In Citizens Against Airport Pollution v. City of San Jose (2014) Cal. App. LEXIS 588, the Court of Appeal for the Sixth District upheld the trial court’s denial of a writ of mandate challenging the City of San Jose’s (the City) approval of an addendum to an EIR analyzing the environmental impacts of amendments to San Jose Airport’s Master Plan (Airport Master Plan).
The City began updating the Airport Master Plan in 1988 to accommodate the projected growth at the airport. The City approved the final environmental impact report (EIR) for the update in 1997. From 1997 to 2010 eight addenda to the Airport Master Plan EIR were approved, with the eighth addendum considering the impacts changes to the size and location of planned air cargo facilities and modifications to the taxiing area of the runway.
Citizens Against Airport Pollution (CAAP) contended that the City violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in approving the eighth addendum because the amendments to the Airport Master Plan were so significant that they constituted a new project for purposes of CEQA. CAAP further contended that the 1997 EIR was a program EIR, as opposed to a narrower project EIR, and that a new EIR should be completed. The court declined to determine whether the 1997 EIR was a project-level EIR or a broader program EIR, but held that there was substantial evidence to support the City’s finding that the amendments to the Airport Master Plan would not have a significant effect on noise, air quality, or the burrowing owl habitat as CAAP contended.
Relying on an analysis in the addendum that showed a decrease in daily aircraft operations and improved airplane technology resulting in quieter aircraft, the court found that there was substantial evidence that the amendments to the Airport Master Plan would not result in significant noise impacts.
Similarly, the projected decrease in aircraft operations resulted in no significant impact to air quality. CAAP did not dispute the projected decrease in aircraft operations, thus the court found that there was substantial evidence to support the City’s findings that the impact on air quality was sufficiently analyzed in the 1997 EIR.
The court also found that there was substantial evidence to support the City’s findings that the amendments to the Airport Master Plan would not have a significant impact on the burrowing owls nesting in the unpaved portions of the airfield. The 1997 EIR had concluded that implementation of the Airport Master Plan would impact the burrowing owl, which is a species of concern in California. However, the EIR also included a Burrowing Owl Management Plan that established protected sections of the airfield and required biologists to monitor the burrowing owls in the area among other measures. The eighth addendum included mitigation measures that were consistent with the Burrow Owl Management Plan and even provided for the construction of one-way doors to ensure that no burrowing owls would be trapped in their burrows when construction began. As a result, the court held that the impact on the burrowing owl population at the airport was not substantially different than the impact considered in the 1997 EIR.
The court also rejected CAAP’s argument that a supplemental EIR was required to analyze greenhouse gas emissions. A 2010 CEQA amendment requires lead agencies to make a “good-faith effort” to estimate the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from a project. (CEQA Guidelines section 15064.4.) However, CEQA does not require a supplemental EIR unless new information becomes available that was not known when the original EIR was completed. The court held that the potential impact of greenhouse gas emissions was widely known in 1997 when the EIR was completed and in 2003 when a supplemental EIR was completed. Therefore, the potential impact of greenhouse gases did not constitute new information and a supplemental EIR was not required.
Once an EIR is completed for a project, a court applies the substantial evidence standard of review to determining whether project changes require a supplemental EIR. If the lead agency can show there is substantial evidence to support a finding that there will be no significant impacts, the court will permit an addendum to the original EIR instead of a supplemental EIR.