Third District Court of Appeal Upholds EIR for Master Planned Community Project
The Third District Court of Appeal upheld an EIR for a master planned community in the case Environmental Council of Sacramento v. County of Sacramento (2020, Case No. C076888). The County of Sacramento prepared an EIR for the master planned community project, located on about 2,669 acres in southeastern Sacramento County. The project proposed 8,000 residential units, offices, retail space, schools, parks, trails, and a university campus. The County approved the project, certified the EIR, and adopted a statement of overriding considerations in January 2013. The Environmental Council challenged the project under CEQA on issues including the project description, air quality, traffic, and climate change. The trial court upheld the EIR on each issue, and the council appealed.
The project opponents challenged the project description under the premise that construction of the proposed university is uncertain and unlikely. The appellate court rejected this argument. The EIR acknowledged the challenges associated with getting an educational institute into the area. However, both the developer and the County would be required to make good faith efforts to attract a university. Nor would the developer be able to redesignate the university property for other uses during the 30-year agreement term. Any future uses other than a university would require additional environmental review. Thus, the project description was not misleading.
In addition, the Court held that the EIR adequately addressed potential air quality impacts, and recirculation was not required due to air quality mitigation measure revisions in the final EIR. The revised mitigation measures required the same reductions in emissions if the plan were amended and a university was not constructed, for example. Thus, the mitigation measure was not significant new information requiring recirculation. The court found this to be true, even without the revisions, as emissions would exceed thresholds either way. Thus, the court was not convinced that a reduction by 20% or by 35% was a “substantial increase in the severity” of the impact.
The Court also rejected arguments on grounds that the project opponents failed to exhaust administrative remedies and failed to provide any evidence in support of their argument that phasing the project was a feasible mitigation measure. Overall, this case is a good outcome for the County and favorable to lead agencies.