Tag: Adequacy of Mitigation

Second District Orders Publication of Additional Sections of Opinion in Neighbors for Smart Rail v. Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority (2012) 205 Cal.App.4th 552

On May 9, 2012, the Second District published parts 5-8 of its opinion in Neighbors for Smart Rail v. Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority (2012) 205 Cal.App.4th 552. These sections featured Petitioner’s claims of inadequate CEQA analysis for cumulative impacts, mitigation measures, alternatives, and recirculation. In each case, the court found in favor of Respondent Metro. Parts 3 and 4 of the opinion remain unpublished.

Cumulative impacts

Petitioner argued that the cumulative traffic analysis in Metro’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was inadequate because it failed to consider traffic impacts of related projects. Under CEQA, an EIR must discuss cumulative impacts of a project if the project’s incremental effects are cumulatively significant, that is, if the project’s effects are significant when considered together with related effects of past, current, and probable future projects. Metro’s EIR did not separately assess cumulative traffic impacts since the discussion of the traffic impacts of the project itself was already cumulative, in that it was based on a combination of existing and future conditions with and without the project.

The court held that in analyzing cumulative impacts, the agency’s discussion should note the severity of the impacts and likelihood of their occurrence, but need not provide the same level of detail as is provided for the effect of the main project. Thus, for example, Metro’s “summary of [project] projections” did not need to include analyses specific intersections that were not under environmental review when the draft EIR was circulated.

Mitigation

Petitioner also argued that Metro failed to provide adequate mitigation measures and improperly deferred mitigation for parking, noise, safety, and construction.  The court found that the EIR’s mitigation measures were not uncertain, speculative, or infeasible, and found no evidence that the measures would be ineffective, unfunded, or not implemented.

To address spillover parking, Metro adopted a measure to monitor parking activity and work with local jurisdictions to create permit parking programs where necessary. The EIR noted that Metro would reimburse local jurisdictions for these programs. The agency included alternative mitigation options such as metered parking where a permit program would not suffice. Petitioner argued that Metro could not assure formation or effectiveness of the permit program, and that such a program would be inadequate unless it retained residents’ current ability to park in their neighborhoods. The court disagreed. The court distinguished this case from Gray v. County of Madera (2008) 167 Cal.App.4th 1099, where a mitigation measure proposing to provide bottled water to compensate for a decline in water levels “defie[d] common sense” and was not substantially similar to residents’ pre-project conditions. In contrast, residents here would still have street parking, making their situation substantially similar to pre-project conditions. Additionally, the court refused to assume that simply because Metro could not require local jurisdictions to adopt the permit program, the mitigation measure was inadequate. The mitigation set for the a specific performance standard in the form of monitoring parking activity to determine if the light rail activity would increase parking utilization to 100 percent and, if so, requiring Metro to work with local jurisdictions regarding permit parking programs. Citing the second prong of Section 21081(a), which allows an agency to make a finding regarding a significant effect that changes lie within another agency’s jurisdiction, the court noted that the feact that Metro could not require a local jurisdiction to adopt a permit program, did not make the mitigation measure inadequate.

Metro’s EIR addressed removal of street parking with measures that included replacement parking and revised parking designs, such as diagonal parking. Petitioner contended a lack of evidence that such measures were feasible, given high land costs, or would actually be implemented. Unlike in Federation of Hillside & Canyon Associations v. City of Los Angeles (2000) 83 Cal.App.4th 1252, there was no acknowledgement by Metro of any “great uncertainty” as to whether mitigation would ultimately be funded or implemented. The court also noted Petitioner’s failure to challenge the EIR’s financial evaluation of Metro’s ability to build the project, which included allowance for mitigation measures. Since the mitigation explicitly stated that property would have to be acquired for replacement parking, and identified parcels for that purpose, the court found the mitigation measures were not uncertain or speculative and petitioner failed to meet its burden to identify any deficiency.

In anticipation of noise and vibration effects from the project, Metro’s mitigation measures included installation of sound walls alongside the rail line. The agency added that where those walls would not suffice, it would provide for sound insulation of residences to meet the applicable noise threshold. Petitioner again argued that the measure lacked evidence of feasibility, and did not include details on how such improvements would be provided. The Court rejected Petitioner’s arguments, finding that CEQA does not require a lead agency to detail how it will actually carry out the proposed mitigation measure, so long as it commits to satisfying specific performance criteria. Metro was also not required to restore residents to their original position and eliminate noise and vibration completely; the agency merely had to minimize impacts to less-than-significant levels.

