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Chawanakee Unified School District v. County of Madera

ELR Citation: 41 ELR 20207
Nos. No. F059382, (Cal. App. 4th Dist., 06/21/2011)

A California appellate court held that a county's approval of a development project violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The project included a mix of residential, commercial, and light industrial uses plus areas for open space and recreation as well as other public uses. The proposal stated the development would contain up to 5,200 dwelling units and estimated it would accommodate 13,850 people with a school-age population of about 3,200 students. A school district challenged the county's approval of the project, claiming that the environmental impact report (EIR) failed to comply with CEQA. A lower court denied the district' petition for review, but the appellate court reversed, finding that the district's claim has merit. The EIR inadequately analyzes the project’s potential environmental impacts during the period when students from the new development would attend existing, offsite schools (i.e., before schools are built within the project area to accommodate those students), including increases in traffic near and on the way to existing schools and environmental impacts from the construction of additional facilities at existing schools. The school district, however, failed to demonstrate that the project was inconsistent with county's general plan in violation of the California Planning and Zoning Law.