Recent CEQA Case Serves as Warning to Developers of the Exorbitant Cost of Lawsuits
The case cited below is a stark reminder to developers: make sure to hire experienced CEQA counsel before you embark on a development in California!
On February 18, 2021, the California Second District Court of Appeal filed an unpublished opinion, Building a Better Redondo v. City of Redondo Beach (2021) Case No. B294328, 2021 WL 632685, whereby the Appellate Court affirmed the lower court’s award of over $680,000 in attorneys’ fees to the plaintiff. Building a Better Redondo involved a proposed project to redevelop the City of Redondo’s (“City”) harbor area. The City produced a draft Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”), and after receiving public comments on the draft, the City released a final EIR. The final EIR included a staff-recommended alternative for a new location for a boat-launch ramp, which location the draft EIR had rejected. Ultimately, the City certified the EIR, and selected the staff-recommended alternative. An interest group initiated a lawsuit against the City alleging numerous California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) violations, including failing to recirculate the EIR for public comment after the addition of the staff-recommended alternative, and named the developer as the real party in interest.
The lower court ruled in favor of the interest group. Notably, the lower court found the City and the developer to be jointly and severally liable for the award of over $680,000 in attorneys’ fees. The Appellate Court ultimately found no error in the award, and affirmed the lower court’s decision. Although this case is unpublished, and is therefore non-binding, this case illustrates the price a developer could pay if the proper steps are not taken to insure legal defensibility of an EIR during the project approval process.