Archive for May, 2013

(2013) 216 Cal.App.4th 614

On May 21, 2013, the First District Court of Appeal upheld Marin Municipal Water District’s EIR for the Marin Desalination Plant, finding substantial evidence supported the District’s analyses of aesthetic impacts, seismology, biological resources, hydrology, and water quality impacts, and the decision not to recirculate the EIR. Additionally, the court approved of the mitigation plans proposed in the EIR for aesthetic impacts and biological resources and held that mitigation was not required for energy and greenhouse gas emissions because the EIR found that the impacts were less than significant.

In August 2003, the District proposed building a desalination plant in San Rafael. The final EIR included a new alternative, which discussed water conservation and diverting water from the Russian River as an alternative to desalination. The District certified the final EIR in February 2009 and approved the project in August 2009.  North Coast Rivers Alliance and others challenged the adequacy of the EIR under CEQA. In September 2011, the Marin County Superior Court ruled the analysis in the EIR was inadequate in several areas and that adding the new alternative to the EIR triggered recirculation.  The District appealed. The First Appellate District reversed the trial court, rejecting all of the petitioners’ claims.

Notably, the court held that the EIR adequately relied on as-yet undetermined landscaping plan to mitigate project’s visual impact from two large water tanks. The landscaping plan “would identify success metrics such as survival and growth rates for the plantings.” The Alliance argued, and the trial court had agreed, that the mitigation measure was improperly deferred and indefinite. But the Court of Appeal held that the mitigation measure was acceptable in this situation because the mitigation was known to be feasible and practical considerations prevented the District from establishing more specific standards early in the process.  The measure was sufficient because it committed the District to mitigation and set out a standard for the landscaping plan to follow: to reduce and soften the visual intrusion of the tanks.  Although the specific details of how mitigation would be achieved under the plan were deferred until the construction phase, the EIR gave adequate assurance that visual impacts would be mitigated by the selection and location of appropriate plantings.

[RMM Partner Whit Manley, Associate Chris Butcher of the Thomas Law Group, and District General Counsel Mary Casey represented the District.]

(2013) 213 Cal.App.4th 1277

In 2006, the Regents of the University of California adopted a 2005 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) for UC Santa Cruz. The LRDP contemplated the development of the “north campus,” which was not within the City’s territorial boundaries or sphere of influence. The City and other parties brought a successful CEQA action against the Regents challenging the EIR for the LRDP, but following the judgment in the trial court, the parties to the litigation entered into a comprehensive settlement agreement in August 2008, specifying certain additional mitigation and cooperative steps between the parties to address water supply, housing and traffic impacts

In October 2008, the City applied to the Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO) for a SOI amendment, and the Regents applied for provision of extraterritorial water and sewer services. The City prepared an EIR for the project of amending its SOI while the applications were pending before LAFCO.

Habitat and Watershed Caretakers (Habitat) challenged the City’s certification of the EIR. The trial court denied the petition, and Habitat appealed.

The Sixth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment in November 2012 on the grounds that the City failed to comply with CEQA with respect to the project objectives and alternatives analysis. The Court held the EIR mischaracterized the project’s objectives, concealing the project’s true “purpose,” and analyzed an inadequate range of alternatives because it failed to analyze “reduced-development” or “limited-water” alternatives under which UC Santa Cruz would limit its planned growth or the City would limit the additional water supplied to the campus for development.

The City and the Regents successfully petitioned for rehearing in December 2012. The court issued a modified opinion on February 19, 2013. The modified opinion found that the project objectives were adequate as eventually revised and stated in the final EIR. The court also held that the City should have analyzed a “limited-water” alternative, under which even if the City could not have approved a lesser amount of water to be supplied under the comprehensive settlement agreement, LAFCO, as an independet responsible agency relying on the EIR for a subsequent discretionary approval, could have conditioned or restricted the provision of water to serve new development in north campus pending further progress by the City in developing additional water supplies.

[RMM attorneys James G. Moose, Sabrina V. Teller, and Jeannie Lee represented the City in the administrative process and throughout the litigation.]

