In Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, Inc. v. City of San Diego (2016) 4 Cal.App.5th 103, the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of a challenge to the City of San Diego’s enactment of a medical marijuana ordinance. The court found the ordinance was not a ‘project’ under CEQA.
Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, Inc., in another challenge to a City’s medical marijuana ordinance, filed a petition for writ of mandate against the City of San Diego’s adoption of an ordinance allowing medical marijuana facilities. The ordinance amends the city’s municipal code to regulate the establishment and location of medical marijuana consumer cooperatives. The city did not conduct CEQA review prior to adopting the ordinance.
UMMP argued that the ordinance was a ‘project’ subject to CEQA, and therefore the city was required to comply with CEQA before adopting the ordinance. The court analyzed whether, as a matter of law, enactment of the ordinance was an activity “undertaken by a public agency” that “may cause either a direct physical change in the environment or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment.” Because an ordinance passed by a city is clearly “undertaken by a public agency,” and UMMP did not argue that the ordinance would have a direct impact on the environment, the analysis focused on whether the ordinance would cause a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change.
First, UMMP argued that a zoning ordinance necessarily constitutes a project as a matter of law, relying on language in Public Resources Code section 21080, subdivision (a). The court rejected this argument, reasoning that although that section lists “the enactment and amendment of zoning ordinances,” the examples provided therein illustrate activities undertaken by a public agency. Such activities may or may not qualify as “discretionary projects,” and therefore are not necessarily subject to CEQA.
Next, UMMP argued that the ordinance would result in a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment in three ways—by increasing traffic and air pollution, causing increased cultivation of marijuana, and resulting in new construction activity. The court rejected each of these assertions, explaining that the arguments relied on false assumptions that were unsupported by the record. The court found that the ordinance was intended to increase access to medical marijuana and there was no evidence that it would be more burdensome for patients to travel to cooperatives after enactment of the ordinance, and it was purely speculative to assume any new buildings would be constructed as a result of the ordinance. And if new buildings were constructed, the court said, approval of a new conditional use permit would require appropriate CEQA review for that construction project anyway.
Thus, the court concluded that enactment of the ordinance did not constitute a ‘project’ under CEQA.