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Procedural Issues Posts


Second District Court of Appeal Upholds EIR for Development Along Santa Clara River

Monday, January 26th, 2015

In an unpublished opinion in Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment v. City of Santa Clarita, 2014 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 8998, the California Second District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court and denied a petition for a writ of mandate challenging a 185-acre development (the Project) along the Santa Clara River near the City of Santa Clarita (the City). The court also rejected SCOPE’s cross appeals, allowing the mixed use development project to move forward.

The City owns a portion of the dry Santa Clara River corridor running through the Project site and the Project provides that the City will sell four of the acres to the developer for installation of buried bank stabilization. The Project also preserves a corridor of the dry riverbed, and results in dedication of all developer-owned river corridor property to the City.

The court reversed the trial court in two respects. First, the court held the City did not improperly incorporate by reference other documents into the environmental impact report (EIR). The court rejected SCOPE’s argument that the description or summary of the incorporated document must appear at the precise point in the EIR where the document was incorporated, and rejected all of SCOPE’s examples of alleged inadequate discussion of the documents incorporated by reference. Additionally, while the EIR may not have included an adequate description or summary for a few documents incorporated by reference, the court held SCOPE failed to show any prejudicial error.

Second, the court held the EIR adequately analyzed the cumulative biological effects of the Project. SCOPE contended the analysis was too broad because the EIR relied upon an analysis of the entire 1,036,571-acre Santa Clara River Watershed, while the Project was only 185 acres. However, the court noted a preference by the EPA for watershed-wide analyses and held the City did not abuse its discretion in considering the watershed-wide analysis of the Project’s cumulative impacts.

As to the cross appeals, the court held the Project was consistent with the City’s general plan. The court found the general plan amendment’s description of the preserved river corridor was not vague and the City did not abuse its discretion in finding the Project was consistent with the General Plan’s goal of promoting preservation of the river as open space.

The court also declined to question the correctness of the EIR’s environmental conclusions and found substantial evidence supported the City’s finding that the Project would not have a significant water quality impact related to chloride in the river.

Finally, the court held the trial court properly sustained the City’s demurrer to SCOPE’s claims regarding the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Act (the Act), focusing primarily on the lack of a private right of enforcement of the Act..

Court Orders Supplemental EIR for Ventura County Medical Center Building Due to 15 Foot Increase in Building Height

Monday, January 12th, 2015

In Ventura Foothill Neighbors v. County of Ventura (2014) 232 Cal.App.4th 429, the Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District affirmed the trial court’s decision requiring Ventura County (the County) to prepare a supplemental environmental impact report (EIR) to evaluate the impacts associated with increasing the height of a medical office building previously approved to be developed within the Ventura County Medical Center from 75 feet to 90 feet.

The County originally approved an EIR in 1993 stating the building would have a maximum height of 75 feet. In 2005, the County prepared an addendum to the 1993 EIR to evaluate potential impacts of relocating the building a few hundred feet northwest from the original location. The addendum only addressed relocation of the building and did not disclose that the building height would increase by twenty percent.   The County filed a Notice of Determination (NOD) after approving both the original 1993 EIR and the 2005 addendum. In May of 2008, a community group known as Ventura Foothill Neighbors, learned about the change in height when a citizen noticed equipment at the construction site and inquired what was being built. Approximately two months after discovering the change, Ventura Foothill Neighbors filed a petition for writ of mandate and sought a preliminary injunction to stop construction of the building.  The trial court declined to enjoin construction and the County completed the building in 2010.

The key question before the court was whether the statute of limitations expired before Ventura Foothill Neighbors filed its lawsuit.  The County argued that the lawsuit should be viewed as a challenge to the 1993 EIR or at least the 2005 addendum and, therefore, the lawsuit was filed well after the 30 day statute of limitation ran under either of the NODs.  The court disagreed. The court reasoned filing of the NOD triggers a 30-day window for all CEQA challenges “to the decision announced in the notice.” In this case, neither the 1993 EIR nor the 2005 addendum mentioned the change in height of building. As a result, respondent had 180 days from when it “knew or reasonably should have known the project differed substantially from the one described in the EIR.”  As Ventura Foothill Neighbors discovered the change in May of 2008 and filed its lawsuit in July of 2008, the lawsuit was timely.