Metro included mitigation measures to address safety impacts, such as coordination with affected cities and encouragement of emergency response updates, which had been successfully implemented on other Metro rail lines. Though Petitioner repeated its argument of lack of proof of effectiveness and actual implementation, the Court saw no reason to conclude that cities would fail to update their emergency response procedures as other municipalities had done in the past.

Finally, the EIR identified possible closure of lanes in major streets during project construction, and proposed providing alternative lanes on cross streets in cooperation with the cities, as well as limiting construction to nights and weekends. Petitioner argued that these measures improperly deferred mitigation and did not include performance standards. The Court countered that limiting street closure to weekend and evening hours was an acceptable performance standard. Moreover, Metro’s required compliance with traffic control plans formulated in cooperation with affected jurisdictions and in accordance with specified manuals offered additional performance standards.

Alternatives

Petitioner claimed that Metro’s failure to include a detailed examination of grade separation in a particular segment of the project resulted in an inadequate consideration of project alternatives. The court disagreed, finding the EIR evaluated a reasonable range of alternatives and no inadequacy in the EIR’s failure to include a detailed examination of the suggested alternative. Detailed analysis of the suggested alternative was neither required, since the proposed project on its own would decrease environmental impacts to a less-than-significant level, and the suggested alternative would not have offered substantial environmental advantages over the proposed project.

Recirculation

Finally, Petitioner argued that the Final EIR reflected major changes to the project made after circulation of the draft, requiring recirculation of the EIR for further public comment. Such changes included new information on grade separation at various intersections; signal phasing at one intersection; parking; and noise impacts. CEQA requires recirculation of an EIR when significant new information is added, such that the public is deprived of a meaningful opportunity to comment upon a substantial adverse environmental effect. The court found that the added information did not disclose a new substantial environmental impact or a substantial increase in severity of one of the project’s impacts. The court highlighted the fact that Petitioner did not identify how the new information would undermine Metro’s less-than-significant-impact conclusions. Thus, Metro’s decision not to recirculate was supported by substantial evidence.

 

The summary of the baseline portion of this decision can be read here:

http://rmmenvirolaw.flywheelsites.com/2012/04/second-district-upholds-agency-use-of-projected-future-condition-for-environmental-baseline/

Fourth District Rules CSU Has Obligation to Consider Alternative Funding Sources to State Appropriation to Pay Fair Share of Mitigation Costs

City of San Diego v. Board of Trustees of the California State University
(2011) 201 Cal.App.4th 1134

(April 18, 2012, Petition for Review granted; CA Supreme Court Case No. 199557)

The Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled the California State University violated CEQA by considering an appropriation from the State Legislature as the only means of making “fair share” payments for off-site traffic improvements.  The Court ruled CSU had an obligation under CEQA to consider other ways of raising the money necessary to pay its fair share for these improvements.

In 2005, the CSU Board of Trustees certified an EIR and approved a master plan to expand San Diego State University to increase its enrollment from 25,000 to 35,000 students.  While litigation was pending, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in City of Marina v. Board of Trustees of California State University (2006) 39 Cal.4th 341.  The trial court granted the petition and remanded the matter back to CSU.  CSU circulated a revised EIR and, in November 2007, certified the revised EIR and re-approved the master plan.  In December 2007, various local agencies sued.  In March 2010, the trial court concluded CSU had complied with Marina and entered judgment denying the petitions.  The local agencies appealed.

The EIR included an analysis of the master plan’s traffic impacts.  The EIR identified 34 separate traffic impacts.  The EIR also identified improvements that would avoid 30 of the 34 traffic impacts; the other four impacts were identified as significant and unavoidable.  With respect to the other 30 impacts, the EIR calculated CSU’s “fair share” for the cost of the improvements.  The EIR stated payment of fair-share funding was conditioned on requesting and obtaining funds from the California Legislature; if the Legislature did not appropriate the money, then the impacts would be significant and unavoidable.  The City of San Diego submitted comments criticizing this approach as based on dictum from the Marina decision.  In the Final EIR, CSU responded by stating that, under Marina, CSU was obliged to request funding from the Legislature, but could not assure the appropriation of funds.  In its findings, CSU committed to ask for the fair-share funding, but because funding could not be assured, CSU found that the traffic impacts were significant and unavoidable.  CSU conditioned the commitment to pay on State appropriation of the money.  The findings also noted that, even if fair-share payments were made, there was no way to ensure the underlying improvements would be constructed, because the improvements were within the jurisdiction of other agencies (e.g., the City of San Diego and Caltrans).

