Keep Our Mountains Quiet v. County of Santa Clara
(2015) 236 Cal.App.4th 714
The County of Santa Clara adopted a mitigated negative declaration (MND) and granted a use permit allowing Real Party in Interest, the Wozniak Trust, to host a limited number of weddings and other events on property located in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Petitioner Keep Our Mountains Quiet, an unincorporated association of individuals who reside in the vicinity of the property, challenged the MND, asserting that the County should have prepared an EIR for the project. The lower court agreed and the Sixth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court decision requiring an EIR.
The appellate court held that the administrative record contained substantial evidence of a fair argument that the project may have significant noise impacts. Although real party’s and the county’s noise experts concluded that the project would not exceed the noise standards adopted by the county in its general plan, the court agreed with petitioner that compliance with the county’s noise standards did not necessarily mean the project would not have a significant noise impact. The court found the neighbors’ comments about the discrepancy in noise levels between the mock event used by the noise consultants to test and assess the project’s noise impact and actual events from past unpermitted weddings held at the property prior to any CEQA review constituted substantial evidence supporting a fair argument that the project may have significant noise impacts. Relatedly, the court found that substantial evidence supported a fair argument that project-related crowd noise may have significant noise impacts on the surrounding residents.
The court also found evidence supported a reasonable inference that noise from the project may have significant impacts on wildlife at a nearby open space preserve, but no substantial evidence supported the argument that the project might have significant noise impacts on visitors to the open space preserve, which was open to the public by permit only. The court stated it “need not consider the impacts on hypothetical users of nonexistent trails.”
The court also found substantial evidence that the project may have significant traffic impacts. The testimony the court cited related facts about road conditions based upon local residents’ personal knowledge. The court found a fair argument had been made concerning increased traffic from the project and its effect on existing traffic safety conditions.
Lastly, the court upheld the trial court’s award of attorneys’ fees to the petitioner, but rejected the petitioner’s argument that the trial court improperly denied a multiplier in determining the amount of fees properly awarded to petitioner.
RMM partners James Moose and Sabrina Teller, along with senior counsel Jennifer Homan, represented Real Party in Interest, the Wozniak Trust, on appeal.