245 Cal.App.4th 560.

It is no surprise that people, as a general rule, dislike change. California’s near constant state of evolvement is fertile ground for localized conflict between those fostering growth and those seeking to protect the status quo. While the fear or opposition to community change may well be the motivating factor in many CEQA disputes, is community change by itself an impact which must be addressed. According to Division One of the Fourth Appellate District, the answer is no. 

The underlying facts are neither remarkable nor unusual. The setting is the City of Poway, known as “The City in the Country.” A property owner, Harry Rogers, had operated a horse boarding facility for twenty years, located across the street from the polo/rodeo grounds of the Poway Valley Riders Association (which did not offer horse boarding.) Seeking greener pastures, Rogers proposed to close the boarding facility and subdivide his property into equestrian residential lots. The proposed subdivision conformed to the zoning and was unanimously approved by the City Council based upon a negative declaration. Horse enthusiasts filed a CEQA challenge over the conversion of use. The CEQA challenge raised a number of issues, noteworthy among which involved the loss of the facility and its potential implications to the character of the community. Equestrian activities were well thought of and helped define the community of Poway. The trial court found that most of the issues in the CEQA writ petition had not been raised administratively and could not be pursued at trial for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Reviewing the issue of community character, the trial court concluded that a fair argument had been made and directed that the Negative Declaration and project approval be set aside. As to the remaining issues, the trial court ruled for the City. The applicant timely appealed. The petitioners did not appeal the adverse ruling on the remaining claims. 

The appellate court reversed, concluding that community character was not the type of issue that CEQA was concerned with, as the impacts of closing the facility were social in character. The residents’ concerns were expressed in terms of childhood activities, life’s lessons while learned apparently on the back of a horse, the benefits to horse owners of not having to haul their horses around, and that the community would lose its country feel. While courts have recognized land use changes may affect a community through aesthetic impacts, in this particular case the impacts were to the psyche of the residents and were not the basis for requiring an environmental impact report. From the court’s perspective, these concerns were “psychological, social, and economic—not environmental.” 

The project opponents further argued that the existing rodeo/polo facility could cause impacts to the future subdivision. The appellate court rejected this argument, following the Supreme Court’s recent decision in California Building Industry Association v. Bay Ara Air Quality Management Dist. (2015) 62 Cal.4th 369, finding that CEQA’s focus was on the impacts of the project on the environment, not the other way around. As to traffic impacts, there was no “fair argument” from the court’s perspective. 

On appeal, the project opponents also argued that the trial court committed error in not requiring an EIR on other grounds. However, the opponents had failed to cross appeal these aspects of the lower court judgment, and could not now raise them in response to the appeal by the real party in interest. 

            C.        Environmental Impact Reports

Bay Area Citizens v. Association of Bay Area Governments (June 30, 2016, A143058) ___ Cal.App.4th ___.

In a legal challenge perhaps driven primarily by philosophical considerations (higher density vs. lower density), the Court of Appeal (First Appellate District) upheld ABAG’s Sustainable Communities plan (the “Plan”), adopted under the authority of SB 375 (Steinberg).  SB 375, adopted in 2008, created a framework for linking transportation investment and land use planning in a manner to move the state closer to its targeted reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by passenger vehicles and light trucks. The heavy lifting under SB 375 is by the regional planning agencies, in this case Association of Bay Area Governments (“ABAG”) in consultation with the California Air Resources Board (“CARB”) as it discharges its responsibilities developing and implementing the State Scoping Plan. The adequacy of the Plan and EIR, and in particular the shift towards higher density, was challenged by Bay Area Citizens. 

Although the appellate decision is mostly dedicated to SB 375, Citizens also challenged the EIR. Its first argument challenged the project description, reintroducing the theme that Pavley I and the low carbon fuel requirements should have been factored in as part of the project description. The appellate court readily disposed of this argument, reciting that the seven identified goals for the Plan were sufficiently broad and appropriately linked to SB 375. The appellate court then turned to Citizens’ challenge to the EIR’s alternatives.  Citizens first argued that the No Project alternative was required to reflect the benefits of other state programs (notably Pavley I and low carbon fuels) which largely centered upon an argument that the EIR should have included the Citizen’s alternative.  Again, the appellate court disagreed noting that the targets in greenhouse gas reduction and climate change from the Plan were developed independent from and were additive to the anticipated benefits of Pavley I and low carbon fuels. The appellate court also determined that the Pavley II impacts were not known until too late in the EIR process and therefore were not required to be reflected in the EIR.  Citizens also argued that the EIR was required to review its plan as an alternative, suggesting that its plan would have met basic project objectives without the secondary effects of higher density development.  The court rejected this argument finding that the EIR included a reasonable range of alternatives and that Citizens had failed to demonstrate any shortcomings against that legal standard. Citizens last argument was a variation on the same theme: because the Agency failed to account for the benefits of Pavely I and low carbon fuels, the Agency failed to adequately respond to the Citizens comments as to those issues. Again noted the appellate court, the Citizens had it wrong. 

