CITIZENS OF GOLETA VALLEY v. WALLOVER INC

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Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 6, California.

CITIZENS OF GOLETA VALLEY, etc., Plaintiff and Appellant, v. BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, et al., Defendants and Respondents; WALLOVER, INC., et al., Real Parties in Interest.

Civ. No. B037615.

Decided: November 29, 1989

Environmental Defense Center and Philip A. Seymour, Santa Barbara, for appellant. Marvin Levine, Acting County Counsel, Stephen Shane Stark, Deputy County Counsel, for respondents. Robert E. Goodwin and Russell R. Ruiz, Santa Barbara, as amici curiae, on behalf of respondents. Hollister & Brace and Richard C. Monk, Matsinger & Blakeboro and Diane M. Matsinger, Santa Barbara, Baker & McKenzie and Timothy A. Tosta, Maria C. Pracher, Jonathan S. Kitchen, Judy V. Davidoff, Douglas A. Potts, San Francisco, for real parties in interest.

OPINION ON REHEARING

Real parties in interest, Hyatt Corporation and Wallover, Inc. (Hyatt), desire to build a hotel and conference center on Haskell's Beach, a site Wallover owns.

In a previous opinion, we held that the environmental impact report (EIR) prepared for this project was inadequate under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA;  Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.) because it failed to consider the feasibility of alternative sites for the project.  (Citizens of Goleta Valley v. Board of Supervisors (1988) 197 Cal.App.3d 1167, 1180, 243 Cal.Rptr. 339 (hereafter Goleta Valley I ).)

Here we hold that the supplemental EIR (SEIR) must contain at least a brief discussion of why sites which are apparently or ostensibly reasonable sites are rejected.

In Goleta Valley I, we remanded the case to the court below for issuance of a mandatory writ.  (At p. 1188, 243 Cal.Rptr. 339.)   The Board of Supervisors submitted an SEIR as the return to the mandatory writ.   It considered one alternative site, Santa Barbara Shores.   The Board concluded, among other things, that “[w]hile the Santa Barbara Shores site might be preferable in terms of impacts to biology and cultural resources, the evidence indicates that impacts to traffic, air quality, water resources, geologic hazards and noise from flight patterns associated with the Goleta airport are probably greater than those associated with the project site.”

The Board then gave its final approval to rezone Haskell's Beach for commercial-visitor use.   The Board filed its SEIR on August 25, 1988.   The findings in that SEIR stated that alternative sites other than Santa Barbara Shores are either infeasible, speculative or remote.   The only support in the SEIR for these findings were brief findings in 1980 and 1985 coastal commission reports, a 1980 local coastal plan (LCP) analysis and planning staff recommendations.

Appellant, Citizens of Goleta Valley (Citizens), an association challenging the adequacy of the SEIR, contends that the Board once again failed to prepare an SEIR which adequately considered and discussed alternative sites for the project.   These include Carpinteria Bluffs, More Mesa, Devereaux, and West Devereaux.

The trial court found there was no alternative site analysis made in the coastal commission report, and even if there had been, there was no evidence that the Board considered it.   Nevertheless, that court stated that the Board's findings were adequate and that the SEIR was not deficient in failing to consider alternative sites suggested by Citizens because the Board had properly considered the LCP.   The court, therefore, discharged the writ.   Citizens challenges the SEIR in this appeal.

We reverse.   The SEIR prepared in response to Goleta Valley I is still inadequate.   It does not sufficiently discuss facts so as to adequately inform the public why ostensibly reasonable alternative sites, other than Santa Barbara Shores, were rejected.  (Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents of University of California (1988) 47 Cal.3d 376, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278.)

 In those cases where consideration of alternate sites is warranted for a proposed project, an EIR must contain:  1. a discussion concerning a range of reasonable alternative sites, and 2. a brief discussion of why sites which are apparently or ostensibly reasonable were rejected as infeasible, remote or speculative.   The EIR need not discuss sites which are obviously infeasible, remote or speculative.

