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In an unpublished decision, Stahovich v. City of Anaheim (2012) 2012 Cal.App.Unpub.LEXIS 9465, the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of a writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory relief against the City of Anaheim (City).  Arthur E. Stahovich filed a petition alleging the City violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in adopting a negative declaration for a 32-unit single family residential infill project.

Stahovich alleged the proposed project had the potential to cause significant noise, land use and planning, drainage, and traffic impacts, necessitating preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

In regard to Stahovich’s noise and traffic arguments, the court found that Stahovich could not rely on statements from neighbors to meet his burden of proof.  In addition, the court found the City could not be faulted for electing to prepare a noise study required by the municipal code after environmental review was completed; Stahovich had the burden to prepare a noise study or to submit some other substantial evidence supporting a fair argument.

Second, Stahovich argued the project would have significant impacts on land use and planning because it conflicted with the City’s general plan and zoning requirements.  The court determined Stahovich’s arguments were inconsistent with the City’s interpretation of its own municipal code and largely relied on opinions of neighbors; as a result, the court held the record lacked substantial evidence supporting a fair argument of a negative impact on planning or land use.

Third, Stahovich argued the City’s conclusion that the project would have a less than significant impact on drainage was in error.  The administrative record included comments by an engineering consultant hired by Stahovich addressing the project’s drainage impacts.  The court explained that in order “for expert opinion to rise to the level of substantial evidence it cannot be an unsubstantiated opinion … [or] evidence that is clearly inaccurate or erroneous.”  Here, Stahovich’s expert stated that the project would result in increased ponding effects in the project area; however, Stahovich’s expert “failed to explain the duration of the ponding, i.e., a matter of minutes or longer or its severity, and thus did not support the claim it may be significant.”  Because other expert evidence in the record demonstrated that any temporary ponding that may occur would be minimal, the court concluded the record lacked substantial evidence of a fair argument of a potentially significant drainage impact.

Finally, Stahovich argued that “even if an EIR was not required … [the City] abused their discretion by not requiring a mitigated negative declaration.”  A mitigated negative declaration is needed when an initial study of a project identifies potential significant impacts on the environment.  Stahovich argued that the mitigation measures included in the negative declaration pointed to the need for a mitigated negative declaration.  The court rejected this argument, reasoning that the project features that Stahovich complained of were incorporated as components of the project within the conditions of approval and did not constitute mitigation measures.

Written By: Tina Thomas, Christopher Butcher 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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