United States: State Agencies Can’t Say CEQA Mitigation Is Infeasible If Earmarked Funds Are Unavailable, High Court Says

by Kenneth Kecskes : realestatecounsel – excerpt

When environmental review of a proposed development project by a state agency shows that it will have traffic impacts, a state agency is not allowed to nevertheless approve the project on the grounds that the funds needed to mitigate congestion have not been earmarked by the Legislature, the California Supreme Court has held.

The court’s recent unanimous decision in City of San Diego v. Board of Trustees of the California State University is significant for two important reasons.  First, it is now clear that state agencies cannot shift the costs of off-site environmental mitigation of their projects to local and regional governments, except in very limited circumstances.  Second, the use of a “statement of overriding considerations” by the legislative body of a lead agency will not be given deference by the courts if potential mitigation measures are not “truly infeasible.”…

… if the Legislature did not make an earmarked appropriation for specific environmental mitigation, the Board of Trustees argued that it could take the position that mitigation was infeasible and the Board of Trustees could adopt a statement of overriding considerations and approve the project.  A “statement of overriding considerations” is a legal tool under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) that allows a reviewing public agency to approve a project because it offers non-environmental benefits that outweigh its unmitigated significant environmental effects…

CEQA is not only a procedural statute.  Many provisions of CEQA have as their focus the preparation of environmental documents to inform the public and decision makers of the significant environmental impacts of proposed projects.  However, as this case makes clear, CEQA’s “substantive” limitations on the powers of state agencies and local legislative bodies to make decisions should not be overlooked…  (more)

RELATED:

California Supreme Court Holds that State Agencies May Not Escape CEQA Mitigation Requirements Based on Failure of the Legislature to Appropriate Mitigation Funds :  In a decision that enhances the ability of local interests to obtain mitigation funds from state agencies, the California Supreme Court held that the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) requires the Board of Trustees (“Board”) of the California State University (“CSU”) to mitigate the cumulative traffic impacts of a campus expansion project where the Legislature had not appropriated funds to pay for the traffic mitigation… (more)

California Supreme Court Could Stop Bullet Train : The California Supreme Court threw a giant obstacle on the California bullet train’s track, ruling that the state agencies cannot escape the state’s environmental laws by claiming federal laws supersede them… (more)

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