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Friends of Sierra Madre v. Sierra Madre, City of

ELR Citation: 31 ELR 20607
Nos. No. S085088, 19 P.3d 567/(Cal., 03/29/2001) aff'd in part, vacated in part

The court holds that initiative measures generated and placed on the ballot by a public agency are not exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The city of Sierra Madre enacted a historic preservation ordinance, and several owners of landmarked property claimed that their properties had been erroneously listed on the historic register. Under the ordinance, before the properties could be delisted, the CEQA required an environmental impact report (EIR) assessing the impact of removing a landmark property from the registry. Because the property owners were reluctant to contribute to the cost of conducting an EIR, and because the city did not have the money, an initiative was placed on the ballot that, if passed, would enact an ordinance exempting the delisting of the properties from CEQA review. The ordinance passed.

The court first holds, however, that the city council erred in placing the initiative on the ballot without first complying with the CEQA. While ministerial projects to be carried out by public agencies, such as placing a voter-sponsored measure on a ballot, are exempt from CEQA compliance, there is a difference between voter-sponsored and city council-generated initiatives. There was nointention to exempt from the CEQA any project that might cause a significant adverse impact on the environment. Voters who are advised that an initiative has been placed on the ballot by the city council will assume that the city council has done so only after making a study and thoroughly considering the measure's potential environmental impact. The court next holds, therefore, that before placing any such measure that may lead to voter approval of a project on the ballot, the public agency generating the measure must comply with the CEQA. Further, if compliance leads to the preparation of an EIR, the information contained in the final EIR must be made available to the electorate for its consideration prior to the election.

The full text of this decision is available from ELR (42 pp., ELR Order No. L-362).

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Susan Brandt-Hawley
Brandt-Hawley & Zoia
P.O. Box 1659, Glen Ellen CA 95442
(707) 938-3908

Counsel for Defendants
Sanford Svetcov
Milberg, Weiss, Bershad, Hynes & Lerach
100 Pine St., Ste. 2600, San Francisco CA 94111
(415) 288-4545