The Writing on the Wall – Court Denies Writ of Mandate Challenging Library Project

June 17th, 2014

By: Thomas Law Group



In the unpublished case Friends of Appleton-Wolfard Libraries v. City and County of San Francisco, (2014) Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 3384, the Court of Appeal for the First District upheld the trial court’s denial of a writ of mandate challenging the City’s certification of a Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

The project consists of developing a library. The project would be implemented in two phases. Phase one would consist of the closure of traffic within the right of way separating the parcels to permit park expansion and the accommodation of a larger library. Upon completion of the new library, the existing library would be demolished and the site would be graded for development as open space as part of the adjacent Joe DiMaggio Playground, which would be redesigned and improved.

Petitioners first contend that the project violates the City Charter; as a non-recreational use, the new library should not be built on park property. While the City Charter did not define recreational or non-recreational uses, the Court recognized that for over a century, the Court has noted that uses including but not limited to hotels, restaurants, museums, and libraries were equally in the aid of the enjoyment of the public. (citing Spires v. City of Los Angeles (1906) 150 Cal. 64.) Thus, under California law, the use of public property for a library is not inconsistent with recreational land uses. Because the Court found that the project was not in violation of the charter, the Court also rejected the petitioner’s argument that the EIR’s project description was inadequate.

Petitioners then contend the project violates the City’s General Plan and that rebuilding the library would violate the City’s General Plan policies. Citing Sequoyah Hills Homeowners Assn. v. City of Oakland,(1993) 23 Cal.App.4th 704), the Court recognized that it is the “province of elected . . . officials to examine the specifics of a proposed project to determine if it would be ‘in harmony’ with the policies stated in the plan.” The Court, in determining whether the officials considered the applicable policies, applied the substantial evidence standard of review, noting that when a lead agency determines that a project is consistent with the General Plan, there is a strong presumption of “regularity.” Projects need not be in perfect conformity with every General Plan Policy, but be compatible with the plan. By closing the existing right-of-way separating the parcels and expanding the park and library, the Court found that the facts of the case showed that open space on the project was in fact increasing; the City could reasonably conclude the project would further the General Plan’s objectives and policies.

Finally, the petitioners challenge the EIR’s alternatives analysis, arguing that the City should have analyzed an additional alternative under which the existing library would be expanded to the north. Applying the substantial evidence standard, the Court found that the City identified sufficient alternatives given the constraints to development onsite.