In Stop Syar Expansion v. County of Napa (2021) 63 Cal.App.5th 444, a partially published opinion, the First District Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s denial of a writ petition challenging the EIR for an expansion of Syar Industries, Inc.’s aggregate operation in Napa County. The court concluded that the petitioner, Stop Syar Expansion (SSE), failed to exhaust its administrative remedies because it did not comply with Napa County’s local appellate procedures. In addition, the court held that SSE’s argument that the project is inconsistent with the County’s General Plan was not a CEQA issue and SSE therefore failed to properly raise the issue. Further, the court determined that SSE’s argument lacked merit because the County had adequately addressed potential inconsistency issues and reached a reasonable conclusion that the project was consistent with the General Plan.
Citing Tahoe Vista Concerned Citizens v. County of Placer (2000) 81 Cal.App.4th 577 (“Tahoe Vista”), the court emphasized that the burden is on the petitioner in a CEQA case to demonstrate that it exhausted its administrative remedies prior to filing suit by complying with the procedures applicable to the public agency in question. SSE was therefore required to demonstrate that it complied with the procedures in chapter 2.88 of the Napa County Code of Ordinances by timely filing a notice of intent to appeal and timely submitting an appeal packet which specifically identified the grounds it raises in its petition. The court noted that a list of string-cites to the administrative record without explanation as to how each citation supports the assertion the public agency was fairly apprised of the asserted noncompliance with CEQA, is not sufficient to meet the petitioner’s burden.
Consistency with the County’s General Plan
The court also addressed SSE’s contention that the EIR failed to consider whether the project was consistent with the County’s General Plan. The court held that the issue, as presented by SSE, was not a CEQA issue. Thus, the mandate procedures provided for CEQA violations under Public Resources Code section 21168.9 did not apply. SSE was therefore required to assert this cause of action under Code of Civil Procedure section 1085 for ordinary mandamus. SSE failed to ask for leave to amend its writ petition to add a cause of action under section 1085 in the trial court, and therefore, the claim was not properly before the court.
Further, the court noted, the standard of review for an agency’s consistency determination with its own General Plan is highly deferential to the agency. Such a decision can only be reversed if it is based on evidence from which no reasonable person could have reached the same conclusion. The court concluded that SSE did not make any General Plan inconsistency arguments based on this applicable standard of review. The court rejected SSE’s contention that it was not challenging the County’s substantive consistency determination and that a different standard of review should apply because SSE had argued that the EIR failed to disclose inconsistencies with the General Plan.
Finally, even if SSE had made its arguments under the proper standard—which the court reiterated it did not—the court held that the County addressed the project’s consistency with the General Plan at length in both the EIR and in a “General Plan Consistency Analysis.” The court concluded by noting that it is not the court’s place to “micromanage” the County’s determination whether a project is consistent with its own General Plan.