Stopthemillenniumhollywood.com v. City of Los Angeles (2019) 39 Cal. App. 5th 1

November 21st, 2019

By: Johannah Kramer



Stopthemillenniumhollywood.com
v. City of Los Angeles
 (2019)
39 Cal. App. 5th 1

Millennium Hollywood LLC, the City
of Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles City Council (Appellants) challenged a trial
court holding that a proposed four-and-a-half-acre mixed-use development failed
to comply with the requirements of CEQA.

Millennium filed a master land use
permit with the City’s Planning Department in 2008. In an attachment, Millennium
described what it proposed to build and the objectives for the project. Development
was abandoned (following a finding that the project violated FAR requirements) until
2011, when Millennium filed another master land use permit, this time lacking
any description or detail regarding what they intended to build. The initial
study did not include any drawings or renderings; the number of buildings; or
their shape, or size, or purpose. The only finite information was the development’s
size, location, and purposes of existing buildings nearby. The DEIR identified
it as a “mixed use development” and stated that the massing characteristics and
specific land uses were left vague to allow for flexibility. The DEIR included
a conceptual plan (along with two alternatives of similar detail) to illustrate
potential scenarios following approval of the development agreement. The FEIR maintained
the same project description, and, over public comment noting it would be
difficult to “respond to a project that does not include a specific proposal”, the
Council approved the project.

Stopthemillenniumhollywood.com
filed a petition seeking a peremptory writ of mandate directing the City to set
aside approval of the Project and EIR certification. The petition set forth three
CEQA causes of actions, two of which were granted by the trial court. The trial
court found that the City abused its discretion by (1) failing to provide an
accurate, stable, and finite project description, and (2) declining to conduct
a traffic study. The trial court found the project description was inconsistent
and failed to describe essential requirements under CEQA: siting, size, mass,
or appearance of proposed building. The DEIR didn’t describe a stable or finite
building development project—rather, it presented conceptual scenarios that
Millennium or future developers could follow at the site.

Appellants filed an appeal with the
Second District Court of Appeal. The Court upheld the decision of the trial court
in full.

First, the Court established that
the project description was not “accurate, stable and finite” as required under
CEQA. The Court explained that the informative purpose of CEQA is not served
through “incessant shifts among different project descriptions”, and that vagueness
could result in vitiation of the EIR process as a vehicle for public participation.
The Court held that the project description provided the public and decision
makers little by way of actual information regarding “design features” or a “final
development scenario.” Rather, they constituted vague and ambiguous regulations
which simply limited the range of options for future developers.

The Court rejected the argument that
the conceptual “impacts envelope” contemplated in the project alternatives complied
with CEQA because it assumed, analyzed, and mitigated worst-case-scenario
environmental effects; noting that this exact argument was “made and roundly
rejected in County of Inyo [v. City of Los Angeles
(1977) 71 Cal. App. 3d 185]and Washoe Meadows [Community v. Department of Parks and Recreation
(2017) 17 Cal.App.5th 277
].”

Rather, the Court directed developers
to follow the project description requirements enumerated in South of Market
Community Action Network v. City and County of San Francisco
(2019) 33 Cal.
App. 5th 321 (South of Market) and the Guidelines, which require a general
description of a project’s technical, economic, and environmental characteristics.
In South of Market, the DEIR’s project description met Guidelines standards
through inclusion of site plans, illustrative massing, building elevations, cross-sections,
and representative floor plans for multiple schemes—even though the project
would ultimately result in one scheme.

The Court found that unlike South
of Market
,the project description at issue failed to meet basic Guidelines
requirements. Technical characteristics—such as those provided in South of Market
for multiple schemes—were absent. The DEIR did not contain site plans,
cross-sections, building elevations, or illustrative massing to show what
buildings would be built, where they would be sited, what they would look like,
and how many there would be.

Moreover, as noted by the trial
court, there were no practical impediments as to why Millennium could not have
provided an accurate, stable, and finite description of what it intended to
build. The Court found this case distinguishable from Citizens for a
Sustainable Treasure Island v. City and County of San Francisco
(2014) 227
Cal. App. 4th 1036, which held that there may be times when a project description
setting forth only the physical parameters and maximum environmental impacts
may be reasonable—such as when conditions on the site interfere with making any
firm commitment as to whether development would be possible and, if so, what
type of development would occur. Instead, the Court agreed with the trial court’s
assessment that those circumstances were not present in this case. In the earliest
proposals for the project, prior to temporary abandonment, Millennium could
clearly describe what they intended to build on the two parcels. Further, unlike
Treasure Island, Millennium’s future configuration would not be subject
to supplemental review before implementing the final Project design. The Court
concluded that Treasure Island’s environmental review process provided
for subsequent review when actual projects were proposed. Here, no subsequent review
was contemplated.

Identifying that there were no
extenuating circumstances on the site which would prevent Millennium’s preparation
of an accurate, stable, and finite description, the Court found that the City’s
actions constituted an impermissible impairment of the public’s ability to
participate in the CEQA process. The Court concluded that because the project
description is at the heart of the EIR process, it was not necessary to reach the
other allegations of the appeal. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgement
of the trial court in full.