Ridiculous CEQA Challenge to Development of 1,436 Square Foot Residence on 1.04-acre Parcel did not Vindicate Important Right for Purpose of Awarding Attorney Fees
In this firm’s view, there is no question that the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) has been pushed far beyond its statutory scope to the detriment of efficient development in the State. It’s too easy for the law to be abused by project opponents with concerns other than information regarding potential environmental impacts. For example, in the recent case, Canyon Crest Conservancy v. County of Los Angeles (Cal. Ct. App., Feb. 19, 2020, No. B290379), neighbors filed a CEQA challenge alleging an EIR was required for a proposed single-family residence on a single parcel. The parcel included steep terrain, but was 1.04-acres, and the house would only be 1,436 square feet. This hardly seems like the project that the Legislature envisioned requiring an EIR, which now typically cost $400,000 or more to prepare.
Prior to resolution of the litigation, the property owner requested that the County vacate the permit approvals, because he could no longer afford the litigation. A supervisor “expressed her disappointment that [the property owner], who had lawfully met every requirement, would be unable to build because appellant had ‘abused the C.E.Q.A. process as it relates to this project.’” (Id at *4.) The County granted the request, and the NIMBY neighbors filed a motion for attorney fees pursuant to California Code of Civil procedure section 1021.5. The trial court rejected the fee award, concluding that the NIMBY neighbors failed to vindicate an important public interest or right. The Second District Court of appeal affirmed the case.
This case serves a perfect example of the current dysfunctional state of CEQA. There is no reason that construction of a moderately sized, most would say small, single-family residence on a single parcel should have ever incurred CEQA litigation, much less appeals resulting in a published opinion.