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Coalition for Clean Air v. City of Visalia

ELR Citation: 42 ELR 20191
Nos. F062983, (Cal. Ct. App. 5th Dist., 09/14/2012)

A California appellate court reversed a lower court decision dismissing environmental groups' lawsuit against a city for violating the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in connection with its approval of a company's proposal to build a large distribution facility. The city filed a notice of exemption stating that the project was exempt from CEQA review as a ministerial action. The groups filed suit 55 days later, alleging that the project was not exempt and that the city was required to conduct an environmental review. The lower court ruled that the suit was time barred by the Act's 35-day statute of limitations. But the city did not approve the project until after it filed the notice of exemption, and a notice of exemption filed before the final approval of a proposed project is invalid. The notice, therefore, did not trigger the 35-day statute of limitations period. The groups also sought a writ of mandate on their claim that the city's agreement to reimburse the company for street improvements associated with the new facility constituted an illegal expenditure of public funds in violation of the city municipal code. But the trial court properly held that the groups failed to establish that the company, a private party, has any public duty that can be enforced by a writ of mandate.