Finally, as an independent ground to uphold the EIR, the Court agreed with amicus California Attorney General that the EIR was a full disclosure document. The document was clear when and where it relied upon Pavley I and low carbon fuels, and that the challengers failed to show why more analysis was required. Essentially then, Citizens challenge was to the wisdom of the Plan itself, essentially at its best that the Plan did more than the minimum to meet the law. In the end, a challenge to the wisdom of the Plan was not a CEQA challenge.

Spring Valley Lake Assn. v. City of Victorville (2016) 248 Cal. App. 4th 91 

The appellate court expands (and likely overstates) the general plan consistency disclosure obligation in an EIR. Conclusions regarding project impacts on climate change are not supported due to internal inconsistencies regarding the degree of compliance with local development standards. FEIR recirculation was required due to new information regarding compliance with general plan implementation measures and a substantial rewrite of project hydrology and mitigation. 

The Tamarisk shopping center project in Victorville consists of 214,596 square feet of commercial retail uses on approximately 23.72 acres of land, currently vacant and undeveloped. Among the project's proposed commercial retail uses includes a Walmart store of approximately 184,946 square feet. The land use approvals included a general plan amendment, a zone change, a site plan, a conditional use permit, and a parcel map. The City approved the project, and the Association filed a combined petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief (petition) challenging the City's decision, alleging land use and CEQA claims. The trial court granted partial relief, holding that the EIR did not adequately discuss the project’s consistency with the City’s onsite electrical generation policy or project impacts on greenhouse gas emissions. The trial court also concluded that there was insufficient evidence of consistency with the onsite electrical generation policy to support the zoning change and parcel map. Wal-Mart appealed the lower court decision contending that there is substantial evidence to support the City's finding the project is consistent with the general plan and the project's EIR adequately analyzed the project's greenhouse gas emissions impacts. The Association cross-appealed, contending that the City violated CEQA by failing to recirculate the EIR after the City revised the traffic and circulation impacts analysis, air quality impacts analysis, hydrology and water quality impacts analysis, and biological resources impacts analysis. The Association also contended that the City violated the Planning and Zoning Law by failing to make all of the findings required by Government Code section 66474 before approving the project's parcel map. The appellate court rejected Wal-Mart’s arguments on appeal, and granted additional relief to the Association. 

The case largely turns on an implementation measure of one policy contained within the general plan. That implementation measure (IM 7.1.1.4) “requires all new commercial or industrial development to generate electricity on-site to the maximum extent feasible.” The EIR discussed the feasibility of onsite generation, and noted that feasibility was determined in part by the availability of tax credits along with other information relevant to the feasibility of onsite solar generation. The EIR also noted that the roof would be “solar ready” in the event that solar installation became financially feasibility. No enough according to the appellate court. Citing Topanga Assn. For a Scenic Community v. County of Los Angeles (1974) 11 Cal.3d 506, the cornerstone case on administrative findings in California, the EIR analysis was insufficient to adequately explain the infeasibility of solar, and did not discuss any other onsite generation options. Wal-Mart also argued that a project is not required to be consistent with every goal and policy which the appellate court recognized as a general proposition, but the court applied the exception for “fundamental” policies (Families Unafraid v. County of El Dorado (1998) 62 Cal.App.4th 1332).

The court then turned to the EIR evaluation of greenhouse gases. The analysis concluded that the project would not substantially contribute to GHG emissions, resting in part upon a general plan requirement that a project exceed Title 24 standards by 15 percent. However, the EIR included information suggesting that the project would exceed the Title 24 standards by at least 10 percent and in another part of the EIR, by 14 percent. Because of this conflict, the court concluded that the record did not support the City’s determination that the project’s contribution was less than significant based upon meeting the 15 percent target over Title 24.

With respect to the Association’s cross appeal, the appellate court agreed that a city or county must address both the affirmative and negative findings of the Subdivision Map Act. Government Code section 66474. Thus, tentative map approvals, including parcel maps, must include findings relating to general plan consistency, physical suitability of the site for the type and density of development, impacts to fish, wildlife and habitat, public health problems and public access easements.