CSU based its position on the following statement in the Marina decision:  “[A] state agency’s power to mitigate its project’s effects through voluntary mitigation payments is ultimately subject to legislative control; if the Legislature does not appropriate the money, the power does not exist.”  (39 Cal.4th at p. 367.)  According to CSU, absent a legislative appropriation, fair-share payments for off-site infrastructure were infeasible.  The City and other local agencies argued CSU’s rejection of fair-share funding as “infeasible” was based on a misreading of Marina.  They also argued the EIR was inadequate because it did not discuss alternative approaches to making fair-share payments, other than by means of an appropriation by the Legislature.  The Court agreed.  The Marina Court’s statement was dictum, and the Court declined to follow it.  According to the Court, “neither CEQA nor any provision of the Education Code or other statute precludes CSU (or any other state agency) from using nonlegislatively appropriated funding for making voluntary payments to third parties for mitigation of the off-site significant environmental effects of its projects. . . .  The availability of potential sources of funding other than the Legislature for off-site mitigation measures should have been addressed in the DEIR and FEIR and all of those potential sources should not be deemed ‘infeasible’ sources for CSU’s ‘fair-share’ funding of off-site mitigation measures without a comprehensive discussion of those sources and compelling reasons showing those sources cannot, as a matter of law, be used to pay for mitigation of the significant off-site environmental effects of the [p]roject.”  Because the EIR’s discussion of traffic mitigation, and CSU’s corresponding findings, were premised on CSU’s misreading of its legal obligations, they had to be set aside.  Moreover, the EIR did not contain an adequate discussion of alternatives – such as down-sizing the project – as a means of avoiding the need for off-campus traffic improvements.

CSU argued the Court ought not to reach the “fair-share” issue because the proper interpretation of the Marina decision was never presented to CSU during the administrative process.  The Court disagreed, citing letters and testimony stating or implying that CSU had a duty to mitigate the project’s offsite impacts, even if the Legislature did not appropriate money and other funding sources had to be considered.

Appellants San Diego Association of Governments (“SANDAG”) and San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (“MTS”) argued the EIR’s traffic analysis was inadequate because it miscalculated the “average daily trips” (“ADT”) that would be generated by new resident and commuter students.  The Court disagreed, finding that substantial evidence supported CSU’s methodology.  In particular, the EIR had not double-counted reductions in trips from transit use, or resulting from former commuter students moving on-campus.  CSU also acted within its discretion in relying on projections of increased transit use in the future.  Because substantial evidence supported the EIR’s ADT estimates, the EIR’s “fair share” estimates were similarly supported.

In response to comments, CSU adopted a mitigation measure committing to develop a campus-wide “Transportation Demand Management” program, in consultation with SANDAG and MTS, to encourage alternative modes of transit.  SANDAG and MTS attacked this measure as improper deferral of mitigation.  The Court agreed, finding that the measure committed CSU only to consult with SANDAG and MTS, and then developer a TDM at a future date.  The measure did not identify specific actions to be taken, or performance standards to be achieved.

SANDAG and MTS argued the EIR did not provide an adequate analysis of the project’s impact on transit.  The EIR’s traffic analysis estimated that, in the future, the percentage of students relying on the region’s trolley system would increase.  The EIR did not, however, analyze the impacts of increased trolley use.  SANDAG submitted a letter stating CSU had to analyze the trolley system’s capacity to handle the projected increases in use, to identify system capacity constraints, and to describe and adopt measures that CSU would take to increase that capacity.  MTS stated the bus and trolley systems had inadequate capacity to handle projected increases in student use, and that MTS had inadequate funds to support expanded use.  CSU responded that, for CEQA purposes, increased transit use was not an “impact”; moreover, no criteria were available to determine whether the project’s impact on the transit system was “significant,” triggering the need for mitigation.  The Court held that, although CSU estimated the anticipated increase in transit use, CSU did not analyze adequately the impacts of such use.  Once SANDAG and MTS raised the issue, CSU had an obligation to investigate the transit capacity issue.  The record did not contain substantial evidence supporting CSU’s conclusion that the project would not adversely affect the transit system.