(2013) 215 Cal.App.4th 25

On February 28, 2013, the Third Appellate District upheld the trial court’s sustainment of a demurrer filed by Bohemia Properties and joined by Placer County, finding that a petitioner’s petition for writ of mandate under CEQA was time barred under the statute of limitations set forth in Public Resources Code section 21167. The court held that Code of Civil Procedure section 473, subdivision (b), which provides relief from mistake or excusable neglect, did not apply.

On September 28, 2010, Placer County certified an EIR prepared by Bohemia for the development of a 155,000-square-foot commercial building. The county filed its notice of determination (NOD) for the project on September 29, 2010, triggering the 30-day statute of limitations set forth in Public Resources Code section 21167. Under this limitations period, the deadline to bring a challenge to the County’s approval of Bohemia’s EIR expired on October 29, 2010. Although counsel for Petitioner Alliance for the Protection of the Auburn Community Environment (Alliance) requested the petition be filed on October 29, 2010, the filing service arrived too late and did not file the petition until three days later on November 1, 2010. Based on these facts, Alliance argued that Code of Civil Procedure section 473 applies and the trial court should have overruled the demurrer.

The appellate court held that under the precedent set out in Maynard v. Brandon (2005) 36 Cal.4th 364, CCP section 473 only applied to procedural errors and not mandatory deadlines. Therefore, in order to extend a mandatory deadline, the court would need statutory authorization. The court noted that Public Resource Code section 21176 did not contain a “provision extending the limitations period on a showing of good cause.”

Additionally, the court believed that the legislative intent that CEQA lawsuits be resolved promptly would be defeated if section 473 were applied to CEQA deadlines. The court found persuasive the Second District Court of Appeal’s decision in Nacimiento Regional Water Management Advisory Committee v. Monterey County Water Resources Agency (2004) 122 Cal.App.4th 961, 968, which states that because CEQA deadline violations are almost always caused by mistake or excusable neglect, “few dismissals would be final if mandatory relief under section 473 were applied.” [RMM Partners James Moose and Howard Wilkins represented real party in interest Bohemia Properties, LLC].

On May 21, 2013, the First District Court of Appeal issued its decision in North Coast Rivers Alliance v. Marin Municipal Water District (2013) __ Cal.App.4th __ (Case No. A133821, A135626). The case involved a challenge to an EIR prepared for a desalination plant in Marin County.  The trial court had found that the analysis in the EIR was inadequate in several areas and that new information added to the EIR required recirculation.  The Court of Appeal reversed.


In August 2003, the District proposed building a desalination plant in San Rafael. The District circulated a draft EIR for the project in November 2007 and released the final EIR in December 2008.  The final EIR included a new Alternative 8, which discussed water conservation and diverting water from the Russian River as an alternative to desalination. The District certified the final EIR in February 2009 and approved the project in August 2009.  In September 2011, the trial court ruled the EIR was inadequate in various respects, and adequate in others.  The District appealed.

Aesthetic Impacts

The court began with a discussion of the EIR’s analysis of aesthetic impacts caused by three proposed water tanks—one on Tiburon Ridge (“Ridgecrest A tank”) and two on San Quentin Ridge. The EIR concluded that the intervening topography and existing vegetation would prevent the Ridgecrest A tank from having a significant effect on scenic vistas. The EIR included a detailed discussion of potential aesthetic impacts of development of the Ridgecrest A tank, including the size and shape of the tank, satellite image analysis from several directions, visual simulation and impacts on vistas from homes, hiking trails and the highway.  The court held that the analysis constituted substantial evidence to support the conclusion that the tank’s impact would be less than significant.  The court noted that distinguishing between substantial and insubstantial adverse environmental impacts was a policy decision that must be made by the lead agency based, in part, on the setting.  The Alliance’s disagreement with the EIR’s conclusions did not mean those conclusions were deficient.

