In an unpublished opinion, Bussard v. City of Santa Rosa, the First District Court of Appeal upheld the City’s approval of a small infill housing project. (Case No. A148882, Feb. 6, 2018.) Project opponents argued that the development violated the Santa Rosa General Plan and the Santa Rosa City Code. The trial court denied the petition, and project opponents appealed.

The project in question involved an application filed in 2013 to change the general plan land use designation for a 1-acre parcel from “Very Low Density Residential” to “Low Density Residential.” A rezone and tentative parcel map was also included in the application to allow subdividing of the property into four lots. The City approved the project via an IS/MND after several public hearings, which included opposition from some residents.

On appeal, the First District reiterated the extensive deference granted to agencies when interpreting their own plans and policies. The Court rejected claims that the Project was inconsistent with general plan policies, including a policy that focuses on protecting the quality of Very Low Density areas, and a policy that emphasizes that Very Low Density classifications are not temporary in nature. The Court noted that the record included substantial evidence supporting the City’s findings, and that the policies did not require the strict, mandatory interpretation advocated by the Project opponents. Nothing in the City’s plan precluded the City from ever changing a Very Low Density classification.

It is disappointing that the First District chose not to publish this case, since it involves an IS/MND surviving legal challenge. The case suggests that defending an IS/MND on general plan consistency issues is potentially feasible. Furthermore, the case is another prime example of how CEQA interferes with efforts to address the State’s housing crises. The Santa Rosa area in particular is in need of additional housing due to natural disaster. Yet, a proposal to subdivide a one-acre parcel into four lots for single family residences drew litigation requiring an appeal. The costs caused by this litigation are ultimately passed onto to the homebuyers.