Petitioners Have the Burden of Proof to Establish Substantial Evidence Supporting a Fair Argument that a Project May Have a Significant Effect on the Environment

November 7th, 2012

By: Thomas Law Group



In an unpublished decision, Agriculture, Business & Labor Education Coalition of San Luis Obispo County v. County of San Luis Obispo, 2012 Cal.App. Unpub. LEXIS 7948, the Second Appellate District upheld the trial court’s decision that an environmental group did not meet its burden of proof to show the County’s proposed amendments to the Framework for Planning, included in the land use and circulation elements of the General Plan could result in environmental impacts.  The Framework for Planning amendments were analyzed in an initial study and mitigated negative declaration (IS/MND) which concluded that the amendments would not have a significant effect on the environment.    The IS/MND was circulated for public comment and was considered by both the County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.  As a result of the public comments and hearings, County staff revised the IS/MND.  The revised IS/MND concluded that the County was not required to produce an EIR because the Framework for Planning amendments “do not create additional growth beyond the existing General Plan.”  Moreover, the Framework for Planning amendments would actually be as protective, or more protective, of the environment than the existing General Plan and therefore could not create significant environmental impacts.

Petitioners contended that the County’s revised IS/MND  was “inadequate because the administrative record contained substantial evidence supporting a fair argument that adoption of the Framework [for Planning amendments] would have a significant effect on the environment.”  To prevail on such claim, however, Petitioners bear the burden of proof to show such evidence exists.  Here, Petitioners were unable to provide any evidence in the administrative record supporting their position and, therefore, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s conclusion that Petitioners failed to demonstrate the Framework for Planning amendments are likely to result in any significant environmental impact. Furthermore, the Court found Petitioners had misrepresented both the content and the potential effect of the Framework for Planning amendments.

Written By: Tina Thomas and Michele Tong
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For questions relating to this blog post or any other California land use, environmental and/or planning issues contact Thomas Law Group at (916) 287-9292.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Thomas Law Group, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.