CEQA Alert: Court of Appeal Addresses Inadequate Blight/Urban Decay Mitigation and Energy Impact Analyses

In California Clean Energy Committee v. City of Woodland (opinion filed 2/28/14; partial publication ordered 4/1/14), the Third Appellate District ruled that the City of Woodland violated the California Environmental Quality Act  (CEQA) when it approved a “super-regional retail center” by relying on inadequate measures to mitigate urban decay effects, rejecting a mixed-use alternative without adequate support for its infeasibility finding, and failing to adequately analyze the energy impacts of the project.

The project at issue proposed annexation of 154 acres of farmland to the City of Woodland and re-zoning of that land from “agricultural” to “general commercial” as part of the development of a regional commercial center that would include over 800,000 square feet of retail space, 100,000 square feet of office space, three hotels, four restaurants, and an 80,000 square foot auto mall. 

In approving a scaled-down version of this “super-regional retail center” project, the City concluded that the project would result in physical deterioration and urban decay of retail centers in other parts of the City, including the City’s downtown area.  The City adopted mitigation measures to address these effects, including:

  1. requiring the developer to prepare market studies and urban decay analyses for future site-specific projects,
  2. requiring the developer to contribute funds to develop a “retail strategic plan and implementation strategy” for the City’s downtown area, and 
  3. requiring the City to coordinate with the owner of a local mall that would be impacted by the development, to develop a “strategic land use plan” for the mall. 

The Court of Appeal ruled that these mitigation measures were inadequate because they were too speculative and/or did not commit the City to any actual mitigation to reduce the urban decay effects associated with the project.  

The Court also held that the City violated CEQA by rejecting a mixed-use alternative to the project on the ground that it was environmentally inferior to the proposed project, where the administrative record contained no evidence to support this conclusion—the Draft and Final EIRs had both rejected the mixed use alternative on the basis of economic infeasibility rather than environmental inferiority. 

Finally, the Court held that the City violated CEQA by failing to adequately analyze the energy impacts of the proposed project—specifically, the City failed to adequately analyze transportation, construction and operational energy impacts and failed to consider renewable energy options for the project.

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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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