Madera Oversight Coalition, Inc. v. County of Madera
(2011) 199 Cal.App.4th 48
The Fifth District Court of Appeal held the trial court did not err in applying section 21167.6, subdivision (e) and determining which documents to include and exclude from the administrative record. The Court also held a mitigation measure that proposed to verify that certain archaeological sites are historical resources for purposes of CEQA constituted an unlawful deferral of environmental analysis; that the EIR’s traffic analysis lacked clarity regarding the baseline used to determine the project’s potential impacts; and that the trial court correctly determined that the analysis of the project’s proposed water supply was inadequate.
Real Parties in Interest Tesoro Viejo, Inc., Rio Mesa Holdings, LLC and Tesoro Viejo Master Mutual Water Company proposed the Tesoro Viejo mixed-use development project, a 1,579-acre development located in southeastern Madera County. The project proposed a mix of residential, commercial, and light industrial uses plus areas for open space, recreation, and other public uses. The project would contain up to 5,190 dwelling units and about three million square feet for commercial, retail, office, public institutional, and light industrial uses.
In February 2006, Tesoro Viejo requested that Madera County initiate the project’s environmental review process. The county circulated the EIR, received comment and provided responses. In December 2008, the County certified the EIR and approved the project. Petitioners Madera Oversight Coalition, Inc., Revive the San Joaquin, Inc., and the Dumna Tribal filed a petition for writ of mandamus and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief challenging the County’s approval of the project. They alleged violations of CEQA, the Planning and Zoning Law and the Water Code.
In May 2009, the County lodged and certified the administrative record. Along with their briefing, Petitioners thrice requested augmentation of the administrative record. After a hearing, the trial court granted the petition. The parties appealed and cross-appealed. The dispute focused in part on various questions concerning the scope of the administrative record and the admission of extra-record evidence.
First, the court addressed questions regarding the scope of the record, which involved both rulings made by the trial court and motions filed on appeal. The court found that legislative intent and case law indicate that, after an administrative record is certified, the trial court has authority to decide issues relating to whether an omitted document should have been included in the administrative record pursuant to the provisions of subdivision (e) of Public Resources Code section 21167.6. On appeal, the court noted, its role was to review the trial court’s decisions, giving deference to the trial court’s factual determinations, rather than make an independent decision regarding the scope of the record. The court found such a role was appropriate in light of the non-discretionary nature of the determinations made by the agency in preparing and certifying the administrative record and the independent judicial scrutiny of trial court to in applying section 21167.6, subdivision (e) to the disputes before it. Furthermore, the court found that petitioners’ motion to augment the record, filed in the appellate court concerning documents on which the trial court had already ruled, was not a proper way to present the court with issues concerning the inclusion of the documents in the administrative record. Although the court ultimately construed the motion to augment as a direct challenge to the trial court’s decision to deny the request to include four documents in the administrative record, it rejected petitioners’ challenge because they failed to establish the trial court erred in excluding the documents. The court also rejected respondents’ claims regarding certain documents the trial court excluded from the record and certain documents the trial court included in the record, finding that respondents did not affirmatively demonstrate that the trial court erred. The court did find that the trial court failed to include one EIR comment letter requested by petitioners, but that no prejudice occurred by its exclusion because the letter raised no issues not raised in the EIR.
The court then reviewed the adequacy of the EIR’s cultural resources analysis. The court noted that the EIR included analysis of certain archaeological sites at the development site that had the potential to be a “historical resource” for the purposes of CEQA. The EIR also acknowledged a potentially significant adverse impact on each of the sites. While the EIR included mitigation which purported to reduce the impacts to a less than significant level, the court found the mitigation constituted improper deferral because it required a “verification” of whether the site was a historical resource before preservation and recovery actions would be required. The court noted that the verification process described in the mitigation measure is not expressly authorized by CEQA or the Guidelines. Nor could such a process be harmonized with CEQA and the Guidelines, as Guidelines §15064.5(c)(1) states: “When a project will impact an archaeological site, a lead agency shall first determine whether the site is an historical resource …” The court found use of the word “shall” in CEQA Guidelines, section15064.5, subdivision (c)(1) indicated that the determination whether an archaeological site is an historical resource is mandatory. Moreover, that provision’s use of the word “first” indicates that the determination must be made before the final EIR is certified and it cannot be undone thereafter. The court concluded that the mitigation measure set forth a course of action that was contrary to law.
