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This post is part of a series highlighting the CEQA cases currently pending before the California Supreme Court.

Petition for Review Granted

April 18, 2012

Current Status

Fully briefed by the parties as of September 18, 2012.

Amicus briefing complete as of December 5, 2012.

Supplemental briefing completed by the parties as of January 29, 2015.

Court’s Statement of Issue(s) Presented

Does a state agency that may have an obligation to make “fair-share” payments for the mitigation of off-site impacts of a proposed project satisfy its duty to mitigate under the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.) by stating that it has sought funding from the Legislature to pay for such mitigation and that, if the requested funds are not appropriated, it may proceed with the project on the ground that mitigation is infeasible?

Summary of the Parties’ Arguments

At the Supreme Court, CSU argues that City of Marina v. Board of Trustees (2006) 399 Cal.4th 341 (Marina) is clear; CSU has the power to mitigate off-site environmental effects, subject to the Legislature’s appropriations. CSU argues that requiring otherwise under CEQA would invite not only local agencies, but the public to scrutinize its budget and litigate over how its funds are allocated (in this case, balancing expenditures on education versus traffic impacts). CSU argues that the Court should reverse the ruling and hold that CSU complied with its CEQA obligations.

In contrast, City of San Diego, et al. (City) argues that CSU has not shown any grounds for reversal of the Court of Appeal’s decision. City argues that CSU relied on an erroneous interpretation of Marina by failing to consider additional mitigation measures for off-site traffic impacts. Specifically, City argues that CSU should have considered alternative mitigation measures or alternative funding measures where, as here, the agency’s preferred mitigation is uncertain and potentially infeasible.


Plaintiffs and Appellants:

  • City of San Diego, Represented by the San Diego Office of the City Attorney
  • Redevelopment Agency of the City of San Diego, Represented by the San Diego Office of the City Attorney
  • San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, Represented by The Sohagi Law Group, LLP
  • San Diego Association of Governments, Represented by Deputy General Counsel of the San Diego Association of Governments and the Sohagi Law Group, LLP

Defendant and Respondent:

  • Trustees of the California State University, Represented by Gatzke, Dillon & Ballance LLP and Horvitz & Levy, LLP

Procedural History

In 2005, CSU certified an EIR and approved the Project. While litigation challenging the 2005 EIR was pending, the Supreme Court decided against CSU in Marina. Accordingly, the trial court issued an order setting aside the 2005 EIR and Project approval. Following the Court’s decision against CSU in Marina, CSU revised its original Master Plan and released an EIR for the Project, which was certified in November 2007.

The City challenged CSU’s EIR certification and Project approval. The trial court denied the petitions and discharged the writ, holding that CSU complied with CEQA and complied with the off-site mitigation requirements of Marina.

According to the Court of Appeal, CSU failed to consider other funding sources besides legislative appropriations that may be available for mitigation. Moreover, CSU should have evaluated one or more possible project modifications to the Project that would reduce or avoid unmitigated off-site traffic impacts. The Court of Appeal reversed in part, ruling that such deficiencies rendered the EIR inadequate under CEQA.

Amicus Curiae Briefs

  • California Chamber of Commerce and California Business Roundtable, In Support of Defendant and Respondent;
  • Amici argue that the State’s economy is dependent on highly educated workers, particularly those in the technology, communications and biotechnology industries. Changes in technology, coupled with the changing demographics widen the gap between the demands of the State’s economy and supply of college-educated workers. The proposed expansion universities in the CSU and University of California system will help close the projected skills gaps of the State’s workers.
  • League of California Cities and California State Association of Counties, In Support of Petitioners and Appellants; 
  • Amici argue that the question for the Court is not whether dollars “would be better spent” on education or transportation, as CSU argues, but one of “shared sacrifice.” Thus, Amici allege that CSU abused its discretion by relying on a misinterpretation of Marina to justify its failure to include a reasonable range of mitigation measures in its EIR to address significant off-site traffic impacts. Amici argue that ruling in favor of CSU would allow public institutions to circumvent their duty under CEQA to develop feasible mitigation, thereby granting agencies a “false choice” between CEQA compliance and exercising agency discretion or implementing agency mandates. As a result local agencies would be unduly burdened, being forced to shoulder the burdens of funding mitigation or suffering environmental effects caused by CSU’s projects.
  • Hayward Area Planning Association and City of Hayward, In Support of Petitioners and Appellants;
  • Amici argue that CSU’s position violates Public Resources Code, Section 21002, which provides that public agencies “should not approve projects as proposed if there are feasible alternatives or feasible mitigation measures available.” Moreover, ruling in favor of CSU would create a huge exemption from the mitigation requirement of Public Resources Code, Section 21001.1, which requires that public projects “be subject to the same level of review and consideration . . . as private projects.” Amici argue that although CSU is subject to the funding requirements of legislature, it is not relieved of its duty to mitigate significant effects under CEQA. Ruling in favor of CSU would effectively create an exemption for Public Institutions from properly mitigating project effects, forcing local agencies bear the costs of mitigation for off-campus impacts created by the CSU.

Case Implications

City of San Diego v. Trustees of the California State University is the latest in a line of cases involving the CSU system as it strives to accommodate increasing student populations at its campuses statewide. The Court’s ruling would serve to clarify its earlier ruling in Marina, which previously evaluated CSU’s duty to mitigate off-site environmental effects through payment to a third party. The Court’s ruling would not only affect the CSU system, but all state agencies grappling with projects that potentially create off-site impacts that could burden local agencies.

Key Cases that May be Affected by the Court’s Ruling

  • City of Marina v. Board of Trustees (2006) 399 Cal.4th 341; CSU certified an EIR for the Monterey Bay Campus’ master plan. The EIR noted that campus improvements would create significant off-campus traffic, water, sewage and fire safety impacts; however, such offsite impacts would remain significant and unavoidable because the Trustees did not have the authority to implement offsite mitigation. The Supreme Court held that the Trustees violated CEQA, because the Trustees had a duty to mitigate offsite impacts (e.g., CSU could have feasibly paid a third party to mitigate those impacts).


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