The EIR further concluded that, unlike the Ridgecrest A tank, the two San Quentin Ridge water tanks would have a significant aesthetic impact and proposed a mitigation measure that required the District to work with a landscape architect and the nearby cities of San Rafael and Larkspur to create a landscaping plan to “soften” the view of the water tank. The landscaping plan “would identify success metrics such as survival and growth rates for the plantings.” The Alliance argued, and the trial court had agreed, that the mitigation measure was improperly deferred and indefinite. The Court of Appeal disagreed.  It held that the mitigation measure was acceptable in this situation because the mitigation was known to be feasible and practical considerations prevented the District from establishing more specific standards early in the process.   The measure was sufficient because it committed the District to mitigation and set out a standard for the landscaping plan to follow:  to reduce and soften the visual intrusion of the tanks.  Although the specific details of how mitigation would be achieved under the plan were deferred until the construction phase, the EIR gave adequate assurance that visual impacts would be mitigated by the selection and location of appropriate plantings.

The Alliance’s third argument regarding the water tanks was that the EIR failed to address whether Ridgecrest A tank was inconsistent with the Countywide Plan. The court found the analysis was supported by substantial evidence. Under CEQA, only inconsistencies with plans require analysis and here, the EIR analyzed the one inconsistency (with the plan’s open space designation) and mitigated it. The court held that the trial court’s ruling, which faulted the District for not mentioning each of the specific elements or policies in the Countywide Plan that could be affected, was tantamount to requiring the EIR to provide a detailed discussion of the Project’s consistency with the plan. The court noted that CEQA includes no such requirement.


Turning next the EIR’s seismology analysis, the court held that the EIR adequately analyzed liquefaction and health and safety impacts related to earthquakes.  The EIR’s seismology analysis provided detailed information on geologic conditions in the area, and considered the potential for seismic hazards including ground shaking and liquefaction.  The EIR also considered seven potential impacts associated with seismic risks.  Moreover, the EIR required project features and components to be built to withstand seismic activity and in compliance with applicable standards in the Building Code.  The court therefore, held that the EIR’s analysis of seismic impacts was adequate.

Hydrology and Water Quality Impacts 

The next issue addressed by the court was the hydrology and water quality impacts of the project. The trial court had ruled that the EIR did not contain an adequate discussion of the frequency of shock-chlorination treatments and that it lacked substantial evidence to support the District’s conclusion that untreated chlorinated water would not be discharged into the Bay. The Court of Appeal disagreed here as well and found that the analysis was adequate.  The EIR described the shock-chlorination process, its frequency, and wastewater disposal and evaluated whether wastewater produced by the project could impact water quality.  It further explained that testing conducted for the project supported the conclusion that shock-chlorinating chemicals would not cause water quality impacts in receiving waters.  The court held that this explanation was sufficient.  Because the District had determined that the project impact was insignificant, the EIR did not need to include a more detailed analysis.

Biological Resources 

Holding that the EIR’s analysis of biological impacts was adequate, the court rejected the Alliance’s arguments regarding entrainment, the environmental baseline, and pile driving.  Regarding entrainment, the trial court had concluded that the evaluation methodology used for the EIR’s analysis of entrainment was inadequate because it did not follow the recommendations of the California Department of Fish and Game and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries to conduct monthly source water sampling. The District explained in the EIR that, instead of monthly sampling, it chose peak abundance periods to conduct the sampling to overestimate the impacts. The District also responded to NOAA Fisheries and CDFG’s requests for additional data by explaining that further sampling was impractical.  The court held that the mere difference of opinion regarding sampling methods was not enough to invalidate the EIR.

The court held the baseline was appropriate because the District used project specific studies and decades of CDFG data and did not base the description solely on two months of water sampling, as the Alliance had alleged.   The EIR considered the various species of fish that may be affected by the project.  The court found that the description of the environmental setting was more than adequate.

The EIR had also found that there would be a potential significant impact on the environment from the reconstruction of a pier, which would require driving up to 175 concrete piles into the Bay. In order to mitigate this impact, the District adopted a mitigation measure that required the District to consult with NOAA Fisheries to find appropriate measures and to monitor the area during the pile-driving activities. Moreover, the District was required to comply with the Endangered Species Act section 7 consultation requirement. The trial court found that these mitigation measures were not sufficiently specific. Once again, the appellate court disagreed.  Finding that the mitigation was adequate, the court noted that a condition requiring compliance with environmental regulations is a common and reasonable mitigating measure.

Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The trial court had ruled that the EIR’s discussion of energy impacts was inadequate because it did not discuss a particular alternative­­—the use of green energy credits to mitigate energy impacts. The appellate court held, however, that because the EIR had found that the energy impacts would be insignificant, there was no requirement to discuss mitigation measures. The court also upheld the EIR’s greenhouse gas emissions analysis, which concluded that “the Project would not interfere with achieving a 15 percent reduction in GHG emissions,” satisfying Marin’s Cities for Climate Protection campaign. Additionally, the District voluntarily committed to purchase only renewable energy for the project. The Alliance argued that this was a vague and unenforceable policy.  But the court held that no mitigation was required for GHG emissions because there was no finding of significant impact. Even so, the court went on to find that the EIR contained substantial evidence showing the feasibility of adhering to this commitment.


The final argument discussed by the court was whether the EIR needed to be recirculated when Alternative 8 was added to the final EIR. The trial court had found that Alternative 8 represented a significant new feasible solution to the project objectives, and therefore, recirculation was required. The appellate court, however, found that Alternative 8 was neither feasible nor significantly “new” enough to warrant recirculation. Alternative 8 was infeasible because it would not provide reliable potable water in a drought year – one of the project objectives.  That was because the alternative relied in part on increased imports from the Russian River, and there was substantial uncertainty regarding whether such increases would ever be allowed.  The alternative was not sufficiently new because there was an alternative in the draft EIR that discussed conservation as an alternative to the project. Given these facts, the District had substantial evidence to support its decision not to recirculate the EIR. Recirculation, the court emphasized, is an exception rather than the general rule.

Whit Manley of Remy Moose Manley, LLP, Chris Butcher of the Thomas Law Group, and District General Counsel Mary Casey represented MMWD.


In Lockaway Storage v. County of Alameda (2013) ___ Cal.App.4th ___ (Case No. A130874), the First District Court of Appeal held that Alameda County’s application of a voter-approved growth control initiative resulted in a compensable temporary regulatory taking entitling the property owner to nearly $1 million in damages and over $725,000 in attorneys’ fees.


Lockaway is a general partnership that develops, owns, and operates storage facilities.  It has owned a parcel of land in Alameda County since 2000.  In 1999 the County approved a conditional use permit for the property authorizing a storage facility at the site. The CUP required that it be implemented within three years of its issuance, or it would expire on September 22, 2002.  When Lockaway purchased the property in May 2000, it assumed the rights and obligations of the seller in the CUP.

In November 2000, Alameda County voters enacted Measure D. Among other things, Measure D prohibits the development of a storage facility in the area of Lockaway’s property, except by public vote and explicitly states that no use permit which is inconsistent with the measure can be approved or granted. Notwithstanding that proscription, other sections of Measure D limit its application.  Section 22, for example, is a grandfather clause that explains the ordinance does not affect existing parcels, development, structures, and uses that are legal at the time the ordinance became effective, provided the development had received all discretionary approvals and permits.

Lockaway continued to pursue its plan to develop the property even after Measure D became effective.  Towards the end of the planning phase, Lockaway received assurances from the County that the CUP would be formally implemented before the September 22, 2002 deadline.  On August 30, 2002, however, the County informed Lockaway that unless it obtained a new CUP, it could not proceed with the project after the 1999 CUP terminated. Lockaway, therefore, applied for a new CUP on September 3, 2002, but the County did not issue a building permit for the project prior to the September 22 deadline.

At a September 23, 2002 hearing to consider Lockaway’s application for a new CUP, the County took the position that Measure D barred to the project because Lockaway had not obtained a building permit and commenced construction prior to Measure D’s September 22, 2000 effective date. Lockaway argued that its right to complete the project was unaffected by Measure D because the 1999 CUP was grandfathered in and was implemented before it expired.  The County ultimately determined that the project was subject to Measure D and all work on the project stopped.

Lockaway sued the County for inverse condemnation and civil rights violations. The superior court issued a writ of mandate authorizing the project to proceed.  Although it initially resisted complying with the writ, the County ultimately acquiesced and issued the necessary approvals in August 2005.  During the damages phase of the trial, the superior court determined that the County was liable for a temporary regulatory taking and awarded Lockaway $989,640.96.  The court also awarded Lockaway attorney fees totaling $728,015.50. The County appealed.