DISCUSSION

 The applicable standard of review is whether the Board committed a prejudicial abuse of discretion.  (Goleta Valley I, supra, 197 Cal.App.3d at p. 1176, 243 Cal.Rptr. 339;  Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents of University of California, supra, 47 Cal.3d at p. 392, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278.)   The Board abuses its discretion if it fails to prepare an EIR which is adequate according to law.   An EIR is inadequate under CEQA if it fails to inform the public about the facts which underlie its findings and conclusions.  (Ibid.)  The failure to inform is why the EIR here, like the EIR in Laurel Heights, is inadequate.

In Laurel Heights, the Regents of the University of California desired to relocate its biomedical research facilities to an off-campus site.   Its treatment of alternatives in that EIR was “cursory at best.”  (Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents of University of California, supra, 47 Cal.3d at p. 403, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278.)   That EIR identified three alternatives:  1. a no-project alternative, 2. on-campus ones, and 3. a number of off-campus facilities owned by the university which were designated by dots on a map.

The Regents did not evaluate or discuss these alternatives other than to say that the off-campus sites were not of sufficient size for the proposed facility.  (Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents of University of California, supra, 47 Cal.3d at p. 403, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278.)   Using “various internal planning processes,” the Regents concluded there were no feasible alternative sites to Laurel Heights.  (Id., at p. 404, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278.)

Our Supreme Court rejected that EIR because it failed to include an analysis of alternate sites and to give reasons to support the conclusion that the alternatives were infeasible.  (Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents of University of California, supra, 47 Cal.3d at pp. 404–406, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278.)

Hyatt and the Board opine that no other alternatives need be discussed in the SEIR because their use of “scoping,” by internal review of administrative reports, revealed to them that all other sites are remote and speculative.

“Scoping” is defined in the Guidelines (Cal.Code Regs., tit. 14), section 15083, as early consultation with people or organizations believed to be concerned with the environmental effects of a proposed project, after an initial study determines that an EIR will be required.   The Guidelines permit some leeway for the Board to define the scope of study as to alternatives, and they encourage the use of multiple data bases for doing this.  (Guidelines, § 15083.)   The Board need not discuss the scoping process in an EIR, nor the environmental effects dismissed as insignificant in the initial study.  (Guidelines, §§ 15143, 15063.)

 Hyatt argues that the administrative documents reviewed during the scoping process are functionally equivalent to an EIR, and urge that a perusal of the administrative record justifies its decision not to discuss any other alternatives in the SEIR.  (Guidelines, §§ 15063, 15365, 15082, 15120–15132;  Citizens Comm. Against Interstate Rt. 675 v. Lewis (S.D. Ohio 1982) 542 F.Supp. 496, 544.)   We disagree.

The administrative documents here, 1980 and 1985 coastal commission reports, and a 1980 LCP analysis, did not discuss the specific environmental effects which could result from this project.   These reports, although extremely valuable to the Board in making its decision, are not “functionally equivalent” to an EIR and are not adequate substitutes for specific study and analysis of the project.  (Cf. Pub. Resources Code, § 21080.5 on functionally equivalent documents to an EIR;  Guidelines, § 15251, subd. (f);  City of Carmel–By–The–Sea v. Board of Supervisors (1986) 183 Cal.App.3d 229, 252–253, 227 Cal.Rptr. 899.)

 Mere reference to these reports in the SEIR does not give the public sufficient notice of why apparently alternative sites were rejected.   The Board must notify the public of its intent to rely on these reports, and it must tell the public what specific information in the reports the Board uses to support its decision.  (See Guidelines, § 15253;  Emmington v. Solano County Redevelopment Agency (1987) 195 Cal.App.3d 491, 502–503, 237 Cal.Rptr. 636.)   The Board must also certify that it has actually reviewed and considered the documents before it may use them in the EIR.  (Ibid.)

Hyatt relies on Kleppe v. Sierra Club (1976) 427 U.S. 390, 410–412, 96 S.Ct. 2718, 2730–2731, 49 L.Ed.2d 576, and Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. v. NRDC (1983) 462 U.S. 87, 100, 103 S.Ct. 2246, 2254, 76 L.Ed.2d 437, to support its claim that the Board need not discuss in the EIR alternatives which it rejects.