The court also held the change in height from 75 feet to 90 feet constituted a substantial change in the project requiring a major revision in the EIR.  Therefore, the court concluded that the County should have prepared a supplemental EIR to analyze the impacts associated with the change in height.

KEY POINT

An NOD filed creates a short statute of limitations to challenge actions of the lead agency pursuant to CEQA.  However, an NOD only covers the project as defined in the NOD and associated environmental document (e.g. EIR, addendum, etc.).  To avoid uncertainty and reduce the potential for future litigation, a lead agency should make sure to clearly define the project in an NOD and associated environmental document.

Appellate Court Upholds EIR for Perris Dam Remediation Project in Riverside County

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

In Paulek v. California Department of Water Resources, 2014 Cal. App. LEXIS 999, the Court of Appeal for the Fourth District upheld the trial court’s denial of a writ of mandate challenging the Department of Water Resources’ (Department) approval of an environmental impact report (EIR) for a dam remediation project at Perris Dam in Riverside County.

Following a 2005 study of the dam’s foundation that found structural deficiencies, the Department developed a three-part plan for long-term improvements. The three parts included: 1) fixing the structural deficiencies in the dam’s foundation; 2) replacing the facility’s outlet tower; and 3) constructing a new emergency outlet extension. Despite an initial notice of preparation of a draft EIR that included all three parts, the final EIR did not include construction of the emergency outlet extension. Petitioner sought a writ vacating the Department’s approval of the EIR.

After establishing the petitioner had standing to bring the lawsuit, the court rejected petitioner’s argument that removal of the emergency outlet extension from the final EIR left a significant environmental impact unmitigated. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) only requires a public agency to mitigate the environmental impacts of “projects that it carries out or approves.” The court found the danger from the current emergency outlet extension existed regardless of whether the seismic improvements were made to the other portions of the dam. As a result, the flooding danger was part of the baseline condition that did not fall within the mitigation requirements of CEQA.

The court also rejected petitioner’s argument that removal of the emergency outlet extension into a separate CEQA analysis constituted improper segmentation. While CEQA prohibits “piecemeal” review of projects to avoid a cumulative significant impact, the court found the emergency outlet was a distinct project. It was not a “reasonably foreseeable consequence” of the dam remediation and tower rebuilding because those two projects could occur and remedy the structural deficiencies without the emergency outlet extension. The outlet extension was also not an integral part of same project and not a future expansion of the dam remediation and tower rebuilding that would change the scope of their impacts. Accordingly, the project was not improperly segmented.

Finally, the court found the Department’s responses to petitioner’s comments on the EIR were adequate. Petitioner’s comments did not point to specific deficiencies in the EIR; rather, the comments generally stated the EIR was inadequate and expressed the need for mitigation. The court held the Department’s reference to portions of the EIR addressing petitioner’s concerns were sufficient stating, “a general comment only requires a general response.”

KEY POINT

The court reiterated the standard for improper segmentation of CEQA projects. Although CEQA defines project broadly in favor a comprehensive environmental review, public agencies have discretion to remove discrete portions of a project from the final EIR, even if the removed portion was included in the initial notice.

When is Agency Action Considered a Project under CEQA? When the Legislature Says So.

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

In Rominger v. County of Colusa, 2014 Cal. App. LEXIS 813, the Court of Appeal for the Third District overturned the trial court and held a proposed subdivision approved by Colusa County was a project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), even though the proposal did not include any specific plans for development. The appellate court went on to find that substantial evidence in the record supported a fair argument that the project may have a significant unmitigated impact on traffic at a particular intersection adjacent to the project site. Accordingly, the appellate court reversed and remanded for the preparation of an environmental impact report (EIR).

In 2009, real party in interest, Adams Group Inc., filed an application for a tentative subdivision map to divide four parcels into sixteen parcels. The application included no specific plan for future use of the property. The County conducted an initial study and then a revised study, and eventually adopted a mitigated negative declaration, concluding that impacts of the project could be mitigated to a less-than-significant level. Neighbors opposed the project throughout the review process and sought to compel preparation of an EIR for the subdivision.

The court first reversed the trial court and determined that the subdivision was a project under CEQA. Section 21080 of the Public Resources Code specifically includes approval of a tentative subdivision map as a project under CEQA. The court also found that the common sense exemption to CEQA review did not apply because the County could not show there was no possibility that approval of the subdivision could lead to a significant effect on the environment at some point in the future.  