The Association’s final issue on cross appeal asserted that the City was required to recirculate the FEIR due to revisions pertaining to traffic, biological resources, air quality, and hydrology and water quality. As to traffic, the text dealt with the effect of a delay in an assumed improvement and the information indicated that service would degrade, but the significance level would not change. With respect to biological resources, the revisions reflected that the streambed impact area would increase, and that the number of special status species tested in spring surveys would also increase. None of these revisions constituted substantial new information or deprived the public of a meaningful opportunity to comment. The appellate court agreed with the Association as to air quality and hydrology. Because the appellate court had concluded that there was a lack of substantial evidence to support the conclusion of consistency with the general plan implementation measures, the appellate court concluded that there was a significant adverse impact and that the public had been denied a meaningful opportunity to comment. The revisions to the hydrology section was a significant rewrite and redesign (replacing 26 pages with 350 pages of technical reports.) The changes were sufficient in degree (and no redline of changes was included to facilitate tracking) that the court concluded the revisions denied the public a meaningful opportunity to review and comment.

Ukiah Citizens for Safety First v. City of Ukiah (2016) 248 Cal.App.4th 256.

The appellate court held that the city’s EIR for a commercial retail project failed to adequately analyze energy impacts, because it failed to calculate the resulting energy impacts from increased vehicle trips resulting from the project. Furthermore, it held that the city’s reliance upon building code compliance to reduce energy use was improper, because the compliance with those standards fails to address many of the considerations required under Appendix F of the CEQA Guidelines. The court also held that the city’s adoption of an addendum to the EIR addressing these deficiencies nearly one year after its original adoption did not cure the deficiencies in the EIR, because the EIR was still inadequate at the time the decision was made to approve the project.

Center for Biological Diversity v. County of San Bernardino (2016) 247 Cal.App.4th 326.

The petitioners challenged the adequacy of the environmental impact report (“EIR”) for a proposed project to pump groundwater from an underground aquifer in the Mojave Desert, a public/private partnership between the County of San Bernardino (the “County”), the Santa Margarita Water District (“Santa Margarita”), the Fenner Valley Mutual Water Company (“Fenner Valley”), and Cadiz, Inc. (“Cadiz”)(collectively, the “Respondents”). Petitioners challenged under several theories: (1) Santa Margarita was improperly designated as the lead agency under CEQA; (2) the project description was misleading and inaccurate by (a) mischaracterizing the project’s “conservation” objectives as preventing water lost to evaporation, (b) misstating the project duration; and (c) mischaracterizing the total amount of water than will be withdrawn from the aquifer. The trial court denied the petition and the petitioners appealed. 

The appellate court affirmed on all counts. It found Santa Margarita was properly designated as the lead agency pursuant to CEQA Guidelines section 15051, because (1) it is a public agency that will carry out, in part, a public/private partnership; and (2) it will have the greatest responsibility for supervising the project as a whole. It rejected petitioners’ claim that the project does not meet its purported “conservation” purpose, finding that the purpose was broader than prevention of evaporation and included saving freshwater sources before they become non-potable due to excess salinity once they migrate into nearby dry lakes.   

The court denied petitioners claims that the project duration was indefinite, reasoning that even though the project by its terms could be extended beyond its 50-year duration in order to complete contracted-for water deliveries, the duration remained limited by the fact that any extension was limited by the maximum amount of water that may be pumped over the life of the project, and the average amount of water that can be pumped annually. It further reasoned that any extensions would require subsequent environmental review consistent with CEQA. Finally, the court rejected the claim that the quantity of water pumped was inaccurate, reasoning that the water sales agreement cited other adopted documents limiting the amount of water that may be pumped annually and that the size of the pipelines is consistent with the project design capacities. 

North Coast Rivers Alliance v. Kawamura (2015) 243 Cal.App.4th 647. (Unpublished to Published January 4, 2016.)

            An EIR was held to be invalid due to an inadequate range of alternatives.

The Third Appellate District found an EIR to be inadequate for lack of a particular alternative. While this suggests a potential micromanagement of the EIR process, the decision involves an unusual fact pattern. The lead agency was California Department of Food and Agriculture, proposing a seven year program to eradicate an invasive insect, the light brown apple moth (“LBAM”)[1]. Found in select northern California counties, this insect had spread rapidly notwithstanding State efforts to control the pest. The State proposed a program to eliminate the insect (as compared to managing its population) and prepared an EIR. At the end of the EIR process, the State approved a seven year program to control LBAMs based upon new information that eradication was not deemed to be attainable. “Control,” as compared to eradication, was not considered in the EIR as a reasonable alternative. Rather, the alternatives section examined seven techniques for management (five of which were approved as part of the project.) Opponents filed suit, arguing primarily project segmentation (after all, the pest was only to be controlled, not eradicated, within seven years), unstable project description and inadequate project alternatives. 