Kleppe was concerned with whether or not the Department of the Interior was required to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) regarding its studies for eventual development of coal resources in the entire Northern Great Plains region.   The court held that no EIS was required because there was no proposal for any “ ‘major Federal actions;’ ”  there was no specific proposed project.  (Kleppe v. Sierra Club, supra, 427 U.S. at pp. 399–402, 96 S.Ct. at pp. 2725–2727;  and see the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, 42 U.S.C. § 4321 et seq. (hereafter NEPA), and esp. § 4332(2)(C).)   The issue of whether alternatives need be discussed in an EIS was not before the Supreme Court;  it had been considered and rejected by the trial court.

Similarly, Baltimore Gas, supra, is not applicable.   It, too, involved no specific EIS.   The agency developed a generic rule governing licensure of specific nuclear power plants.   The agency summarized highly technical information to support its generic rule.   The Supreme Court held this was acceptable under NEPA because the issues were not specific to any particular nuclear plant.  (Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. v. NRDC, supra, 462 U.S. at pp. 100–104, 103 S.Ct. at pp. 2254–2256;  and see Guidelines, § 15150 on incorporation by reference in EIR's.)

That court cautioned that an EIS should not rely on separate documents, but should discuss them directly.   An EIS, like an EIR, is “ ‘ ․ an essentially self-contained instrument, [which should be] capable of being understood by the reader without the need for undue cross-reference.’ ”   (Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. v. NRDC, supra, 462 U.S. at pp. 99–101, fns. 12, 13, 103 S.Ct. at pp. 2253–2254, fns. 12, 13.)

Proper application of the rule of reason

The leitmotiv of CEQA is to provide the public and decisionmakers with thorough information within the EIR about all feasible alternatives and the ramifications of choosing each one.   The Guidelines specifically state that the lead agency is to “[d]escribe a range of reasonable alternatives to the project, or to the location of the project, which could feasibly attain the basic objectives of the project and evaluate the comparative merits of the alternatives.”  (Guidelines, § 15126, subd. (d);  Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents of University of California, supra, 47 Cal.3d at pp. 400, 404, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278.)

The range of alternatives required to be considered and discussed in an EIR is governed by the “rule of reason.”   The rule of reason requires discussion in the EIR of those alternatives necessary to permit a reasoned choice.  (Guidelines, § 15126, subd. (d)(5).)

“ ‘An EIR should be prepared with a sufficient degree of analysis to provide decisionmakers with information which enables them to make a decision which intelligently takes account of environmental consequences.   An evaluation of the environmental effects of a proposed project need not be exhaustive, but the sufficiency of an EIR is to be reviewed in the light of what is reasonably feasible․   The courts have looked not for perfection but for adequacy, completeness, and a good faith effort at full disclosure.’ ”  (Goleta Valley I, supra, 197 Cal.App.3d at pp. 1176–1177, 243 Cal.Rptr. 339, citing Guidelines, § 15151, 243 Cal.Rptr. 339.)   This rule is applied on a case-by-case basis.  (Id., at p. 1179, 243 Cal.Rptr. 339.)

 CEQA does not require the Board to study and discuss every alternative site imaginable encompassing a geographical range that knows no boundaries.  (See Village Laguna of Laguna Beach, Inc. v. Board of Supervisors (1982) 134 Cal.App.3d 1022, 1028–1029, 185 Cal.Rptr. 41, which determined that an EIR which considered five ranges of housing unit numbers satisfies CEQA.)   Nor does CEQA require the lead agency to have a crystal ball.  (Goleta Valley I, supra, 197 Cal.App.3d at p. 1178, 243 Cal.Rptr. 339, quoting Residents Ad Hoc Stadium Com. v. Board of Trustees (1979) 89 Cal.App.3d 274, 286–287, 152 Cal.Rptr. 585.)  “ ‘ ․ “The key issue is whether the selection and discussion of alternatives fosters informed decisionmaking and informed public participation.”  ․’ ”  (Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents of University of California, supra, 47 Cal.3d at pp. 403–404, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278, quoting Guidelines, § 15126, subd. (d)(5).)

In some cases there may be few, if any, alternatives.   In those situations, an EIR will be acceptable if the lead agency independently participates, reviews, analyzes and discusses the limited potential alternatives in good faith.  (See Foundation for San Francisco's Architectural Heritage v. City and County of San Francisco (1980) 106 Cal.App.3d 893, 908–910, 165 Cal.Rptr. 401.)

