Chaparral Greens v. City of Chula Vista

(1996) 50 Cal.App.4th 1134

Filed in November, 1993, Petitioners sought issuance of a writ of mandate challenging the City’s certification of an Environmental Impact Report for the Otay Ranch Project. The Otay Ranch Project is a controversial development project, jointly approved by the City ofChula Vistaand theCountyofSan Diegothat redesignated the use of approximately 24,000 acres of land adjacent to the City and in the County for urban uses (the County is also a party). Notably the project set aside approximately 12,500 acres of the 24,000 acres for a nature preserve dedicated to the preservation of a number of threatened and endangered species, including theCaliforniagnatcatcher. My firm represented the City ofChula Vistaand I acted as lead counsel for the City.

At trial the Petitioners articulated a number of violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The petitioners also argued that the matter should be conducted as a full trial allowing expert and percipient witnesses. Approximately thirty depositions were conducted by the parties during the summer of 1993. Extensive requests for production were also completed. The Court, after hearing extensive motions in limine, agreed with the Respondents that the matter was quasi legislative. The Court further held that the separation of powers doctrine required the Court to examine the record of proceedings before the agencies to determine whether the agencies had proceeded in a manner required by law and whether the City and County’s decision was supported by substantial evidence.

The Court determined the agencies had proceeded in a manner required by law and that their decision was supported by substantial evidence. The Court also awarded costs to the Respondents in the amount of approximately $ 24,000.00. Petitioners appealed.

On appeal Petitioners narrowed their arguments and argued that the analysis of the project must include analysis of an as-of-yet-unapproved Habitat Conservation Plan, prepared pursuant to the Endangered Species Act. Petitioners also argued that the costs assessed by the lower Court were excessive and contrary to public policy.  The Appellate Court upheld the lower Court’s decision in all respects.

[TLG counsel of record: Tina A. Thomas.]