In an unpublished decision in Civilian Conservation Corps Camp Interest Group v. Valley Center Pauma Unified School District, (2014) Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 4760, the Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District, Division One, upheld the trial court’s denial of a writ of mandate seeking to compel Valley Center Pauma Unified School District (the District) to prepare an environmental impact report for the demolition of buildings adjacent to an elementary school. The court also upheld the trial court’s dismissal of alleged Brown Act violations for purportedly deciding to approve the demolition outside of a public meeting, failing to make certain documents available to the public, and failing to provide adequate notice of a public meeting.
The case stems from the 2011 acquisition by the District of a small parcel of land adjacent to an elementary school in the District. There were seven Depression-era buildings on the parcel that the District determined were hazardous due to structural issues, lead paint, and asbestos. Over the objection of Civilian Conservation Corps Camp Interest Group (Petitioner) at a public meeting, the District approved demolition of the buildings and within a few days of approval the buildings were removed except for the foundations and footings.
The court first rejected Petitioner’s claim that the demolition of the buildings violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In Petitioner’s complaint, Petitioner had asserted the project requiring CEQA review was all approvals and work related to the demolition of the buildings. However, the demolition of the buildings was already complete. Citing Woodward Park Homeowners Assn. v. Garreks, Inc. (2000) 77 Cal.App.4th 880, the court held that Petitioner’s CEQA claim was moot because the court was “unable to provide Petitioner with effectual relief and any order would have no practical impact.”
Petitioner argued that the demolition project was not complete because the buildings’ foundations were still in place and further, the demolition should be included in the District’s larger project to build a sports field on the parcel. However, the court rejected this argument as premature. The Petitioner had alleged only that the work related to demolition violated CEQA and not the planned sports field project that Petitioner now sought to add. Also, the foundations were not part of the hazard on the parcel, so the project that Petitioner alleged in the complaint was complete and the alleged CEQA violation was moot.
Next, the court considered the alleged Brown Act violations and held that there were insufficient facts alleged to support the claim. The Brown Act allows the public to seek an injunction or declaratory relief to stop ongoing violations and prevent threatened future violations. Plaintiffs must support the alleged ongoing violations or threatened future violations with “competent allegations of fact” demonstrating a pattern or ongoing practice of Brown Act violations. In this case, Petitioner’s allegations of improper deliberations by members of the District’s Board of Trustees and a failure to provide certain documents to the public were made purely on “information and belief” with no supporting facts. While the Petitioner did sufficiently support the allegation of inadequate notice of the demolition on the Board’s agenda, there was no allegation of a historical pattern of doing so. The Brown Act was established to stop ongoing violations and prevent future violation; it is not a remedy for past actions. As a result, the court held that Petitioner had failed to allege adequate facts and did not state a sufficient claim for declaratory or injunctive relief under the Brown Act.
CEQA claims in a petition can be moot if there is no practical relief that can be granted. Brown Act claims must be supported by facts showing a pattern or practice of ongoing violations.