The court then considered each of the seven environmental areas that the petitioners contended would be significantly impacted by the subdivision. The petitioners’ traffic expert showed the County improperly relied on a continued agricultural use for the subdivision when the County conducted its analysis. The court considered the traffic expert’s specific facts, such as the subdivision’s proximity to a major highway, and concluded substantial evidence supported a fair argument that the subdivision may have a significant environmental impact on traffic.

The court dismissed arguments related to impacts on agriculture, odor, noise, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and water supply. The mitigation measures the County required to address these areas adequately addressed any significant environmental impacts and no substantial evidence to the contrary had been provided.

The court also found the County abused its discretion by failing to provide a full thirty-day public review period for the mitigated negative declaration. The County issued notice that the public comment period would be August 7 to September 5.  Since September 5 was a holiday, the comment period was only twenty-nine days. However, the court ultimately concluded this was not a prejudicial error

KEY POINT

Whether an approval is considered a project for purposes of CEQA review is not a fact-based inquiry when the type of activity is expressly listed in Public Resources Code section 21080 subdivision (a). The Legislature determined that certain activities always have the potential to impact the environment and a lead agency’s determination of no significant impact does not alter this conclusion.

City Violated its Municipal Code by Delegating CEQA Approval to its Preservation Commission

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

In Citizens for the Restoration of L Street v. City of Fresno, 2014 Cal. App. LEXIS 786,the Fifth Appellate District affirmed a judgment granting a writ of mandate challenging the City of Fresno’s (City) approval of an infill development project. The court upheld the trial court’s ruling that the City violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by improperly delegating its approval authority to the City’s Historical Preservation Commission (Commission).

Developers sought to build 28 two-story townhouses on a vacant lot in downtown Fresno. The project site included two homes built in the early 20th century, which petitioners contended were historical resources under CEQA.

After the City conducted an initial study and filed a “Notice of Intent to Adopt a Mitigated Negative Declaration,” the Commission held a public hearing and determined that the buildings were not historical resources. The Commission also approved demolition permits for the buildings and adopted a motion approving the mitigated negative declaration. The City then unanimously adopted the findings of the Commission.

The court first affirmed the trial court’s finding that the Commission was not authorized to act as the City’s decisionmaking body by approving the mitigated negative declaration. The court explained that CEQA Guidelines section 21151, subdivision (c) allows the lead agency to delegate the authority to approve the project and the relevant CEQA review document. However, the Commission’s authority was limited by the City’s Municipal Code, which only provided the Commission the authority to “participate in environmental review procedures” and “provide review and comments on permit actions.” The court held these clauses suggested a secondary role and were too vague to grant the authority to conduct an environmental review and approve a final CEQA document.

Second, the court found the City’s subsequent project approval and adoption of the Commission’s findings did not cure the defects in the proceedings before the Commission. The City did not provide the proper notice nor show that it used its own independent judgment and analysis to determine that the project would not have a significant effect on the environment.  

Finally, the court denied petitioner’s appeal challenging the application of the substantial evidence test to the determination that no historical resources were impacted by the project. Citing Valley Advocates v. City of Fresno (2008) 160 Cal.App.4th 1039, the court affirmed that the substantial evidence test, not the fair argument standard, applies to a lead agency’s discretionary determination of whether a building or district is a historical resource for purposes of CEQA.

KEY POINT

CEQA allows lead agencies to delegate their authority to approve environmental review documents such as the Mitigated Negative Declaration, subject to an appeal to the elected decisionmaking body. However, this authority must be expressly authorized and will not be implied. Additionally, the court reiterated that a lead agency’s determination of whether a resource is historic under CEQA is governed by the substantial evidence standard of review. 

Court Publishes Portion of a Decision Upholding the Adequacy of a Wind Farm EIR

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

On July 25, 2014, the Court of Appeal for the Fifth District granted a request to publish a portion of the recent case Citizens Opposing a Dangerous Environment v. County of Kern, 2014 Cal. App. LEXIS 679.  In the decision, the appellate court affirmed Kern County’s approval of a wind farm near a private airport and found that mitigation measures in the environmental impact report (EIR) were legally feasible.

The court published all of the opinion except for parts IV, V, and VI of the Discussion, which addressed the County’s response to late comments on the EIR, the adequacy of the evidence supporting the mitigation measures in the EIR, and the County’s obligation to consider alternatives in addition to the ones already considered in the EIR.

