Habitat and Watershed Caretakers v. City of Santa Cruz

(2013) 213 Cal.App.4th 1277

In 2006, the Regents of the University of California adopted a 2005 Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) for UC Santa Cruz. The LRDP contemplated the development of the “north campus,” which was not within the City’s territorial boundaries or sphere of influence. The City and other parties brought a successful CEQA action against the Regents challenging the EIR for the LRDP, but following the judgment in the trial court, the parties to the litigation entered into a comprehensive settlement agreement in August 2008, specifying certain additional mitigation and cooperative steps between the parties to address water supply, housing and traffic impacts

In October 2008, the City applied to the Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO) for a SOI amendment, and the Regents applied for provision of extraterritorial water and sewer services. The City prepared an EIR for the project of amending its SOI while the applications were pending before LAFCO.

Habitat and Watershed Caretakers (Habitat) challenged the City’s certification of the EIR. The trial court denied the petition, and Habitat appealed.

The Sixth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s judgment in November 2012 on the grounds that the City failed to comply with CEQA with respect to the project objectives and alternatives analysis. The Court held the EIR mischaracterized the project’s objectives, concealing the project’s true “purpose,” and analyzed an inadequate range of alternatives because it failed to analyze “reduced-development” or “limited-water” alternatives under which UC Santa Cruz would limit its planned growth or the City would limit the additional water supplied to the campus for development.

The City and the Regents successfully petitioned for rehearing in December 2012. The court issued a modified opinion on February 19, 2013. The modified opinion found that the project objectives were adequate as eventually revised and stated in the final EIR. The court also held that the City should have analyzed a “limited-water” alternative, under which even if the City could not have approved a lesser amount of water to be supplied under the comprehensive settlement agreement, LAFCO, as an independet responsible agency relying on the EIR for a subsequent discretionary approval, could have conditioned or restricted the provision of water to serve new development in north campus pending further progress by the City in developing additional water supplies.

[RMM attorneys James G. Moose, Sabrina V. Teller, and Jeannie Lee represented the City in the administrative process and throughout the litigation.]