Although Hyatt owns the site on which the proposed project is to be built, and does not own all of the potential alternative sites, the rule of reason still requires that the EIR discuss a range of reasonable alternative sites.  “Serving the public purpose at minimal environmental expense is the goal of CEQA.   Ownership of the land used and the identity of the developer are factors of lesser significance.”  (Goleta Valley I, supra, 197 Cal.App.3d at p. 1179, 243 Cal.Rptr. 339;  see also San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, Inc. v. County of San Bernardino (1984) 155 Cal.App.3d 738, 751, 202 Cal.Rptr. 423.)

An EIR must inform

Unless some information about ostensibly reasonable alternative sites is provided in the EIR, no one outside the lead agency can know whether or not a site is feasible or remote and speculative.  (Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents of University of California, supra, 47 Cal.3d at pp. 404–405, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278.)   To allow a lead agency to rely on its internal scoping process, without an adequate discussion of a range of reasonable alternatives in the EIR, would be to sanction the avoidance of public discussion of alternatives.

 “Even if [the lead agency is] correct in [its] conclusion that there are no feasible alternatives ․, there must be a disclosure of the ‘analytic route the ․ agency traveled from evidence to action.’ ”  (Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents of University of California, supra, 47 Cal.3d at p. 404, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278;  cf.   Guidelines, § 15126, subd. (d)(5);  see also Citizens to Preserve the Ojai v. County of Ventura (1985) 176 Cal.App.3d 421, 432, 222 Cal.Rptr. 247.)   Therefore, in cases like this one, where the lead agency determines that ostensibly reasonable alternatives are infeasible, remote or speculative, it must include some minimal discussion in the EIR to show how it arrived at this conclusion.  (Laurel Heights, supra, 47 Cal.3d at pp. 404–405, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278.)

Hyatt argues that the SEIR here complies with the requirements of Laurel Heights because it discusses a “full range” of on-site alternatives, and analyzes one alternative site, Santa Barbara Shores.   Hyatt points out that it considered eight alternative sites, not merely one other site.   Of the eight “alternatives,” six contemplate various degrees of development on Haskell's Beach.   One alternative considers Santa Barbara Shores, and the last alternative is a “no project” alternative, which is mandated by CEQA.

Hyatt interprets Guidelines, section 15126, subdivision (d), as giving a governmental agency two choices in drafting an EIR.   The Guideline states that a governmental agency must:  “Describe a range of reasonable alternatives to the project, or to the location of the project, which could․”  (Emphasis added.)   Hyatt suggests this means that the discussion may relate either to a range of reasonable alternatives on the one proposed site, or to a range of reasonable alternative locations.   To so construe section 15126, subdivision (d), would be to ignore the underpinnings of CEQA and the Guidelines.

Hyatt's argument is similar to the one the Regents made in Laurel Heights when discussing Public Resources Code section 21002.   That section states that “public agencies should not approve projects as proposed if there are feasible alternatives or feasible mitigation measures available which would substantially lessen the significant environmental effects of such projects․”

The Laurel Heights court contrasted the requirements for agency approval of a project with the informational purpose of an EIR.   The court explained:  “That an agency can approve a project if environmental effects are resolved by mitigation or by alternatives does not logically mean that an EIR should not discuss both.   To the contrary, requiring a discussion of both options (alternatives and mitigation measures) is consistent with CEQA's purpose of providing responsible officials with adequate information.   Indeed, the use of the word ‘or’ in section 21002 supports the view that alternatives and mitigation measures must be discussed in an EIR because, if an agency is to assess thoroughly whether environmental effects can be alleviated by either mitigation or alternatives, the EIR must discuss both.”  (Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents of University of California, supra, 47 Cal.3d at p. 401, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278.)

The discussion of alternative sites is important here because the SEIR suggests that the building of the project at Haskell's Beach or Santa Barbara Shores may present environmental problems relating to traffic, air quality, water resources, and geological hazards.   The SEIR also points out that some roosting sites for Monarch butterflies, and some fragile and sensitive strand/dune vegetation which supports the globose dune beetle would be lost if the project were developed at Haskell's Beach.   Another threatened species, the tidewater goby, might also be endangered by the project.