Lockaway’s Project Was Unaffected by Measure D

The court held that the Lockaway project was unaffected by Measure D because it fit squarely within the grandfathering exemption. When Lockaway purchased the property in May 2000, the County had already issued all discretionary approvals for the project. Subsequent permits were not discretionary, but rather, ministerial in nature.  Moreover, the court held that the County had waived this argument by conceding it the trial level.

The County’s Actions Effectuated a Regulatory Taking

Applying the three-factor test articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Penn Central Transportation Corporation v. New York City, the court held that the County’s temporary suspension of the project amounted to a constitutional taking under the Fifth Amendment.  First, the court held that the County’s action unreasonably impaired the value and use of the property.  Although there were other uses that would have been consistent with Measure D, requiring Lockaway to pursue some different authorized use other than a storage facility would have deprived Lockaway of the return on investment that it reasonably expected from its intended use.  Moreover, by the time County first told Lockaway that Measure D would stop the project, Lockaway was already fully committed to developing the storage facility and would have incurred substantial loss to convert the property to another use. Thus, the court held that the County’s regulatory action unreasonably impaired both the value and use of the Lockaway Property.

Second, the court held that Lockaway had a reasonable investment-backed expectation that its project could proceed because Lockaway purchased the property only after the County expressly confirmed that it could rely on the 1999 CUP. County staff even worked with Lockaway for a few years before the County changed its position once the September 22, 2002 expiration date had passed.

The third Penn Central factor required the court to consider the character of the County’s action.  The court held that the County’s “regulatory about face” was manifestly unreasonable because it deprived Lockaway of a meaningful opportunity to attempt to protect its property rights.   According to the court, the County should have taken action to shut down the project when Measure D took effect, rather than encouraging Lockaway to continue development. The court also took issue with the County’s refusal to even consider whether the grandfathering section of Measure D exempted the project. The court further held that, under these facts, the County’s decision to abandon the approvals for the Lockaway project could not be justified as a “mere” consequence of a public program. The court, therefore, had no problem finding that a compensable temporary regulatory taking had occurred, and upheld the trial court’s damages award.

Award of Attorney Fees Was within the Scope of the Trial Court’s Discretion

Lastly, the County argued that even if the judgment was affirmed, the award of attorneys’ fees to Lockaway should be reversed because the fee award included compensation for work attributable to civil rights causes of action on which Lockaway did not prevail. The court disagreed. It held that the trial court had discretion to award fees incurred with respect to the civil rights cause of action because they were relevant to the inverse condemnation claim. It was clear that the degree of interconnection between the various causes of action was a key consideration for the trial court in awarding fees.  Although the trial court did not explicitly state that it was awarding fees for the civil rights claims based on their relevance to the inverse condemnation claim, the court had no difficulty in concluding that such a finding was implied. The court, therefore, upheld the nearly $1 million attorneys’ fee award in its entirety.

In a decision published on May 21, 2013, the First District Court of Appeal reversed a Marin County Superior Court ruling and upheld an EIR prepared by Marin Municipal Water District for a new desalination facility to be located in San Rafael on San Pablo Bay.  North Coast Rivers Alliance challenged the EIR on a wide range of issues.  The trial court upheld the EIR on some grounds, and rejected it on others.  MMWD appealed the trial court’s ruling.  The Court of Appeal reversed on appeal, and rejected all of NCRA’s claims.  In particular, the Court of Appeal upheld the EIR’s analysis of aesthetics, land use and planning consistency, seismic safety, hydrology and water quality, biological resources, and greenhouse gas emissions.  The Court also ruled that MMWD was not required to recirculate the Draft EIR.  RMM partner Whit Manley, together with former RMM associate Chris Butcher (now with the Thomas Law Group in Sacramento), represented MMWD during the administrative process and throughout the litigation. (North Coast Rivers Alliance v. Marin Municipal Water District, Case No. A133821.)

