The correlation requirement…I wonder if Crockett and Tubbs ever arrested anyone for possession of an uncorrelated general plan?

by William W. Abbott

What do Miami Vice, “We Built this City” by Jefferson Starship, and the Best Picture of the Year “The Color Purple” have in common? It’s the year 1985. It is the same year that the Court of Appeal initially defined the boundaries of the correlation requirement for general plans. Concerned Citizens of Calaveras County v. Board of Supervisors (1985) 166 Cal.App.3d 90. That is, the court was the first to apply the statutory requirement that the circulation element be “correlated” with the land use element. Government Code section 65302(b). fn1 In the Citizens case, the appellate court found that Calaveras County had run afoul of the correlation requirement in that the land use element provided for significant population growth while at the same time, the circulation element acknowledged an inability to build the supporting roadway infrastructure, and no likelihood of obtaining the funds necessary to close the gap in the future (perhaps the sin of too much honesty?). Flash forward twenty years, and in a fashion similar to how general plans have evolved, so has the judicial thinking on this same topic.

In the most current application of the correlation requirement, Federation of Hillside and Canyon Associations v. City of Los Angeles (2004) 126 Cal.App.4th 1180, the same legal requirement was used to challenge the legal sufficiency of the Los Angeles County General Plan. In this latter case, the Board of Supervisors adopted a statement of overriding considerations based upon the inability to assure future funding of transportation facilities. Arguably, the County had painted itself into a correlation corner by adopting a conservative CEQA strategy on the question of mitigation of impacts. The Federation court drew a distinction with Citizens on the basis that while Calaveras County concluded that there would be no basis for closing the transportation/land use gap, the Los Angeles Board set forth how it should be able to collect the necessary funding. Because the funding was not guaranteed, the Board assumed a conservative position for purposes of disclosing CEQA impacts, concluding that the cumulative long term impacts would be significant.

The moral? First, a lead agency must constantly balance its CEQA duties with the independent legal requirements of the state Planning and Zoning law. Findings and conclusions reached as part of a CEQA proceeding can be used by opponents to undermine the legal standards and findings required by the entitlement decision. When drafting the CEQA conclusions, be mindful of the parallel universe of the state Planning and Zoning law. Second, when it comes to full disclosure about infrastructure, no good deed goes unpunished.

fn1 It is important to remember that the scope of the correlation requirement is not just limited to transportation systems. It applies to all major public infrastructure systems.

William W. Abbott is a partner with Abbott & Kindermann, LLP. For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, environmental and planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann 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.