Financial Infeasibility of CEQA Alternatives Determined By Reasonably Prudent Person

In SPRAWLDEF et al. v. San Franscisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, et al. (“SPRAWLDEF”)(certified for publication 5/28/2014), the First Appellate District reversed the trial court’s decision and held the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission’s (“Commission”) determination that a project alternative was not economically feasible was supported by substantial evidence.

The project at issue, an expansion of Potrero Hills Landfill, had a long history of litigation, culminating in a revised EIR, which rejected project alternatives as not economically feasible.  More specifically, following numerous discussions with the real party in interest, Waste Connections, Inc., the Commission determined that a smaller expansion, which would avoid encroaching on a portion of intermittent watercourse, was not feasible.  In part, the Commission based its determination  on the fact that the landfill capacity would be reduced by 30 percent, shortening the lifespan of the landfill by 10 years, while only reducing the costs of the expansion by 10 percent.  The Commission also noted that the watercourse would still require a number of man-made modifications to protect it from impacts of the smaller expansion, and rechanneling pursuant to the larger expansion would actually improve water quality.  Plaintiffs appealed, arguing there was not substantial evidence to support the determination of no feasible alternatives for preserving the watercourse.  The trial court issued a writ of mandate on the sole grounds that the determination that the reduced-size alternative was not economically feasible was not supported by substantial evidence. 

Applying the substantial evidence test, the appellate court cited Uphold Our Heritage v. Town of Woodside, and stated, “Ultimately, the question is whether the marginal costs of the alternative as compared to the cost of the proposed project are so great that a reasonably prudent person would not proceed with the altered project.”  The court referenced the side by side economic comparisons of the various project alternatives, and noted, “The disparity in these figures is so great it amply supports the conclusion a reduced-size alternative of the magnitude necessary to avoid implicating [the watercourse] was not economically feasible.”  The court further stated that a reasonable person would reach the same conclusion as the Commission, effectively ending the inquiry.  Moreover, it was of no consequence that the real party provided the economic information. 


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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