On March 22, 2018, the Second Appellate District certified for publication its opinion in Covina Residents for Responsible Development v. City of Covina, et al. (2018) 230 Cal.Rptr.3d 550, concerning a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) for a proposed 68-unit, mixed-use, infill project located one quarter mile from the Covina Metrolink commuter rail station in the City of Covina. The case is notable as the first published decision addressing the application of CEQA’s exemption for parking impacts under Public Resources Code (PRC) Section 21099, subdivision (d)(1), which was enacted as part of SB 743 “to further the Legislature’s strategy of encouraging transit-oriented, infill development consistent with the goal of reducing greenhouse gases announced in [SB 375].”

The petition, filed by Covina Residents for Responsible Development (CRRD), alleged three causes of action, with parking impacts dominating the claims: (1) the City improperly approved the project without preparing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and improperly tiered the MND from the EIR prepared for the specific plan applicable to the project site; (2) the City violated the Subdivision Map Act (Gov. Code, §§ 66473.5, 66474) by failing to make the necessary findings for approval of the project or, in the alternative, making findings that were not supported by substantial evidence in the record; and (3) the City violated due process by failing to allow a meaningful opportunity to respond to last-minute revisions in the project. The trial court denied the petition and CRRD appealed the court’s ruling on the first two issues.

The Second District summarily rejected CRRD’s challenge, finding the parking impacts at issue exempt from CEQA review under PRC Section 21099(d)(1), even though the City did not rely on that exemption when it adopted the MND for the project. PRC Section 21099(d)(1) provides:

“Aesthetic and parking impacts of a residential, mixed-use residential, or employment center project on an infill site within a transit priority area shall not be considered significant impacts on the environment.”

The Court reiterated but distinguished the statutory directive of subsection (b)(3) of Section 21099, which relates to the evaluation of “secondary parking impacts” for projects that qualify for the subsection (d)(1) exemption: “While secondary parking impacts caused by ensuing traffic congestion (‘air quality, noise, safety, or any other impact associated with transportation’) must be addressed, parking impacts, in and of themselves, are exempted from CEQA review for these projects. (§ 21099, subd. (b)(3).)”

The Court also rejected CRRD’s second and third claims on appeal, concluding the City had properly tiered the MND from the specific plan EIR and had not violated the Subdivision Map Act when it found the project consistent with specific plan.

The decision lends support to lead agencies and project proponents conducting CEQA review of infill projects relying on the exemption for parking impacts under PRC Section 21099(d)(1).