In Committee for Sound Water and Land Development v. City of Seaside (2022) 79 Cal.App.5th 389, certified for publication on June 1, 2022, the Sixth District Court of Appeal held that a nonprofit group’s CEQA claims were time-barred by the statute of limitations, even with the extended period afforded by Emergency rule 9, which the Judicial Council adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This case involves the City of Seaside’s certification of an EIR for the Campus Town 122-acre development project located on the former Ford Ord military base.
On March 6, 2020, the City issued a notice of determination for the Project. On April 5, the Committee for Sound Water and Land Development (the Committee), a nonprofit organization, submitted a request to the Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA) to receive written notice of (1) the City’s request of FORA to determine the Project’s consistency with the Fort Ord Reuse Plan (Reuse Plan), and (2) FORA’s consistency determination hearing. On June 6, FORA held a hearing at which it determined the Project was consistent with the Reuse Plan. It did not notify the Committee.
On April 6, 2020, the Committee filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the City’s approval of the Project and FORA’s consistency determination under CEQA. The trial court subsequently granted its request to dismiss the petition without prejudice. On September 1, 2020, the Committee filed a second petition, alleging that the City violated CEQA and that FORA violated its constitutional due process rights.
The trial court sustained the City’s and Real Party’s demurrers on the grounds that (1) the CEQA claims were time-barred, (2) the due process causes were moot because FORA ceased existing as of June 30, 2020, and (3) the second writ petition was a sham pleading because it was only filed to cure the Committee’s failure to request a hearing within 90 days of filing the original petition, as required by Public Resources Code section 21167.4. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s dismissal.
The Court of Appeal’s Decision
Statute of Limitations
First, the court held that the petition was time-barred under the deadlines established by Public Resources Code section 21167, subdivision (c), as extended by Emergency Rule 9, subdivision (b).
The original Emergency rule, adopted by the Judicial Council on April 6, 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, tolled the statute of limitations in civil cases for 90 days until Governor Gavin Newsom lifts the state of emergency order that the Governor had declared on March 4, 2020. In response to requests from the CEQA bar, the rule was subsequently amended to end the tolling period on August 3, 2020 for 30-day statute of limitations applicable to CEQA causes of action. Thus, the last day for the Committee to file its CEQA petition was August 4, 2020. The Committee relied on the original version of Emergency rule 9 and claimed that its counsel was unaware of the amendment. The petition, filed on September 1, 2020, was therefore untimely.
The court was unpersuaded by the Committee’s argument that the amendment of the rule resulted in impermissible “truncation” of the limitations period. It explained that the rule was not unreasonable because the 30-day period would have ended on April 6, 2020—several months earlier—but for Emergency rule 9, as amended.
The court, consequently, did not address the sham pleading doctrine issue.
The court also held that no effectual relief could be provided to the Committee for the alleged due process violation because the relief requested—that the City re-notice and conduct a new consistency determination hearing regarding the Project—could not be granted because the law requiring the consistency determination was repealed. By law, former Government Code sections 67650–67700 were repealed, dissolving FORA and eliminating the statutory requirement for FORA to determine whether projects at the base are consistent with the Reuse Plan.
The court rejected the Committee’s arguments that the City is a “successor in interest” to FORA’s obligations under the Reuse Plan and should be charged with correcting the improperly unnoticed hearing. It explained that the repeal of the law means that there is currently no requirement for a Reuse Plan consistency determination. Therefore, the Committee’s due process cause of action is moot.
Because the matter was moot, declaratory relief was also not available, and the court accordingly held that it was appropriate for the trial court to sustain the demurrers without leave to amend.