In Covina Residents for Responsible Development v. City of Covina, 2018 Cal. App. 5th 712, the Second District Court of Appeal determined the judicial history and development of Public Resources Code section 21099 settles the apparent conflict between San Franciscans Upholding the Downtown Plan v. City and County of San Francisco (2002) 102 Cal.App.4th 656 and Taxpayers for Accountable School Bond Spending v. San Diego Unified School Dist. (2013) 215 Cal.App.4th 1013, and clarified what constitutes adequate environmental review and project parking allocation under CEQA.
In 2012, project applicants submitted a proposal to the City of Covina for the construction of a mixed-used urban residential infill project near the Covina Metrolink commuter rail station. The project underwent numerous revisions and was repeatedly challenged for its alleged impacts on parking in and around the project site by appellants, Covina Residents for Responsible Development (CRRD). Post-project approval, CRRD sued the City for approving the project without preparing an EIR, for tiering the MND from a General Plan EIR, and for violating the Subdivision Map Act by failing to make the necessary findings for approval of the project. CRRD’s principal CEQA challenge focused on the project’s allegedly inadequate parking.
The trial court denied the petition, finding (a) no substantial evidence to support CRRD’s claim the parking shortage would result in environmental impacts; (b) any parking impacts from the project were exempt from environmental review under section 21099; (c) the City properly tiered its environmental review from the General Plan EIR; and (d) the City did not violate the Subdivision Map Act. The Second Circuit affirmed the trial court.
The Court first addressed whether the alleged parking impacts are exempt from environmental review under Public Resources Code section 21099 subdivision (d)(1), which provides, “Aesthetic and parking impacts of a residential, mixed-use residential, or employment center project on an infill site within a transit priority area shall not be considered significant impacts on the environment.” The Court examined the scope and purpose of section 21099 by analyzing San Franciscans and Taxpayers; in which opposing outcomes were found where it was alleged that projects’ parking-related “secondary impacts” could cause an environmental effect. The Court found the cases, while facially appearing diametric in conclusion, are consistent with each other and section 21099 by contextualizing not only the effect on parking a project has by virtue of its physical scope, but by the area in which a project is planned. In Taxpayers, the Court considered a suburban project and found the “secondary impacts” of the parking shortage significantly affected the narrow, canyon road environment. In San Franciscans, the Court considered an urban project and found the “secondary impacts” of the parking shortage, close to numerous public transit options, did not significantly affect the environment.
The Second Circuit clarified that, while secondary parking impacts caused by ensuing traffic congestion must be addressed, parking shortfalls relative to demand are not considered significant environmental impacts in urban contexts. In order to challenge a project’s allegedly inadequate parking provisions, petitioners must do so by submitting evidence of resultant secondary environmental impacts to the surrounding area—not by simply raising concerns that the project would result in a lack of parking spaces nearby. The Court concluded CRRD failed to make such a showing. The Court also found, when the secondary effects of parking do not impact environmental quality of the area of the project, parking shortage claims are exempt from CEQA under section 21099.
The Court also dismissed the allegation the General Plan EIR was inconsistent with the Subdivision Map Act. The Court held the City’s parking analysis did not “cherry-pick” certain circulation elements of the General Plan while ignoring others, the project was consistent with the City’s General Plan traffic provisions encouraging biking and pedestrian use. As a “higher density, mixed-use residential, transit-oriented project, the project inherently encourages alternative travel modes”, and in reviewing changes to the subdivision map, the City was right to find the project’s inherent promotion of walking and bicycling was sufficient to comport with the General Plan’s goal of offering a balanced circulation system offering multiple travel options.
Public Resources Code section 21099 subdivision (d)(1) exempts project parking impacts from CEQA review when the project is contextualized in an urban infill setting. Practitioners seeking to apply the Taxpayer standard in non-urban areas must take the project’s surroundings into account and make a showing that the project’s parking impacts would constitute a significant secondary environmental impact and may not simply assert concerns that the project would result in a lack of parking spaces.
Additionally, practitioners seeking to challenge the adequacy of a project’s environmental review via inconsistency between a tiered MND from a General Plan EIR and the Subdivision Map Act should take care to recognize the inherent impacts of the project. For example, if a high density transit-oriented residential project is built as infill near a Metrolink station, it likely will be found by a court to constitute a project with encourages alternative travel modes (even if its environmental documents do not explicitly state as such!).