Sixth District Upholds County Approval of Environmentally Superior Alternative for Residential Project in Unpublished Decision
The Sixth District Court of Appeal upheld the County of Monterey’s certification of an EIR for a residential project in the unpublished decision Carmel Valley Association, Inc. v. County of Monterey (Cal. Ct. App., May 19, 2021, No. H046187) 2021 WL 1999807. The case had a long history, as the original project application was filed in 2004 and deemed complete in 2005. In 2008, the County circulated a draft EIR for the Rancho Cañada Village Project. The project was delayed due to a general plan update that was being prepared and reviewed pursuant to CEQA. The general plan update included a new subdivision cap of 190-units in the proposed Project area. In 2016, the County circulated a revised draft EIR, which stated that the Project would include a 281-unit residential neighborhood, and 39-acres of open space and common areas. Later that same year, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors approved the environmentally superior project alternative, which only included 130-units.
The Carmel Valley Association, Inc., filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the Project approval and alleging violations of CEQA, the Monterey County General Plan, and the County Code. The organization referred to themselves “the oldest and largest civic association in the Carmel Valley” (also abbreviated ‘NIMBY’). The trial court granted the petition, finding in part that the 130-unit alternative “effectively replaced the Project as the true project under consideration,” and thus, the Project description was inaccurate. On appeal, the Sixth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the matter with an order to deny the petition.
The Sixth District Court of Appeal rejected the Association’s CEQA argument that selection of the environmentally superior alternative rendered the project description inaccurate. The court cited South of Market Community Action Network v. City and County of San Francisco (2019) 33 Cal.App.5th 321 and explained that the CEQA process is not “designed to freeze the ultimate proposal in the process mold of the initial project.” Rather, the CEQA process should be flexible to account for new or unforeseen information that might lead to revisions of the original proposal. In this case, the basic characteristics of the project (a mixed-use residential subdivision located on a former golf course) remained stable throughout. In addition, the appellate court found no authority for the proposition that a project description is rendered inaccurate if an environmentally superior project alternative is selected, even if the original project becomes infeasible during the CEQA process. Indeed, a contrary holding would defeat the entire purpose for requiring an alternatives analysis.