Committee for Green Foothills v. Santa Clara County Bd. of Supervisors
Citation: 40 ELR 20045
No. No. S163680, (Cal., 02/11/2010) Rev'd
The California Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision to hold that an environmental group’s mandamus petition, which challenged a county’s approval of an agreement between the county and a university relating to the alignment of certain trails, was time barred under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The university applied for a permit to add buildings on its campus. In order to mitigate the environmental impacts of this project, the permit required the university to, among other things, identify trail easements and reach agreements with the county on issues of trail construction, management and maintenance. An agreement was reached with the county with respect to certain trail alignments. After determining that no environmental review was presently required, the county approved the agreement and disclosed its findings in a notice of determination (NOD). One hundred and seventy one days after the NOD was filed, the group filed a mandamus petition, asserting that the agreement violated the CEQA because it approved a trail alignment without conducting the necessary environmental review. The county demurred on the ground that the petition was barred by the statute of limitations (SOL) under §21167 of the California Public Resources Code. The group countered that subdivision (a) of that provision, which set a 180 day limitation period, applied since the agreement constituted a “project” and the county approved this project without determining its environmental effects. The court disagreed, holding that the 30-day SOL applied. In determining which SOL applies, the determinative question is not what type of violation the plaintiff has alleged, but whether the action complained of was disclosed in a public notice. The limitations period cannot be extended based on the nature of the CEQA violation. This interpretation is consistent with the plain language of §21167, the regulatory guidelines implementing CEQA, the relevant legislative history and the key policy objectives of the statute. Here, because an NOD was filed, the group had only 30 days to challenge any decisions announced in the notice. Its petition was therefore time barred.
[A prior decision in this litigation can be found at 38 ELR 20088]