The City of Santa Clarita (City) certified an EIR and adopted a master plan for a project to expand a hospital and medical office space over a 15-year period. The Petitioner challenged the City’s approvals for two reasons: First, the City failed to provide evidence and explanations for why the project’s impact on climate change could not be mitigated; second, the City failed to adequately consider impacts on nearby neighborhoods as required by the City’s municipal code. The trial court denied the petition for writ of mandate. On appeal, the Second District Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s decision. Before considering the merits, the Court confirmed that the single, somewhat generic, letter submitted by the Petitioner during the administrative process was sufficient to exhaust its administrative remedies as required by CEQA. The Court held that an agency does not need to explain why it has not adopted all the mitigation measures provided in the Attorney General’s list of suggested measures for mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In this case, the City’s EIR calculated GHG emissions from the project, finding that the emissions caused by the project including emissions from energy use were less than significant. However, the EIR determined that indirect emissions, such as from transportation sources, were significant and unavoidable. The Petitioner argued that the city did not provide an adequate explanation for why those indirect emissions were unavoidable and that a series of mitigation measure should have been evaluated and adopted if feasible. The Court disagreed. The Court found that the suggested mitigation measures were too numerous, making it unreasonable for the City to consider every single possible measure. The Court also found that the measures were generic and not necessarily all related to the project. Additionally, in rejecting Petitioner’s argument concerning the City’s Uniform Development Code, the Court gave deference to the City’s interpretation of its own code, and thus concluded that the City acted appropriately.
A lead agency is not compelled to respond directly to every mitigation measure proposed by a commenter where a commenter simply provides a long list of potential mitigation measures for an agency’s consideration. However, we caution that in all but the most extreme circumstances, the prudent approach is to respond to all mitigation measures proposed by commenters.