Friday, April 8, 2011

Malibu's Legacy Park EIR Upheld – Challenges re Water Impacts Found Moot, Time-Barred, and Non-Existent

Santa Monica Baykeeper v. City of Malibu (Ct. App. 2d Dist, Div. 4 April 5, 2011) No. B222776 , available at CourtWebsite

In this case, plaintiff Santa Monica Baykeeper challenged the City of Malibu’s EIR and approval of a project for Legacy Park -- a 15-acre park next to the mouth of Malibu Creek at the Pacific Ocean. An adjacent project -- the Malibu Lumbar Yard -- was approved in 2007, which included irrigation for the park from the lumber yard's treated wastewater effluent ten months of the year, while dispersing water into the Malibu Creek watershed the remainder of the year. Santa Monica Baykeeper challenged the Legacy Park EIR, arguing that it failed to adequately analyze construction impacts on water quality, the impact of using treated effluent from the Malibu Lumber Yard on the project site, and the cumulative groundwater impacts of the project’s effluent use.

First, the court held that the construction impacts argument was moot -- the project was already completed by the time of appeal, so no further construction impacts could occur. Second, regarding irrigation with treated effluent from Malibu Lumber Yard, the court held that the EIR adequately addressed wastewater use, and the creation of the wastewater dispersal field had already been subjected to prior environmental review that was never challenged -- thus arguments related to the use of wastewater on the park were time-barred. Lastly, the court found substantial evidence supporting the city’s conclusion that the Legacy Park project reduces rather than creates groundwater impacts, and therefore the project would not have a cumulative groundwater impact. Therefore, the court upheld the city’s EIR and approval of the project.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

In-Fill Categorical Exemption Upheld Despite Challenge Against Density Bonus Approval

Wollmer v. City of Berkeley (Ct. App. 1st App. Dist., Div. 4, filed Mar. 11, 2011; cert. for publ. Mar. 30, 2011) No. A128121, available at CourtWebsite

A court recently certified a decision that held that the City of Berkeley properly applied a categorical exemption under CEQA during its approval of an in-fill project. This case highlights some interesting intricacies regarding the use of categorical exemptions.

In the case, a developer submitted an application for a mixed-use affordable housing project. The city determined the project was exempt from CEQA pursuant to a categorical exemption for in-fill developments (CEQA Guidelines § 15332) and approved a conditional use permit. The developer then requested -- and obtained -- a CUP modification to either proceed with the original affordable housing project or an affordable senior housing project -- which the city also found was exempt as an in-fill project. A plaintiff sued the city, arguing that by approving a density bonus for the project, the city could not have found that the project was consistent with the city’s general plan and zoning code -- a prerequisite for using the in-fill exemption. However, the court held that the city had to grant the density bonus, because the Density Bonus Law required granting it when the developer made its proper application under the city's zoning code. The city also waived certain building requirements pursuant to the Density Bonus Law; however, the court found this did not render the proposed project inconsistent with the general plan or zoning code.

The plaintiff also argued that the location of the project and the traffic studies prepared were “unusual circumstances” that should have made the categorical exemption not apply under CEQA Guidelines section 15300.2. But, the court held these were merely lay opinions, and that contrary substantial evidence had not been shown that could invalidate the city’s determination. Also, the court found that the developer’s dedication of land for a left turn lane was merely a component of the project -- not a mitigation measure -- and thus the City did not impermissibly "mitigate" the project into a categorical exemption. The court concluded that the exemption was properly applied.