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Stockton Citizens for Sensible Planning v. Stockton, City of

Citation: 40 ELR 20109
No. No. S159690, (Cal., 04/01/2010)

The California Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision to find that a citizen group’s suit challenging a city’s approval of a Wal-Mart was time barred under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The city filed a notice of exemption (NOE) announcing its determination that the approval came within CEQA’s exemption for ministerial action. Nearly six months later, the group challenged the approval under CEQA and argued that, because the approval was invalid and ineffective for various procedural and substantive reasons, the NOE was void and could not trigger the 35-day statute of limitations (SOL). The court disagreed, holding that flaws in the decision-making process underlying a facially valid and properly filed NOE do not prevent the NOE from triggering the SOL. By describing the project in question, setting forth the agency’s action or decision and detailing the reasons for the exemption finding, the notice tells the public that the brief period within which a CEQA challenge to the propriety of the noticed action or decision may be commenced has begun to run. The court further held that the NOE in this case was not defective in form and content, but demonstrated minimal compliance with CEQA.