Legal Alerts Apr 5, 2018

Parking Impacts Warrant Only Limited Consideration under CEQA for Infill Projects in Transit Priority Areas

Court Upholds City of Covina Infill Project

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Parking impacts (as distinguished from secondary impacts related to parking) associated with infill development in transit priority areas are exempt from environmental review under certain circumstances, a California Appellate Court confirmed in an opinion issued late last month. This decision likely gives lead agencies more latitude to approve infill projects in transit priority areas, and, as the decision explained, furthers the California Legislature’s goal of “long-term sustainability based on denser infill development, reduced reliance on individual vehicles and improved mass transit.”  
 
In Covina Residents for Responsible Development v. City of Covina, the Second District Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment upholding the City of Covina’s approval of a 68-unit, mixed-use infill project located a quarter-mile from a commuter rail station. Among other things, the court agreed with the City’s determination that the project’s parking impacts were exempt from California Environmental Quality Act review under Public Resources Code section 21099(d)(1). The section is a statutory exemption enacted in 2013 that provides that the aesthetic and parking impacts of certain development on infill sites in transit priority areas are not considered significant environmental impacts.
 
The court clarified that, while section 21099 exempts parking impacts from review under CEQA, it does not exempt secondary parking impacts from review (e.g., air quality, noise, safety or any other impact associated with transportation). Quoting from San Franciscans Upholding the Downtown Plan v. City and County of San Francisco, the court noted: “the social inconvenience of having to hunt for scarce parking is not an environmental impact; the secondary effect of scarce parking on traffic and air quality is.”
 
This decision suggests that parking impacts associated with infill development in transit priority areas are likely exempt from environmental review when relying on section 21099, and that alleged “parking impacts” associated with such developments constitute poor grounds for challenging a lead agency’s project approval.
 
This lawsuit stemmed from the City of Covina’s preparation of a Mitigated Negative Declaration for the proposed infill project near the Covina Metrolink station and a major bus line. The project site was entirely paved, contained 25,000 square feet of existing but vacant single-story buildings, and was surrounded by developed residential and commercial parcels with improved streets, sidewalks, curbs and gutters. Initially, the City’s Planning Commission denied the project based on parking concerns. After the developer addressed those concerns, the City approved the project and adopted the MND. The Covina Residents for Responsible Development filed a petition challenging the City’s project approval on various grounds. The trial court denied the petition and an appeal was filed.
 
If you have any questions about this decision or how it may impact your agency, please contact the authors of this Legal Alert listed to the right in the firm’s Environmental Law & Natural Resources and Municipal Law practice groups or your BB&K attorney.
 
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Disclaimer: BB&K Legal Alerts are not intended as legal advice. Additional facts or future developments may affect subjects contained herein. Seek the advice of an attorney before acting or relying upon any information in this communiqué.
 

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