The court also found that, while an EIR’s discussion of mitigation measures for an impact to historical resources of an archeological nature must include preservation in place pursuant to CEQA Guidelines, section 15126.4, subdivision (b)(3), preservation in place is not always mandatory, even when feasible. The court noted that, preservation in place is the preferred manner of mitigating impacts to archeological sites pursuant to the language CEQA Guidelines, section 15126.4, subdivision (b)(3)(A), unless another type of mitigation better serves the interests protected by CEQA. The court interpreted “preferred manner” to mean that feasible preservation in place must be adopted to mitigate impacts to historical resources of an archaeological nature unless the lead agency determines that another form of mitigation is available and provides superior mitigation of the impacts.
With respect to the EIR’s traffic analysis, the court found the EIR was inadequate because it used predicted future conditions as a baseline. Citing CEQA Guidelines section 15125, subdivision (a) and following the court’s interpretation of the guideline in Sunnyvale West Neighborhood Assn. v. City of Sunnyvale City Council (2010) 190 Cal.App.4th 1351, the court concluded: (a) a baseline used in an EIR must reflect existing physical conditions; (b) lead agencies do not have the discretion to adopt a baseline that uses conditions predicted to occur on a date subsequent to the certification of the EIR; and (c) lead agencies do have the discretion to select a period or point in time for determining existing physical conditions other than the two points specified in subdivision (a) of Guidelines section 15125 [“as they exist at the time the notice of preparation is published, or if no notice of preparation is published, at the time environmental analysis is commenced”], so long as the period or point selected predates the certification of the EIR. Furthermore, while the respondents asserted the EIR did analyze traffic impacts employing existing conditions as the primary baseline, based on its review of the EIR’s traffic analysis, the traffic impact analysis study attached to the EIR, and the county’s responses to public comments, the court found the EIR lacked clarity regarding which baseline or baselines were used, which contributed to its inadequacy as an informational document.
The court also found that the Water Supply Assessment (WSA) and the EIR did not provide full disclosure of relevant information related to water supply because the analyses ignored contrary information and failed to discuss whether a recent legal decision would affect the availability and reliability of proposed water supplies. According to the WSA and the EIR, the water demands of the project would be met with surface water delivered from the San Joaquin River under a contract with the United States Bureau of Reclamation. Interpreting the Supreme Court’s decision in Vineyard Area Citizens for Responsible Growth, Inc. v. City of Rancho Cordova (2007) 40 Cal.4th 412, 432 the court concluded that the legal adequacy of the EIR’s discussion of the water supply for the Project depends upon whether the discussion included a reasoned analysis (i.e., a “full discussion,” a “good faith effort at full disclosure,” or an “analytically complete and coherent explanation”) of the circumstances affecting the likelihood of the availability of the proposed water supply. While the WSA included an opinion letter of a water expert which concluded the legal issues concerning water supply would not affect the availability of the contractual water supply, neither the opinion letter nor the WSA acknowledged the existence of the a letter from the Bureau of Reclamation stating it would object to the use of the water supply for a municipal supply or for commercial uses. Nor did the WSA or EIR address a recent legal decision invalidating the water supply analysis for a nearby project which was also proposing to rely on reclamation contracts for water supply. On these bases, the court concluded the public was not provided a full disclosure of the uncertainties related to the project’s water supply and that the trial court did not err in concluding that the EIR’s discussion of the water supply was inadequate under CEQA.
Finally, the court concluded that the trial court correctly determined it had the discretionary authority under Code of Civil Procedure section 1032, subdivision (a)(4) to apportion costs. Although the petitioners obtained a writ of mandate in a CEQA proceeding, that nonmonetary relief alone does not entitle the plaintiff to costs as a matter of right under Code of Civil Procedure section 1032, subdivision (b).