CEQA Reined In

4/1 filed an interesting opinion today in Preserve Poway v. City of Poway  (D06635), reversing a trial court order holding the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) required a landowner prepare an environmental impact report (EIR) for his project, building 12 homes on one-acre lots on land on which he had operated a horse boarding facility, the Stock Farm, for 20 years.  “The superior court ruled an EIR was necessary because there was substantial evidence that the Project’s elimination of the Stock Farm may have significant impact on Poway’s horse-friendly ‘community character’ as the ‘City in the Country.”

The project would not violate any land use regulation; it would not have adverse impact on traffic or noise; nor would it impair views.  The trial court accepted arguments of the “Preserve Poway” citizens’ group the project would negatively impact the “community character” in that it would harm the “resident’s sense of well-being, pleasure, contentment, and values that come from living in the ‘City in the Country.'”  However, “impacts to the collective psyche of Poway’s resident’s” were not relevant as “CEQA does not require an analysis of subjective psychological feelings or social impacts,” as its “overriding and primary goal is to protect the physical environment.”  Impacts which “are psychological, social and economic — not environmental” are not relevant.

As a Southern California horse owner, I, too, decry the decreasing number of boarding stables, from a social perspective, as well as an economic one as immutable laws of supply and demand result in higher board bills.  However, the Court correctly ruled a community’s feelings cannot be leveraged into a CEQA violation to deny a landowner’s legitimate property rights.  Moreover, the plaintiffs were a bit unsympathetic since residents of the new homes could keep horses on their property, and the chief opponent was the Poway Valley Riders Association “whose 12-acre rodeo, polo, and other grounds are across the street from the Stock Farm.”  There was plenty of room there to operate a boarding stable there, but the Association did not want to undertake the expense and work to do so.  Instead, they attempted employ the judicial system to force the Stock Farm to remain in business for their convenience, so they did not necessarily “wear the white hat” in the dispute.

Procedurally, the opinion does contain interesting tidbits relevant to appellate practice, chiefly the importance of a cross-appeal if a party who is a respondent wants to raise a claim of error, explaining CCP “906 is intended to permit a respondent to assert a legal theory that will result in affirmance of the judgment notwithstanding appellant’s contentions,” not to permit a respondent to try and reverse another portion of a judgment.  Footnote 2 also granted a motion to strike a portion of the appellant’s brief which had attempted to incorporate website information, not presented below, an increasingly-common practice.

The case is useful as a window into both societal change and CEQA law, as well as appellate practice.  You can read the opinion here:

http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/D066635.PDF