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Keeping You Up-to-Date on the California Environmental Quality Act

Posts Tagged ‘administrative remedies’

Second District Court of Appeal Rejects Challenge to CEQA-Exempt Lighting Project on Procedural Grounds

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

In The Urban Wildlands Group, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles (2017) 10 Cal.App.5th 993, the Second District Court of Appeal addressed an appeal centered on challenge to the City of Los Angeles’ lighting project, and held that plaintiff’s attempt to invoke Code of Civil Procedure (“CCP”) section 473, subdivision (b) was improper due to insufficient evidence.

In September 2014, the plaintiff challenged the approval of a City of Los Angeles’ bureau of street lighting project’s use of light emitting diode replacement lights, which the City claimed was exempt from formal environmental review under CEQA. The plaintiff failed to lodge the administrative record as required pursuant to a stipulation. On July 8, 2015, the trial court denied the plaintiff’s request for a continuance because the record had not been lodged. The trial court also denied the plaintiff’s petition and complaint because the plaintiff could not support its arguments due to its failure to lodge the administrative record.

On August 26, 2015, the plaintiff moved to vacate the judgment under CCP section 473, subdivision (b), asserting that both discretionary and mandatory relief should be granted based on its attorney’s sworn affidavit in which he admitted neglect in failing to lodge the administrative record. The trial court denied discretionary relief because the plaintiff’s counsel’s mistake – failing to check to see if his assistant actually lodged the administrative record due to his hectic workload – did not rise to the level of excusable neglect. The trial court granted mandatory relief, however, finding that the mistake of plaintiff’s attorney deprived plaintiff of its day in court and explaining that it had ruled on the merits only because it was under the mistaken impression that the incomplete record had been lodged by plaintiff, when in fact it had been lodged by the City.

On appeal, the Second District Court of Appeal held that the trial court erred in granting the mandatory relief. The mandatory relief provision in CCP section 473, subdivision (b) only applies to a default, a default judgment, or a dismissal. In this case, the court found the mandatory relief provision did not apply. Plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence to meet its burden of proof because it never lodged the administrative record.  The judgement was therefore on the merits and not a default, default judgment, or dismissal.

Key Point:

The Second District Court of Appeal found that the grant of mandatory relief under CCP section 473, subdivision (b) is improper when plaintiff fails to present sufficient evidence and does not meet the burden of proof.

Court Applies Strict Interpretation of the Exhaustion Doctrine to Deny Challenges to a Mitigated Negative Declaration for a Small Housing Complex

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

In an unpublished decision, Kentfield-Union Neighborhood Ass’n v. Redwood City Council, 2012 Cal.App.Unpub.LEXIS 736, the First Appellate District upheld the trial court’s ruling that the Redwood City Council complied with CEQA in preparing an initial study and adopting a mitigated negative declaration for a 21-unit housing complex in Redwood City (Project). In reaching its holding, the Court first concluded that changes to the City’s Zoning Code rendered moot Petitioner’s arguments concerning the Project’s consistency with the Zoning Code. The Court, however, declined to hold that the entire challenge was rendered moot by the Zoning Code amendments.

Next, the Court concluded that the Petitioner failed to exhaust its administrative remedies with respect to each of the four substantive challenges not rendered moot by the Zoning Code amendments. First, the Court explained that while Petitioner opposed the density of the Project, it did not challenge the adequacy of the project description in the initial study’s discussion of Project density. Second, the Court rejected Petitioner’s argument that an EIR was required based on exhaustion grounds. The Court stated that while the Petitioner requested further environmental review, the Petitioner never alleged that an MND was insufficient and that an EIR was required to comply with CEQA. Third, the Court rejected Petitioner’s challenge regarding the height of the Project because, while the Petitioner raised these objections during initial public hearings, it did not raise them during the administrative appeal. Lastly, the Court rejected Petitioner’s challenges relating to the Project’s impacts on pedestrian travel because Petitioner could only point to one vague sentence to support the conclusion that it exhausted on this issue.

Key Points:

While courts have not always applied exhaustion of administrative remedies in a consistent manner, this decision serves as a reminder that petitioners must be careful to clearly articulate their concerns during the administrative proceeding in order to ensure CEQA challenges are not dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies.

Written By: Tina Thomas and Chris Butcher

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.