In a decision ordered published on April 2, 2013, the Third District Court of Appeal upheld a dismissal by the Placer County Superior Court of an untimely filed challenge brought by petitioner Alliance for the Protection of the Auburn Community Environment against Placer County’s approval of a 155,000 square-foot commercial project near Auburn. The petitioner filed its CEQA petition three days after the 30-day deadline, due to a claimed miscommunication with an attorney filing service and too-late attempt to file on the last day the petition was due. The real party in interest filed a demurrer challenging the petition as untimely, which the trial court sustained, denying the petitioner’s motion for relief under Code of Civil Procedure section 473, for relief based on attorney “mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect.” The Third District determined that CCP §473 was inapplicable to CEQA’s strict statutes of limitation, finding that Pub. Resources Code § 211167 “makes no provision for extending the limitations period on a showing of good cause.” RMM partners Jim Moose and Chip Wilkins represented Real Party in Interest Bohemia Properties in the litigation. (Alliance for the Protection of the Auburn Community Environment v. County of Placer (2013) 215 Cal.App.4th 25.)

RMM welcomes new associate Deb Kollars

May 23rd, 2013 by admin

RMM’s partners are pleased to welcome new associate Deb Kollars to our team. Deb is a 2012 graduate of McGeorge School of Law. Prior to attending law school, Deb had a successful career as a journalist, earning several state and national awards for her reporting as a senior writer for the Sacramento Bee.

On April 25, 2013, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ordered publication of its decision in Taxpayers for Accountable School Bond Spending v. San Diego Unified School District (2013) __ Cal.App.4th __ (Case No. D060999). The appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision to reject a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) cause of action brought against the school district for adopting a mitigated negative declaration (MND) for a project to upgrade a high school’s athletic facilities. In particular, the court found it was improper for the district to adopt the MND because the athletic facilities project may have significant traffic and parking effects.

Around October 2010, the San Diego Unified School District completed an initial study for a project to upgrade Hoover High School’s athletic facilities, including replacement of the bleachers and installment of new field lighting at the football stadium. The district planned to use funds from a 2008 proposition that authorized the school district to sell $2.1 billion in bonds for various construction and rehabilitation projects listed or described in the proposition measure. The district adopted the initial study and an MND for the Hoover High project on January 11, 2011, and filed a notice of determination the next day. In February 2011, the plaintiff organization (“Taxpayers”) filed suit against the district, ultimately alleging four causes of action: 1) violation of CEQA, 2) misuse of proposition funds, 3) violation of the city’s zoning and land use laws, and 4) improperly exempting the project from the city’s zoning and land use laws. After the trial court dismissed all four causes of action, Taxpayers appealed.

The Fourth District started its discussion of the CEQA claim with an overview of general principles and proceeded to apply the fair argument standard in its de novo review of the issues. First, the court found the initial study’s project description was not misleading just because it did not place a limit on the number of evening events that would be held each year.  The district had estimated in the initial study that there would be about 15 evening events plus a “few more” due to unforeseen events.  The court interpreted a “few more” to mean about three or four more evening events, for a total of 15-19 evening events per year.  Since Taxpayers did not cite any statutory or other legal authority requiring the District to identify a finite limit on the number of events that could be held annually, the court found this description was accurate and complied with CEQA. It did, however, warn that additional CEQA review would be necessary if the district chose to increase the number of events beyond the 15-19 range in the future.

Next, the court found the project’s installment of lighting would not have a significant environmental effect. The court expressly noted that testimony of individual community members regarding the aesthetic or lighting effects of the project could not constitute substantial evidence showing a significant effect because CEQA is concerned with how a project will affect the environment in general, not how it will affect particular persons.  The court also agreed with the initial study’s conclusion that the vertical illuminance caused by the four new 90- or 100-foot light standards would not significantly impact nearby residences because of the lighting’s limited hours of operation, the limited number of evening events, landscaping features, and the small number (seven or less) of affected residences.

The court then dismissed Taxpayers’ argument that the project would have a significant impact on historical resources. The court found the record did not contain substantial evidence that any historical resources existed near Hoover High, nor any evidence showing that any potential historical resources may be substantially affected by the project.