A complete summary of the case (including both the unpublished and published portions) is available here: http://www.thomaslaw.com/blog/court-grounds-lawsuits-challenging-wind-farms-impacts-airport-kern-county/.

KEY POINT

The FAA is the federal agency created to ensure safe and efficient use of the nation’s airspace.   Therefore, a lead agency may properly mitigate potential aviation hazards by requiring a future determination by FAA’s Obstruction Evaluation Service as to whether the proposed project may present an aviation hazard along with a commitment by the lead agency, pursuant to its police power, to prohibit construction until such a no hazard determination is made.

Court Grounds Lawsuits Challenging Wind Farm’s Impacts on Airport in Kern County

Monday, July 21st, 2014

In Citizens Opposing a Dangerous Environment v. County of Kern, 2014 Cal. App. LEXIS 679, the Court of Appeal for the Fifth District upheld the trial court’s denial of a writ of mandate challenging Kern County’s (the County) approval a wind farm near a private airport east of Tehachapi.

The proposed wind farm would include 116 wind turbine generators (WTGs) and be 1.2 miles away from the Kelso Valley Airport (the Airport).  The airport is often used to land gliders, which lack an engine and require a greater distance than an airplane to properly descend for landing.  Citizens Opposing A Dangerous Environment (CODE) (whose membership included the owner of the Airport) claimed that construction of the 400-foot tall WTGs in such close proximity to the Airport, left glider pilots with only one safe landing route and created a significant risk of collision.

The court first rejected CODE’s argument that the County violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by approving mitigation measures in the environmental impact report (EIR) that were not legally feasible.  The EIR mitigated the impacts on air navigation safety by requiring the developer to obtain a “Determination of No Hazard to Air Navigation” from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for each proposed WTG (Mitigation Measure 4.8-8).  However, CODE contended Mitigation Measure 4.8-8 was inadequate because the FAA had no authority to enforce its determinations.  Noting that the FAA is the only government agency with jurisdiction over air safety, the court found that even though the FAA could not directly stop construction of the WTGs, the County only approved building permits for the WTGs if the developer obtained the proper FAA determination.  As a result, Mitigation Measure 4.8-8 was feasible because the County had the necessary authority and means to stop construction and prevent any of the adverse impacts on air navigation safety.

CODE also contended that the County violated CEQA because it did not respond to a comment submitted after the public comment period had ended.  Citing Gray v. County of Madera (2008) 167 Cal.App.4th 1110, the court held that the County “may, but is not required, to respond to late comments.” Because the County had discretion to respond to the late comment, the court found no CEQA violation.

The court also rejected CODE’s argument that Mitigation Measure 4.8-8 would not be effective.  The court emphasized that the burden was on CODE to show that there was no substantial evidence to support the County’s approval of Mitigation Measure 4.8-8.  CODE argued that the FAA investigators did not receive all of the information regarding the Airport, improperly failed to contact the Airport owner, and only conducted a cursory investigation before making its determination. While declining to question the judgment of the County, the court noted that the FAA had received the EIR during its investigation and held that there was substantial evidence to support the County’s approval of Mitigation Measure 4.8-8.

Lastly, the court held that the County was not required to adopt CODE’s proposed mitigation measures or the alternative in the EIR that lessened the impacts on aviation safety by reducing the number of WTGs on the wind farm.  Mitigation Measure 4.8-8 significantly reduced the environmental impacts on air navigation safety and the County was not required to do more even if other, arguably more effective, alternatives were available.

Appellate Court Rejects Challenge to Walmart Supercenter Under Res Judicata and Calls Decision Not to Dismiss Appeal as Frivolous a Close One

Thursday, June 26th, 2014

In Roberson v. City of Rialto, (2014) Cal. App. LEXIS 532, the Court of Appeal for the Fourth District affirmed the denial of a writ of mandate challenging the City of Rialto’s approval of a Wal-Mart Supercenter and shopping center in the city. However, the court declined to dismiss the appeal as frivolous and denied a motion to sanction the appellant in what the court referred to as a “close one.” The opinion was initially filed as unpublished, but was switched to published at the request of Sonoma County Counsel.

