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Watsonville Pilots Ass'n v. Watsonville, City of

Citation: 40 ELR 20120
No. No. H033097, (Cal. Ct. App., 04/12/2010)

A California appellate court affirmed a lower court’s issuance of a writ of mandate directing the city of Watsonville to, among other things, set aside its certification of a final environmental impact report (EIR) and its approval of a plan to develop a residential area in an area located adjacent to an airport. Plaintiffs, environmental groups and a pilot’s association, argued that the plan violated the State Aeronautics Act (SAA) and the city’s certification of the EIR violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) because it failed to consider a reasonable range of alternatives, and failed to adequately analyze the impact of the plan on aviation, traffic, and the water supply. Considering the SAA, the court held that, in the circumstances at issue here where a county has neither established an airport land use commission nor adopted a no-issues resolution and an alternative procedure, there was nothing in the statutory language that indicates that the legislature intended to grant discretion to a city to decide which of the criteria in the airport planning land use handbook should be incorporated into a city’s development plan. Nor is there anything in the legislative history to suggest that the legislature did not intend to mandate the adoption of all of the handbook’s criteria. At the same time, the city violated the CEQA because the EIR failed to adequately analyze the airport-related impacts of the plan. The EIR also failed to consider a reasonable range of alternatives because it did not consider a reduced development alternative. The key to the selection of the range of alternatives is to identify alternatives that meet most of the project’s objectives but have a reduced level of environmental impacts. Here, given the significant environmental impacts of the project, the alternatives analysis should have included an assessment of a reduced growth alternative.