The City of San Diego appealed a judgment granting CREED-21’s petition for injunctive and other relief for CEQA violations relating to emergency storm drainage repair and revegetation projects in La Jolla. The court held in favor of the City, finding it had used the correct baseline and had properly issued an exemption for the revegetation project. Furthermore, CREED had not been denied its due process right to a fair hearing. The court affirmed the judgment below to the extent it declared the City’s appeal fee assessment invalid and set it aside. The opinion, filed January 29, was certified for publication on February 18. CREED-21 v. City of San Diego (Feb. 18, 2015) ___ Cal.App.4th ___, Case No. D064186.
In 2010, the City issued an emergency permit for storm drainage repair work, and a notice of exemption from CEQA for the work. The emergency permit was conditioned on seeking a permanent permit and implementing a revegetation plan. The City found the revegetation plan to be exempt from CEQA relying on the “common sense” exemption and two categorical exemptions. CREED filed a lawsuit challenging the revegetation plan, and the work performed under the emergency permit. CREED argued that in reviewing the revegetation plan, the City was required to consider the physical setting of the area prior to the emergency storm drainage work, rather than after when the revegetation work commenced. The court refused to set the baseline earlier. The court similarly held that CREED did not have standing to challenge the 2010 emergency exemption, as it had missed the statute of limitations to challenge that project.
CREED argued that the 2010 emergency exemption was merely for temporary work, and that CEQA required the City to conduct at least a preliminary review, if not an initial study and EIR, to determine whether the already completed repair work might have a significant effect on the environment. The court disagreed, noting that any argument about the temporary status of the emergency work performed by the City in 2010 was based solely on the San Diego Municipal Code and not on CEQA or the Guidelines.
The court found that the City properly relied on the common sense exemption to find the revegetation project exempt from CEQA under Guidelines section 15061, subdivision (b)(3). That exemption applies where there is no possibility that the activity in question may have a significant effect on the environment. Because the revegetation plan would indisputably improve the site’s physical conditions—consisting primarily of bare dirt—the plan would not cause an adverse change so as to constitute a significant effect on the environment. The court added that the revegetation plan would also be exempt under the Class 1 exemption for existing facilities, which encompasses repair to existing topographical features. CREED failed to satisfy its burden of showing that the unusual circumstances exception applied to override the exemption.
The court also found CREED was not denied due process of law when the City did not timely disclose a document requested under the California Public Records Act. The City Council heard and denied CREED’s appeal of the City’s exemption determination, but did not provide CREED with a copy of the initial study until after that hearing. This omission did not deny CREED its right to due process and a fair hearing. CREED had received reasonable notice of the hearing and a reasonable opportunity to be heard.
Finally, the Fourth District held that the trial court had not abused its discretion by denying the City’s request for judicial notice of an ordinance and by finding that an appeal fee was unauthorized. There was no evidence in the record authorizing the $100 appeal fee. CREED alleged there was also no provision in the Municipal Code authorizing the City to charge a fee for an administrative appeal. The City argued there was an ordinance authorizing such fees, and requested the court take judicial notice of the ordinance. The court found the City had not given CREED sufficient notice of its request for judicial notice to allow for preparation of an opposition, and the request’s lack of an attachment listing specific fees rendered the document insufficient for the court to take notice.