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In LandWatch San Luis Obispo County v. Cambria Community Services District (2018) 25 Cal.App.5th 638, the Second District Court of Appeals affirmed an agency may properly take over the preparation of the administrative record per Public Resources Code section 21167.6(b)(1) when petitioner elects to prepare and fails to do so within 60 days.

LandWatch San Luis Obispo County (LandWatch) filed suit against Cambria Community Services District (District) for alleged CEQA violations in approving an emergency water supply project on January 30, 2014. In its initial pleading of October 2014, LandWatch elected to prepare the administrative record. District provided the documents to Petitioners in November 2014. The next month, the District notified LandWatch of additional documents. LandWatch requested the documents in March 2015 and received them in April 2015.

LandWatch presented a draft administrative record index in August 2015. The District notified LandWatch the draft was over and under inclusive and, to avoid further delays in distribution of $4.3 million in grant fund awards, prepared and certified the record itself.

The trial court granted leave for LandWatch to include additional documents. However, LandWatch then failed to timely request the documents, stalling from December to February. This was problematic as the trial was set for March and the complete, certified administrative record was required to be filed before then.

The trial court denied LandWatch’s petition for a writ of mandate and the District sought costs from LandWatch for the cost of preparation of the administrative record, $4,299.01, and preparation of the appendix, $26,922.46. The trial court awarded the entirety of the first amount and half of the second amount, totaling $14,328.59. LandWatch timely appealed.

Relying on Coalition for Adequate Review v. City and County of San Francisco (2014) 229 Cal.App.4th 1043, the Appellate Court held that an agency is not prohibited from recovering costs for preparation of the administrative record where the petitioner initially elected to do so. Such a determination is made on a case-by-case basis and at the court’s discretion.

While the award of such costs is limited to those that are “reasonable” and “reasonably necessary,” so long as the trial court finds that it is not specifically prohibited, it is at the trial court’s discretion to award costs. Here, the Court found that the trial court’s award was “on the low side of reasonable” totaling only $1.77 per page. The trial court would have been “well within its bounds” to award more, especially where the 7,683-page appendix was erroneously requested by LandWatch. Finally, the Court allowed costs for court calls, copies, and transcription costs that were reasonable and not prohibited.

The Court affirmed the trial court award.

Key Point:

Any amount of delay in administrative record preparation past the 60-day limitation in Public Resources Code section 21167.6(b)(1) is “unreasonable delay” in which an agency may prepare the record and recover “reasonable” costs, at the discretion of the court, for doing so.