In LandWatch San Luis Obispo v. Cambria Community Services District (2018) Cal. App. LEXIS 661, the Second District Court of Appeals affirmed an agency may properly take over the preparation of the administrative record per Public Resources Code section 21167.6(b)(1) when petitioner elects to prepare it and fails to do so within 60 days.
LandWatch San Luis Obispo County (LandWatch) filed suit against Cambria Community Services District (District) for alleged violations of the California Environmental Quality Act in approving an emergency water supply project on January 30, 2014. In its initial pleading of October 2014, LandWatch elected to prepare the administrative record. District provided the documents November 2014. The next month, District notified LandWatch of additional documents. LandWatch requested the documents in March 2015 and received them in April 2015.
LandWatch presented a draft administrative record index in August 2015. District notified LandWatch the draft was over and under inclusive and, to avoid further delays prohibiting $4.3 million in grant fund awards, prepared and certified the record itself.
LandWatch was granted an order to include additional documents and failed to timely request the documents, stalling from December 3rd to February 17th, over 60 days while haste was of essence as the trial was set for March. District brought suit against LandWatch for the cost of preparation of the administrative record, $4,299.01, and preparation of the appendix, $26,922.46. The trial court awarded the totality of the first and half of the second amounts, $14,328.59.
The court, relying on Coalition for Adequate Review v. City and County of San Francisco (2014) 229 Cal.App.4th 1043, held that an agency is not determinatively prohibited from recovering costs for preparation of the administrative record where the petitioner initially elected to do so. Such a determination is made on a case-by-case basis where the court has discretion to award costs.
While the award of such costs is limited to costs that are “reasonable” and “reasonably necessary,” so long as the trial court finds that it is not specifically prohibited, it is at the court’s discretion to award it. Here, the court found that the trial court’s award was “on the low side of reasonable” for only totaling $1.77 per page. The trial court would have been “well within its bounds” to award more, especially where the 7,683 page appendix was erroneously requested by LandWatch. Finally, the court allowed costs for court calls, copies, and transcription, costs that were circumstantially reasonable and not prohibited.
Any amount of delay in administrative record preparation past the 60-day limitation in Public Resources Code section 21167.6(b)(1) is “unreasonable delay” in which an agency may prepare the record and recover “reasonable” costs, at the discretion of the court, for doing so.