On July 2, 2014, Judge Evelio Grillo of the Alameda County Superior Court issued a 30-page decision in Bay Area Citizens v. Assn. of Bay Area Governments, et al (Case No. RG13690631), upholding approval of Plan Bay Area by the Association of Bay Area Governments and Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
Plan Bay Area is the regional transportation plan and sustainable communities strategy for the Bay Area adopted by MTC and ABAG pursuant to SB 375, which establishes a process for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by reducing vehicle miles traveled. Bay Area Citizens, represented by Pacific Legal Foundation, filed a petition in August, 2013 challenging certification of the environmental impact report prepared for Plan Bay Area under the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act.
Bay Area Citizens claimed that the Agencies improperly ignored statewide efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through improved fuel technologies and increased vehicle efficiency for cars and light duty trucks in calculating the greenhouse gas emission reductions to be achieved by Plan Bay Area. The court found, however, that the plain language of SB 375 required the Agencies to develop the Plan independent of the reductions attributable to other statewide measures. Given the emphasis in the statute on regional planning, the court stated that it would be inconsistent to include benefits of statewide initiatives in Plan Bay Area.
Having found that the Agencies properly interpreted the requirements of SB 375, the court rejected Bay Area Citizens’ related arguments challenging the Plan objectives, as well as the analysis of alternatives. With respect to the Bay Area Citizens’ challenge to the assessment of the No Project Alternative, the court found that, while CEQA “normally” requires use of conditions existing at the time the notice of preparation is filed, this was not a normal situation. SB 375 required the Agencies to develop a plan to achieve the greenhouse gas reduction targets set by the California Air Resources Board, which had used a baseline of 2005. As a result, the court agreed with the MTC’s use of a baseline of 2005 for its analysis of greenhouse gas emissions.
The court also rejected Bay Area Citizens’ argument that Plan Bay Area was flawed because it assumed emission levels would continue to rise in the Bay Area while nationwide data showed emission rates would level off. The court stated this argument improperly assumed the Bay Area would follow the national trend and ignored substantial evidence that emissions would continue to rise in the Bay Area.
Finally, the court found the Agencies had adequately considered an alternative proposed by Bay Area Citizens during the administrative process. The draft EIR included analysis of five alternatives, including alternatives from other advocacy groups that incorporated many of the same elements as the Bay Area Citizens’ alternative. Furthermore, the proposed alternative assumed it could meet the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets in conjunction with other statewide initiatives, which the court found SB 375 did not allow. As CEQA only requires an analysis of feasible alternatives, the Bay Area Citizens’ proposed alternative was properly excluded from the EIR’s list of alternatives.