In Olen Properties Corporation v. City of Newport Beach (2023) 93 Cal.App.5th 270, the Fourth District Court of Appeal held that no new conditions existed that would trigger the need for a subsequent EIR for a residential housing project in the designated Airport Area near John Wayne Airport.
The City of Newport prepared an addendum to the City’s 2006 general plan program EIR for a residential housing project. The Project is a 312-unit residential housing development on an existing surface parking lot in a mixed-use development area, located within the designated Airport Area near the John Wayne Airport. The addendum concluded that the Project’s impacts would either be the same or not substantially greater than those described by the program EIR.
Olen Properties Corporation, an owner of commercial property near the Project site, challenged the City’s approval of the Project and the addendum. The trial court rejected the petitioner’s claims and the petitioner appealed, arguing that new conditions not addressed in the program EIR required the City to prepare a subsequent EIR, rather than an addendum.
The Court of Appeal’s Decision
The Court of Appeal rejected the petitioner’s claims that the City violated several land use policies in the City’s general plan. First, it rejected the argument that the Project was not large enough to be consistent with the 10-acre requirement for a “mixed-use residential village” because the court determined that the City properly adopted the its Planning Commission’s definition of the Project to include the surrounding business area—thus satisfying this size requirement. Second, the court rejected the argument that the Project’s “public park” did not qualify as a required “neighborhood park.” The court found this terminology distinction meaningless. Third, the court found that the Project’s irregularly shaped park satisfied the minimum dimension requirements—which the court interpreted as exceeding 150 feet in two dimensions, measured from any point within the park’s space, rather than the lesser of the park’s length or width.
Standard of Review
The court explained that the reverse substantial evidence test described in Sierra Club v. County of Sonoma (1992) 6 Cal.App.4th 1307 applies only in limited circumstances where the initial EIR is a program EIR, and a subsequent project is proposed which is not the same or within the scope of the Project, program, or plan described in the program EIR. Otherwise, the appropriate standard is the deferential substantial evidence standard, under which the court considers whether substantial evidence supports the City’s determination that none of the conditions for requiring a subsequent or supplemental EIR under Public Resources Code section 21166 exist.
The court applied the deferential substantial evidence standard because the Project is within the scope of the projects described in the program EIR, which expressly contemplates the construction of higher density housing within the Airport Area.
The court held that the City’s use of Level of Service instead of Vehicle Miles Traveled to analyze traffic impacts in the addendum for the Project was appropriate because the program EIR used LOS, and there is no feasible way to compare LOS with VMT. Moreover, the court explained that CEQA Guidelines section 15064.3 (the section requiring VMT to analyze traffic impacts) operates “prospectively” and subsequent changes to the guidelines are not “new information” triggering a subsequent EIR. Otherwise, the court reasoned, any changes to the CEQA Guidelines would trigger the preparation of an EIR for every project.
The court rejected the petitioners’ argument that the proximity to a preexisting semiconductor plan would result in environmental impacts. The petitioner and the City provided conflicting expert opinions on this issue. The court concluded that because the substantial evidence standard of review applies, the City’s conclusion was supported and the petitioner’s conflicting evidence is inconsequential.
The court rejected the petitioner’s claim that the Project does not comply with CC&Rs for the area because they are covenants between private parties, and there is no legal requirement for an agency to consider CC&Rs in an EIR. Moreover, the court explained that the CC&Rs predate the program EIR, and they therefore cannot constitute changes in the Project or its circumstances requiring a subsequent EIR.
Geology and Soils
The court rejected the petitioner’s claim that the Project’s geotechnical report recommendations indicated that impacts on geology and soil could be significant. The court explained that the recommendations were aimed at protecting the Project from corrosion from soil—such as by encasing metal materials in corrosion-resistant materials—and were not designed to protect the environment from the Project.
Lastly, the court concluded that the Project was not required to have a paleontologist physically present at the Project site constantly, and that the Project’s on-call paleontologist was consistent with the City’s general plan requirements.