By William W. Abbott

Clover Valley Foundation v. City of Rocklin (2011) 197 Cal.App.4th 200

As the State’s public disclosure statute, CEQA directs lead agencies to disclose the likely impacts associated with agency approvals. While legal caution dictates that more disclosure is preferable to less disclosure, lead agencies have to recognize that there are two notable exceptions to this practice: resource specific information relating to cultural resources (Government Code section 6254, CEQA Guidelines section 15120(d) and trade secrets (CEQA Guidelines section 15120(d). A recent decision explores how a lead agency can properly navigate the conflicting requirements of disclosure and confidentiality.

The facts involve Clover Valley, a small rural valley located in Rocklin, part of the great Sacramento urban area. The valley had a lengthy planning history. Originally zoned for 974 homes, the developer went through an EIR for purposes of annexation and an updated land plan. This EIR was certified in 1997. In early 1998, the developer and city entered into a development agreement, which resulted in the developer making a substantial contribution to the City for a public recreation facility. Starting in 2000, the developer submitted a large lot map, and the City processed another EIR, tiered to the original annexation EIR. The DEIR was released in 2002, and through subsequent reviews, the project was reduced from 933 to 558 lots. Following certification of the later tiered EIR, the City approved the downsized project in 2007.

Opponents then filed suit, challenging the sufficiency of the EIR. The trial court ruled for the City and developer. On appeal, the appellate court first addressed the contradictory aspects of the CEQA full disclosure requirement with the obligation to protect the integrity of cultural resources by not disclosing specific information. As a result of a decision made in 2002 by the Corps of Engineers and the State Historic Preservation Officer (“SHPO”), a section 106 consultation was undertaken, with the result being the development of a historic properties management plan. The management plan was kept as a confidential document by the Corps and SHPO. Generalized information regarding cultural resources was included in the EIR, and the appellate court found that the lead agency had provided the right level of accommodation of disclosure and confidentiality. On a related topic, the appellate court also ruled that the information added to the FEIR by the City regarding certain cultural resources did not trigger recirculation. Turning to growth inducing impacts, the appellate court upheld the City’s discussion of the growth inducing impacts of a sewer line extension, whereby the EIR documented that the line would provide service to additional homes, but that those future homes were already analyzed in the City General Plan and related EIR, and would not constitute unplanned growth.

In upholding the adequacy of the EIR, the appellate court addressed a number of other common claims. Facing a claim that the construction of a road in a potentially sensitive area was inconsistent with a specific general plan requirement, the appellate court followed the more flexible rule in general plan interpretation articulated in Sequoyah Hills Homeowners Association v. City of Oakland (1993) 23 Cal.App.4th 704, which held that the project must be "in agreement or harmony with the applicable plan."  With respect to a challenge to the infeasibility of mitigation for scenic impacts, the court found the evidence in the record regarding conflict with rights granted under the previously approved development agreement and potential secondary impacts to other resources to be sufficient to uphold the City’s conclusions. Finally, the court upheld the City’s reliance on a firm commitment letter issued by the Placer County Water Agency as sufficient, even though the actual future delivery of water was subject to later regulatory steps and hurdles, all of which are reflected in the EIR.

William W. Abbott is an attorney 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.