Legal Alerts Aug 27, 2018

Court Upholds Approval of Superstore Zoning Ordinance

California Appellate Court Supports the Broad Use of CEQA Addenda

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In a victory for public agencies, a California appellate court ruled that, when an agency has prepared an environmental impact report for a project under the California Environmental Quality Act that is relevant to a subsequent activity requiring discretionary agency approval, the agency may prepare an addendum — rather than a new or subsequent EIR — for that activity. That is, the Second District Court of Appeal said Thursday in Citizens Coalition Los Angeles v. City of Los Angeles, unless the existing EIR does not consider all of the proposed subsequent activity’s potential significant effects.
 
The case stems from the proposed development of a Target Superstore shopping center in Hollywood. Because the proposed Superstore exceeded various limitations (e.g., height, parking) for the property as zoned, the City of Los Angeles granted eight variances from the specific plan to authorize the Superstore’s construction. (The location is within the boundaries of both the City of Los Angeles’ General Plan and the Hollywood Community Plan.) Litigation commenced regarding the variances and an EIR prepared for the Superstore. The court upheld the EIR, but ruled that six of the variances were not supported by substantial evidence — a ruling that effectively ceased construction of the half-completed Superstore.
 
In response, the City of Los Angeles passed an ordinance that amended the specific plan to create a new subzone for large commercial development and placed the parcel of land on which the Superstore was being erected into this new subzone so that the Superstore could be built without variances. The City analyzed the environmental effects of this ordinance by preparing an addendum to the Superstore EIR.
 
The primary issue before the appellate court was how the City should have examined the environmental impacts arising from the new subzone’s potential to encourage further large commercial developments — i.e., whether the ordinance constituted a new project requiring environmental review from scratch, or whether an addendum or subsequent EIR was appropriate.
 
Citing established California Supreme Court precedence, the appellate court emphasized that the question did not turn on whether the ordinance was a “new” or “old” project, but “whether the previous environmental document [prepared for the Target Superstore] retains any relevance in light of the proposed changes.” Applying this standard, the appellate court held that the City was entitled to rely on the Superstore EIR when it approved the ordinance because the EIR’s discussion of the Superstore’s potential environmental effects were clearly relevant to the environmental effects of the ordinance that authorized the Superstore’s development.
 
Having reached this determination, the appellate court addressed whether the City properly prepared an addendum or whether a more thorough subsequent EIR was necessary. The court found that an addendum was proper since substantial evidence supported the City's finding that the sole reasonably foreseeable consequence of creating the subzone was the construction of the Superstore, and these effects were discussed in the EIR.
 
The appellate court also addressed the petitioner’s argument that the subzone constituted impermissible spot zoning — i.e., rezoning a parcel of land to give it fewer or greater rights than the parcels surrounding it. The court accepted that the subzone constituted spot zoning, but held that the creation of a spot zone is invalid only when arbitrary, irrational and unreasonable; here, in contrast, the court found the subzone in the public interest and thus valid.
 
Ultimately, the appellate court’s decision in this case affirms the breadth of circumstances in which a public agency may prepare an addendum to a previously prepared EIR for supplemental project approvals. While the propriety of preparing an addendum is fact-specific, and agencies should ensure that there is substantial evidence to support their decision to proceed via an addendum, this case continues to support an expansive use of addenda among public agencies.
 
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 practice group, 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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