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In an unpublished decision, Protect Our Village v. California Coastal Commission (February 7, 2013) 2013 Cal.App.Unpub.LEXIS 1018, the Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of a writ of mandate to vacate California Coastal Commission (Commission) certification of an amendment to a local coastal plan (LCP).

In 2008, the City of Santa Barbara conditionally approved a coastal development permit for a mixed-use project on two adjoining parcels.  The city conditioned approval on the Commission’s certification of an amendment to the LCP, to allow for a re-zone of one of the parcels from residential to commercial use.  After finding the amendment consistent the California Coastal Act and the city’s existing land use plan (LUP), the Commission certified the amendment.

The petitioners filed a writ of mandate to vacate Commission approval of the amendment, arguing the approval violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  The petitioners argued the Commission was required to consider the environmental impact of the whole project driving the request before certifying the amendment.

The court disagreed, finding that the Commission appropriately limited its review to those impacts that could be attributed to the zoning change.  The petitioners argued that an agency with independent responsibility to consider a preliminary approval, such as a rezone or annexation, must also consider impacts of the whole project, comparing the Commission’s action to those taken by a local agency formation commission (LAFCO).  However, unlike a LAFCO, the Commission is not subject to CEQA, but rather, must comply with its own certified regulatory program, which the Secretary of Natural Resources has deemed the equivalent of CEQA review.   Thus, the CEQA requirements that might apply to a LAFCO would not necessarily apply to the Commission.  In addition, the CEQA Guidelines have clarified the role of lead and responsible agencies, concluding in section 15051 that, where a city has pre-zoned an area, the city is the appropriate lead agency and should prepare the environmental review document for the whole of the project, and the LAFCO acts as a responsible agency, considering only those impacts directly related to its action.  The court concluded that the Commission appropriately limited its review under its certified regulatory program to whether the rezone would carry out the provisions of the city’s LUP, and that the Commission had no authority to consider impacts outside the scope of its conformity analysis.

The petitioners also argued that the Commission failed to consider environmental impacts on water supply, views and aesthetics.  The court rejected these arguments, explaining once again that the only responsibility of the Commission was to determine whether the zoning change conformed to the California Coastal Act and the city’s LUP.  The court held that, in determining the proposed rezone met these standards, the Commission appropriately deferred to the city’s decision to approve the project.

Written By: Tina Thomas, Amy Higuera and Andrea Lutge (law clerk)
For questions relating to this blog post or any other California land use, environmental and/or planning issues contact Thomas Law Group at (916) 287-9292.
The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Thomas Law Group, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.

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