Committee for Green Foothills v. Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors

(2010) 48 Cal.4th 32

The California Supreme Court held that the filing of a notice of determination (NOD) triggers the 30-day statute of limitations for all CEQA challenges to the decision announced in the notice, regardless of the nature of the CEQA violation alleged. The petitioners alleged that Santa Clara County had failed to determine whether review was required for an approval of a trail alignment for a countywide trail master plan, and therefore argued that the 180-day statute of limitations under Public Resources Code Section 21167, subdivision (d) should apply. The county had, however, filed an NOD.

Noting that Section 21167 does not specifically define the limitations period that applies to such a scenario, the Court found that the determinative question in identifying the appropriate statute of limitations was not the type of violation alleged, but whether the action complained of was disclosed in a public notice. According to the Court, when an agency gives the public notice of its decision under CEQA, the public can be expected to act promptly in challenging this decision. In contrast, when an agency does not give the statutorily required notice and the public is held to constructive notice based on the start of the project, a longer limitations period applies. Regardless of the type of violation alleged by petitioners, they had notice of the county’s action when the NOD was filed, and the Court concluded the petitioners thereafter had 30 days to file suit challenging that action.  The court also rejected the petitioners’ contention that the NOD was defective, and thus did not trigger a 30-day limitations period. The record supported the trial court’s finding that both the initial and the revised NODs were, at a minimum, in substantial compliance with CEQA guidelines. Of particular concern to the Court seemed to be the unusually short limitations periods set forth in CEQA, which are meant to ensure finality and predictability in land use planning decisions.  [RMM Partner Sabrina V. Teller filed a brief for League of California Cities and California State Association of Counties as Amici Curiae on behalf of the Respondent county.]