The project objective was defined as “eradication,” an objective determined by the appellate court to be too narrow. Eradication was used as a screening tool that prevented the consideration of control, which in the end is what the State approved. The fact that the State approved control in the end did not salvage the EIR as the error was deemed to be prejudicial. While late project adjustments might be allowable if insignificant, the court viewed the administrative record as lacking in supporting an insignificance conclusion because of the omission of any consideration of control in the EIR. The court also observed that the record supported the inference that impacts associated with control might be greater than eradication because of the potentially indefinite duration. 

Petitioners also argued other technical defects in specific impact analyses, but these were all rejected by the appellate court. The court considered but rejected an argument that the EIR was defective for failure to consider site specific impacts.  Finally, the court addressed a cumulative impacts argument stating that the new EIR take into consideration the long term (post seven year effects and treatment) in the evaluation of cumulative impacts.

D.        OPR VMT CEQA Guidance 

January 20, 2016 Revised Proposal on Updates to the CEQA Guidelines on Evaluating Transportation Impacts in CEQA.  (Item 1.)

If you have any questions about these court decisions, contact William Abbott, Diane Kindermann or Dan Cucchi. The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, LLP, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because of the changing nature of this area of the law and the importance of individual facts, readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.



[1] From Australia, which has also brought us Mad Max, Crocodile Dundee, and shrimp-on-the-barbie.

 

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Fifth Appellate District Defers To Municipality When Reviewing Findings Of General Plan Consistency

Naraghi Lakes Neighborhood Preservation v. City of Modesto (June 7, 2016, F071768) ___ Cal.App.4th ___.

By William W. Abbott

Why Words Matter In Your General Plan: Resolving Issues Of Horizontal And Vertical Consistency.

When does language in a general plan regarding the size of a shopping center denote a mandatory or directory requirement for purposes of determining consistency? It all depends upon the wording according to the Fifth Appellate District.  At issue was the City of Modesto General Plan and the policies adopted (in 1974) in the general plan as part of the Neighborhood Plan Prototype (NPP). Within neighborhoods (estimated at 480 acres), the NPP called for a 7-9 acre shopping center with 60000-100,000 square feet of gross leasable area. In 2011, a developer proposed an 18 acre shopping center with approximately 170,000 square feet of gross leasable area. While the City initially processed a negative declaration, the CEQA processing shifted to an EIR. The project was opposed by neighboring property owners, and following City approval of the project, the neighbors filed suit on both land use and CEQA grounds. The trial court ruled for the City, and the neighbors appealed. The appellate court upheld the City’s decision, but published only the portion of the opinion pertaining to the land use claims.

The land use claim tested the consistency of the shopping center with the NPP, given that it was significantly larger than the acreage range contained within the NPP. The court cited the established rule that the consistency does not require exact conformity, but general compatibility. Sequoya Hills Homeowners Association v. City of Oakland (1993) 23 Cal.App.4th 704 and Friends of Lagoon Valley v. City of Vacaville (2007) 154 Cal.App.4th 807. The court also noted that a city or county was entitled to deference when making those findings. The City’s findings had noted that the acreage notations in the NPP were for guidance purpose, and also noted that the City had approved a number of commercial centers in excess of the 7-9 acre range. While there was a legal debate as to whether the referenced centers were subject to the NPP, the appellate court concluded that it did not matter in the end. In the court’s view, there was substantial evidence in the record to support the City’s consistency determination in that the site fit the City’s location criteria for commercial centers and conformed to all of the other policies. One troubling argument involved the language of the NPP which recognized the need for potential minor adjustments to accommodate existing development in the area. The neighbors used this exception language to argue that the acreage range was in fact a mandatory standard. The appellate court concluded that this language, by its terms, only concerned itself with existing development and was not controlling as the question of whether or not the other NPP policies were mandatory and binding.

Comment: It is all about the staff report and findings. As this case illustrates, a city or county needs to make the case for consistency and other required determinations while the project is being processed. The reward for doing your homework is judicial deference, a worthy incentive.

William W. Abbott is a partner at Abbott & Kindermann, LLP. For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, real estate, environmental and/or planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann, LLP at (916) 456-9595.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, LLP, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because of the changing nature of this area of the law and the importance of individual facts, readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.