San Mateo Tree Removal Suit Felled by CEQA Statute of Limitations

by Stoel Rives LLP
Contact

In Citizens for a Green San Mateo v. San Mateo Cnty. Comm. College Dist. et al., No. A137612 (Cal. Ct. App. 1st Dist., June 17, 2014), the First District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s decision and found that a lawsuit filed by Citizens for a Green San Mateo (“Citizens”) against the San Mateo County Community College District and San Mateo County College District Board of Trustees (collectively the “District”) under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) was barred by CEQA’s statute of limitations.

The District owns and operates the College of San Mateo (“College”), a public community college on a hilltop in the City of San Mateo overlooking the San Francisco Bay.  The Project began as the result of a 2006 Facilities Master Plan with the goal of “creating physical connections resulting in a cohesive campus concept.”  (Slip Op. at p. 2.)  The District studied potential environmental impacts in an Initial Study and Mitigated Negative Declaration (“IS/MND”), which concluded that all potentially significant impacts, including negative impacts on aesthetics and “scenic vistas” could be avoided or reduced to less-than-significant through mitigation measures.  (Id. at p. 2-3.)   The District is not required to comply with the City of San Mateo’s Heritage Tree Ordinance, and the Initial Study concluded that tree plantings would mitigate removals that were unavoidable.  (Id. at p. 3.)

At the public hearing to adopt the Initial Study and Mitigated Negative Declaration (“IS/MND”) on January 24, 2007, there was no challenge to either document.  The Board of Trustees unanimously voted to adopt the IS/MND and filed a notice of determination (“NOD”).  There were again no public comments or challenges during the public hearing to award a construction contract for the “North Gateway Phase I” of the Project on November 17, 2010. 

Citizens first raised concerns about the Project to the District on January 5, 2011, when a member “contacted the District expressing concern over the ongoing tree removal and pruning activities.”  (Slip Op. at p. 11.)  Citizens filed a petition for writ of mandate on July 1, 2011, alleging that the District’s pruning and tree removal was outside the scope of the Project.  (Ibid.) The trial court agreed with Citizens, and the District appealed.  (Ibid.)

The appellate court reversed.  It found that Citizens’ suit was time-barred by CEQA’s 30-day statute of limitations because the District filed a NOD after approving the Project (Pub. Res. Code, § 21167, subd. (b).), and because the tree removal was not a “materially different” activity but rather was within the scope of the entire Project.  (Slip Op. at pp. 18-19.) 

Furthermore, the appellate court found that Citizens’ suit would be time-barred even if CEQA’s 180-day statute of limitations applied.  A 180-day statute of limitations is triggered if an agency “is carrying out or has approved a project that may have a significant effect on the environment without having determined whether the project may have a significant effect on the environment” and “shall be commenced within 180 days from the date of the public agency’s decision to carry out or approve the project . . . .” (Pub. Res. Code, § 21167, subd. (a).)  The court found that the District’s earliest commitment to the Project occurred on November 17, 2010, when it awarded the construction contract.  (Slip Op. at pp. 22-23.)  Thus, Citizens’ July 1, 2011, petition for writ of mandate was untimely under any interpretation of CEQA’s statute of limitations.

 

 

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.

© Stoel Rives LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Stoel Rives LLP
Contact
more
less

Stoel Rives LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.