The Malibu Bay Company (MBC) proposed amendments to the City of Malibu’s local coastal program to facilitate development of beach front property it owned. Specifically, MBC requested a reduction of the minimum lot size. The City Council approved the amendments in a mitigated negative declaration. After the city approved the amendment, the Coastal Commission did so as well. Petitioners argued the local coastal program amendments had the potential to result in significant environmental impacts and that the Coastal Commission violated CEQA in approving the amendments. The trial court granted partial relief finding that the Commission failed to comply with the CEQA requirement of a 30-day public review period. The Second District Court of Appeal disagreed and reversed the trial court’s decision finding for the Commission for several reasons. The Court first addressed the 30-day requirement and found that it did not apply to the Commission’s certified regulatory program. The Commission’s regulations only require a 7 day public review period, which the Commission sufficiently surpassed by posting the amendments for public review for a total of 13 days. Second, the Court found that the Commission adequately responded to public comments and did not have to speculate what might happen in the future. Third, the Court explained that site-specific biological evaluations were not required – it would be “unreasonable to require the Commission, city or developer to conduct a biological assessment on developed property they do not own and for which there is no reason to expect will be subdivided.” Last, the Court addressed Petitioner’s argument that an inadequate land buffer was proposed to protect the dunes. The Court concluded that while the City’s general plan specified a 100 foot buffer, the local coastal plan allowed for smaller buffers, thus the Commission’s use of a 5 foot buffer was adequate.
Certified regulatory programs are exempt from CEQA’s notice and comment requirements unless otherwise provided by the regulatory program. Additionally, where an agency developed a plan, courts will give deference to its interpretations of the plan.