Petitioners challenged the County’s decision to abandon a roadway connecting two residential subdivisions, the Martis Camp project (“Martis Camp”) and the Retreat at NorthStar project (“Retreat”), near Lake Tahoe in eastern Placer County on several claims, including the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). The road was originally intended to serve as access for emergency vehicles and transit and was described as such in both EIRs for the two projects. Over time the road was frequently used by Martis Camp residents as a convenient shortcut to the NorthStar Village area through Retreat. To comply with CEQA, the County relied on an addendum to a previously certified environmental impact report for Martis Camp (“Martis Camp EIR”). The petitioners argued that the County: (1) use of an addendum to the Martis Camp EIR was improper; (2) used the wrong baseline to evaluate the impacts of the abandonment; and (3) failed to prepare a subsequent or supplemental EIR. The trial court denied the CEQA petition, and petitioners appealed.
The appellate court reversed. The County argued the Martis Camp EIR was the most appropriate document to rely on because the effects of the abandonment would be focused on changed traffic patterns of residents at Martis Camp and would not impact the Retreat residents. The Court agreed with petitioners that the County’s reliance on the Martis Camp EIR was improper because the abandonment of the roadway was not a modification of the Martis Camp project. It noted that an addendum is only proper to consider proposed changes to a previously approved project and EIR. Applying this standard, the Court reasoned that since there were no subsequent discretionary approvals needed to modify the Martis Camp project, the subsequent review procedures in CEQA Guidelines section 15162 were not applicable to the Martis Camp EIR. The Court further noted that the roadway was actually proposed and analyzed in the Retreat EIR and held that the County failed to evaluate whether the abandonment would require major revisions to the Retreat EIR. As a result, the Court concluded that the County abused its discretion in finding that no subsequent or supplemental EIR is required because the County relied on the wrong EIR to make that finding. As for the improper baseline claim, the Court remanded the issue to allow for the County to make its own determination of whether or not the existing use of the roadway by Martis Camp residents is a “changed circumstance” from the Retreat EIR and determine the proper CEQA review process in light of the decision. For more discussion on the road abandonment claims, see the August Real Estate Action News.
Daniel Cucchi is Senior Associate at Abbott & Kindermann, Inc. For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, real estate, environmental and/or planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann, Inc. at (916) 456-9595.
The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, Inc., 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.