Archives: January 2011

EIR’s Traffic Analysis Violated CEQA Because It Used Hypothetical Baseline of Future Conditions Rather than Existing Conditions

The Sixth District Court of Appeal in Sunnyvale West Neighborhood Association v. City of Sunnyvale City Council (2010) 190 Cal.App.4th 1351 held that the City of Sunnyvale violated CEQA because its EIR for a proposed roadway improvement project failed to analyze the project’s impacts against existing, present day conditions. Instead, the EIR used as its baseline for analyzing project impacts projected traffic conditions in the year 2020, the year the project is expected to go on line. According to the court of appeal, the failure to analyze the project’s impacts against existing conditions constituted a failure to proceed in a manner required by law. Although CEQA states that the existing setting at the time the Notice of Preparation is published “normally” is the baseline for assessing project impacts (CEQA Guidelines, § 15125, subd. (a)), where conditions are expected to change during environmental review, project effects might reasonably be compared to predicted conditions at the date of project approval. But the court drew the line there. “We do not construe the word ‘normally’ … to mean that a lead agency has carte blanche to select conditions on some future, post-approval date as the ‘baseline’ so long as it acts reasonably as shown by substantial evidence.” The Court noted that “The Supreme Court never sanctioned the use of predicted conditions on a date subsequent to EIR certification or project approval as a ‘baseline’ for assessing a project’s environmental consequence.” The Court of Appeal, therefore, found that doing so was a failure to proceed in the manner required by law.

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