The appellant Roberson, a citizen of the City of Rialto in San Bernardino County, filed the petition pursuant to California Government Code sections 65090 and 65094, which require the notice of a public hearing to include “a general explanation of the matter to be considered.” Roberson contended that the City of Rialto’s approval of a Walmart Supercenter was defective because the notice for the meeting failed to include the planning commission’s recommendations. The court upheld the denial of the writ for two independent reasons.

First, the court found that Roberson had not demonstrated any reversible error by the trial court. All parties agreed that the notice was defective, but Roberson contended that had he known of the planning commission’s recommendations, he would have submitted comments urging the City Council to reject the project. Yet, Roberson did not state what comments he would have submitted or why those comments would have made it probable that the City Council would reject the project. As a result, Roberson failed to show that the trial court had erroneously disregarded any evidence of prejudice that would justify a reversal.

Second, the court found that Roberson’s claim was barred by res judicata, which requires a court to find 1) the issue before the court is identical to a previously litigated issue; 2) the prior proceeding resulted in a final judgment on the merits; and 3) the party in the present case is in privity with the party in the prior proceeding. In a previous case, Rialto Citizens for Responsible Growth v. City of Rialto (2012) 208 Cal.App.4th 899, a community group representing the citizens of Rialto challenged the validity of the same meeting notice. The court in that case ultimately found no evidence of prejudicial error.

Roberson conceded that Rialto Citizens resulted in a final decision on the merits, but he contended that his claim was unique because he never actually opposed the project at the hearing, in contrast to the Rialto Citizens group that had submitted comments. However, the court found that the issues were still identical because both parties sought to show prejudice in the defective notice and Roberson could not show how his comments to the City Council would have been any different from the Rialto Citizens group’s comments.

Roberson claimed that he was not in privity with the plaintiff in Rialto Citizens because he was not a member of the organization and brought his case in his own interest rather than the public interest. Still, the court found that Roberson’s interests were adequately represented by the Rialto Citizens group and Roberson failed to show that he suffered any harm different than the harm to the community. As a result, the court found an “identification in interest” between Roberson and the Rialto Citizens group and barred his claim under res judicata.

Finally, the court considered a motion to dismiss the appeal as frivolous and sanction Roberson with $12,860 in attorney’s fees from the real party in interest, Walmart. The court denied the motion but stated that the issue was “a close one.” The court explained that an appeal should only be considered frivolous if it is carried forward for the purpose of harassment or delay, or when any reasonable attorney would agree the appeal is indisputably without merit.  Here, the court found that reasonable attorneys could agree that because Roberson was a private citizen and not a member of the Rialto Citizens group, his appeal may have had some merit. Additionally, Walmart had agreed with Roberson to withdraw a proposed judgment at trial pending resolution of the Rialto Citizens case, and thus was partially responsible for the four year delay in entry of judgment.

KEY POINTS

Under the doctrine of res judicata, a private citizen can be in privity with a community group that he is not a member of when the citizen cannot show how the harm he suffered differed from the harm suffered by the community. Absent clear intention of delay or harassment or an appeal that is indisputably meritless, courts will decline to find that an appeal frivolous and sanctionable under California Rules of Court, rule 8.276(a)(1).

CEQA Challenge Barred by 35-Day Statute of Limitations for Categorically Exempt Infill Project

Monday, February 24th, 2014

In an unpublished decision, Friends of the Landmark Filbert Cottages v. City and County of San Francisco, 2014 Cal. App. LEXIS 564, the First District Court of Appeal rejected a CEQA challenge to an infill project near San Francisco’s Russian Hill. The court applied CEQA’s 35-day statute of limitations and affirmed that the public interest is best served by allowing projects to move forward once the statute of limitations period has expired, regardless of the merits of the project’s approval.

The project at issue involved renovation and remodeling of the historic Filbert Street Cottages.  The city planning commission approved the project on April 8, 2010 and relied on a categorical exemption from CEQA review for infill development projects.  This approval triggered a 30-day period for appeal to the city board of supervisors. After the 30 days expired, on May 10, 2010, the city posted a notice of exemption (NOE). Posting of the notice started the 35-day statute of limitations to challenge the project’s approval under CEQA.

On June 17, 2010, thirty-eight days after the planning commission posted the NOE, neighbors attempted to appeal the planning commission decision.  The city advised that the appeal was untimely.  In January, 2011, two additional permits were issued by the city building department. The neighbors again attempted to appeal, but the city advised that no appeal process was available for issuance of building permits for project that have already received authorization from the planning commission.  The neighbors, together with the Friends of the Landmark Filbert Cottages, thereafter filed a petition for writ of mandate.