Finally, the court addressed issues regarding traffic and parking impacts. As a preliminary matter, the court noted that the lack of a reasonable estimate of expected attendance at future events could make the district’s assessment of traffic and parking impacts inadequate. The court disapproved of the district’s choice to base projected attendance at future Hoover High evening football games on the average attendance of games at five other high schools in the district. The court found that the district should have calculated and considered the actual attendance at past Hoover High afternoon football games as a baseline figure for estimations of attendance at future evening games. Because the district did not have sufficient information about the estimated attendance, the court determined it could not have properly reached a conclusion about the potential significance of the project’s impacts on parking and traffic.

The court further agreed with Taxpayers that the district could not rely on San Franciscans Upholding the Downtown Plan v. City and County of San Francisco (2002) 102 Cal.App.4th 656 (SFUDP), for the argument that a parking shortage cannot constitute a significant physical impact on the environment because it is merely a “social inconvenience.” The court found the SFUDP court’s discussion of parking was likely dicta, and disagreed with any holding that parking shortages can never constitute a physical impact on the environment. The court reasoned that vehicles are “physical objects that occupy space when driven and when parked” so they “naturally must have some impact on the physical environment.” In contrast to its discussion of aesthetic and lighting impacts, the court found that personal observations by local residents about parking could constitute substantial evidence that the project may have a significant impact on parking. Similarly, the court found that comment letters from residents about the traffic impacts were sufficient to support a fair argument the project may have a significant effect on traffic. Because the project may cause significant parking and traffic effects, the court held that the district must prepare an Environmental Impact Report.

On April 12, 2013 the First District Court of Appeal issued its decision in Golden Gate Land Holdings, LLC v. East Bay Regional Park Dist. (2013) ___Cal.App.4th___ (Case No. A135593).  The court upheld the trial court’s decision to allow, pursuant to Public Resources Code section 21168.9, severable, existing project activities to go forward while CEQA defects relating to future project activities were remedied.

The case involved the acquisition of land for a trail improvement project in the East Bay. The East Bay Regional Park District adopted a resolution of necessity to condemn eight acres along the shoreline owned by Golden Gate Land Holdings (GGLH). The district sought to acquire this land to complete a shoreline park and to construct a segment of the San Francisco Bay Trail. The district found the project was categorically exempt from CEQA. GGLH sued, arguing the district should have prepared an EIR. The trial court agreed and granted the petition, but did not direct the district to rescind its resolution of necessity. The court instead ordered the district to vacate only its CEQA exemption finding, permitting the district to leave its resolution of necessity intact and proceed with its condemnation action. The trial court ordered, however, that the district must not actually acquire the property without first complying with CEQA.

On appeal, GGLH argued the trial court’s remedy was improper. It argued that, after concluding the district had violated CEQA, the trial court was required to direct the district to vacate all project-related approvals, including its resolution of necessity. GGLH argued that the district’s CEQA violation—an improper conclusion that the project was categorically exempt— encompassed the whole of the district’s decision and there was no way to distinguish one aspect of the project from another. Thus, according to GGLH, the trial court should not have allowed any portions of the project to proceed under Public Resources Code section 21168.9. The Court of Appeal disagreed.

According to the court, the entire “project” consisted of acquiring and developing the shoreline property for public recreation.  Project activities, however, could be parsed and consisted of initiating eminent domain proceedings, acquiring the land, and constructing the improvements.  The court held that the first activity – launching the condemnation process by adopting a resolution of necessity – could properly be severed from the remainder of the project under section 21168.9.  It would not cause impacts and there was no evidence that, by continuing the eminent domain proceedings, the district would prejudice its future consideration or implementation of alternatives or mitigation measures.  In particular, allowing that action to proceed would not prejudice the district’s CEQA analysis, so long as the district did not commit to a particular trail alignment by actually acquiring the land prior to completing the CEQA process.  Similarly, construction of the park and trail improvements could not occur until after the district completed the CEQA process.  Thus, the trial court did not misinterpret section 21168.9, or abuse its discretion in exercising its equitable powers by issuing a limited writ and allowing the eminent domain proceedings to continue.