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Woodward Park Homeowners Ass'n v. Fresno, City of

ELR Citation: 37 ELR 20086
Nos. No. F049481, (Cal. App. 5th Dist., 04/13/2007)

A California appellate court held that a city violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in approving new commercial development on vacant land. One of the CEQA's two major purposes is to require public agencies to adopt feasible mitigation measures to lessen the environmental impacts of the projects they approve. Here, the city failed to do this when it demanded no measures to ease the project’s impact on an already-congested freeway interchange just a block away. Although the city calculated a freeway fee of the kind frequently imposed on developments in other cities, it did not impose the fee or any other mitigation measure. The CEQA’s other major purpose is to inform the public and decisionmakers of the consequences of environmental decisions before those decisions are made. In this case, the city’s review process failed to inform the public because the two environmental documents the city produced—an environmental impact report (EIR) and a statement of overriding considerations—were deeply flawed. An EIR, as its name suggests, is meant to report the environmental impacts a project will have. The EIR measured the project’s impacts by comparing it to a massive hypothetical office park, instead of comparing it to the vacant land that actually exists at the project site. And the statement of overriding considerations engaged in a serious misrepresentation. It claimed that the proposed project would have economic benefits superior to those of the three alternatives considered in the EIR. In reality, the three alternatives in the report were as large as or larger than the proposed project, and the record contained no reason to think their economic benefits would be smaller. The real difference was that the proposed project included a shopping center while the alternatives had no shopping center or a smaller shopping center, but more office space. The city must repeat the environmental review process if it wants to approve the project.