Friends of the Landmark Filbert Cottages conceded that it missed both the 30-day deadline to appeal to the board of supervisors and the 35-day statute of limitations to challenge use of a categorical exemption to approve the project. However, they argued that the statute of limitations was tolled because the city had not adopted a formal process for administrative appeals, as required by Public Resources Code section 21151.

The court rejected this argument and found that the interim procedures the city had in place to process appeals satisfied the obligations under section 21151. Citing the California Supreme Court in Stockton Citizens for Sensible Planning v. City of Stockton (2010) 48 Cal.4th 481, the court held that flaws in the decision making process do not toll a facially-valid and properly filed NOE. Allowing “perceived defects” in an administrative appeal process to invalidate the NOE and toll the statute of limitations did not serve the public interest in resolving challenges quickly and allowing projects to go forward.

Friends of the Landmark Filbert Cottages also argued that the 2011 building permits created a second opportunity to appeal the project to the board of supervisors. The court disagreed, finding that issuance of these permits was a ministerial action that necessarily followed the city’s formal approval of the project in May 2010. As the subsequent issuance of permits is not material for CEQA purposes, the deadline to challenge the project in court remained 35 days from the original approval.   In rejecting their arguments, the court noted that the Friends were clearly trying to circumvent CEQA’s 35-day deadline and stop a project that had complied with every CEQA requirement.

Plaintiff’s LAFCO and CEQA Claims Dismissed on Procedural Grounds

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

In Protect Agricultural Land v. Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission, 2014 Cal. App. LEXIS 80, the court affirmed the requirement that challenges to annexation and sphere of influence decisions by Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCO) must be brought as reverse validation actions.

The case involved the Stanislaus County LAFCO’s approval of an application by the City of Ceres to modify the city’s sphere of influence and to annex 960 acres of farmland, as set forth in the West Landing Specific Plan. The City of Ceres acted as the lead agency under CEQA and prepared an EIR for the Specific Plan.  Protect Agricultural Land (PAL), a citizen group, challenged the approval claiming it violated CEQA and the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000 (Reorganization Act). A final LAFCO decision may only be challenged by a validating action under Government Code section 56103 or by a quo warranto proceeding filed by the Attorney General. Section 56103 allows a public agency to test the validity of a LAFCO annexation or sphere of influence determination by filing an in rem validation action within 60 days of the approval. If a public agency does not file an in rem action, under section 51603, any interested individual may challenge the validity of the LAFCO decision following proper notice provided according to Code of Civil Procedure section 863.

Since the Stanislaus County LAFCO did not file an in rem validation action, PAL could challenge the validity of the LAFCO decision under section 56103.  However, PAL failed to publish and file proof of summons within 60 days of filing its complaint as required by the Code of Civil Procedure section 863.  The court agreed with the Stanislaus County LAFCO and dismissed the case because PAL failed to comply with the requirements of a reverse validation action.

PAL acknowledged that it did not comply with the notice requirements, but argued that it should be excused for showing good cause for noncompliance. The court rejected the good cause argument noting that PAL’s legal research was inadequate as it relied on only one legal treatise. Had PAL done more thorough research, it would have found several cases and other prominent legal treatises that specifically state the need to comply with validation statutes when challenging the validity of an annexation.

The court also found that the reverse validation procedures applied to PAL’s CEQA claim because PAL’s CEQA claim was a challenge to the validity of the Stanislaus County LAFCO’s decision. The court cited Hills for Everyone v. Local Agency Formation Commission (1980) 105 Cal.App.3d 461 as precedent for requiring CEQA claims to comply with the requirements for reverse validation actions provided in Government Code section 56103.

In dismissing both the CEQA and Reorganization Act claims, the court noted that it was not deciding whether PAL had stated a cause of action under CEQA and assuming that PAL had stated a CEQA cause of action, it was not deciding the merits of that claim.

KEY POINT

When an annexation or sphere of influence action by a Local Agency Formation Commission is challenged under the Reorganization Act and CEQA, the challenge must be brought as a reverse agency action, which includes compliance with all of the notice requirements of the Code of Civil Procedure section 863. If not, the case will be dismissed before reaching the merits.