These problems, however, do not mean the project may not be developed at Haskell's Beach.   But under these circumstances, other apparently feasible sites which may be “capable of eliminating any significant adverse environmental effects” of the proposed project must be discussed in the EIR.  (Guidelines, § 15126, subd. (d)(3).)   The alternative sites suggested by Citizens may, in fact, not be feasible sites, but without sufficient information in the EIR about these other sites, the public is not sufficiently informed about the reasons for the Board's decision.   This, in turn, precludes an open and fair debate on the merits of the project.

 The Board must use its best efforts to provide full disclosure of alternatives in the EIR.  (Concerned Citizens of Costa Mesa, Inc. v. 32nd Dist. Agricultural Assn. (1986) 42 Cal.3d 929, 934–935, 231 Cal.Rptr. 748, 727 P.2d 1029;  Christward Ministry v. Superior Court (1986) 184 Cal.App.3d 180, 186, 228 Cal.Rptr. 868;  Citizens to Preserve the Ojai v. County of Ventura, supra, 176 Cal.App.3d at pp. 429, 431, 222 Cal.Rptr. 247;  and see Guidelines, § 15151, which explains that the sufficiency of an EIR as an informational document depends on what is reasonably feasible.)

The Board here, like the Regents in Laurel Heights, may have had pertinent information about alternative sites for the project.   If so, they both failed to inform the public about this information in the EIR.   Hyatt contends that Laurel Heights is distinguishable because the alternative sites in Laurel Heights were presumptively reasonable whereas the sites proposed by Citizens are not.   We disagree.   The sites reflected by dots on the map in Laurel Heights are no more presumptively feasible than are the sites proposed by Citizens.   An EIR which adequately discusses these sites will tell us what is feasible and what is not.

How could the SEIR have met the threshold of sufficiency?

Very little more had to be done to meet the threshold of sufficiency.   We agree with Hyatt that the LCP and coastal commission reports were important and useful in determining the feasibility of alternative sites.   The EIR, however, must show how the findings in these reports relate to current conditions.   If the conclusions in a particular report still apply to a specific location today, then the Board should have said so.   For example, a site designated as rural 10 years ago, which is still rural today, might not be a feasible alternative.   The Board could have given this as a reason for rejection of the site.   Such a brief discussion concerning the current nature of a particular site would not turn the SEIR into a hopelessly long and unwieldy document as Hyatt and the County suggest.   It would, however, disclose to the public the reasons for the Board's decision.

Summary findings are insufficient

 Hyatt contends that the Board properly rejected alternative sites without any discussion because they:  1. are congested, 2. might sustain negative biological impacts, 3. do not contain all the desirable attributes sought for the project.   Hyatt objects to any further study because it would delay the development of the project and present additional cost.   These are improper reasons for failure to discuss such sites in the SEIR.  (Guidelines, § 15126, subd. (d)(3);  San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, Inc. v. County of San Bernardino, supra, 155 Cal.App.3d at p. 750, 202 Cal.Rptr. 423.)

 A lead agency may not refuse to review sites simply because those sites do not meet all the proposed objectives or because they may present economic or environmental difficulties of their own.  (Guidelines, § 15126, subds. (d)(3), (d)(4);  Goleta Valley I, supra, 197 Cal.App.3d at pp. 1179–1181, 243 Cal.Rptr. 339;  San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, Inc. v. County of San Bernardino, supra, 155 Cal.App.3d at p. 750, 202 Cal.Rptr. 423;  Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents of University of California, supra, 47 Cal.3d at p. 400, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278.)   Even readily apparent economic, environmental, technical or social trade-offs are insufficient to excuse the study and discussion of such sites.  (Goleta Valley I, supra, 197 Cal.App.3d at p. 1180, 243 Cal.Rptr. 339;  and see Pub. Resources Code, § 21061.1;  Guidelines, §§ 15364, 15370.)

Hyatt asserts that the Board properly rejected some sites during the scoping process because they would require either rezoning or some other change in regulatory or policy decisions which had been previously made.   Hyatt relies on the case of Residents Ad Hoc Stadium Com. v. Board of Trustees, supra, 89 Cal.App.3d 274, 152 Cal.Rptr. 585, for this proposition.

In that case, various alternatives were discussed and rejected in the EIR.   Among the reasons for rejection of one site was that the proposed funding for that alternative was probably illegal under state law.  (Residents Ad Hoc Stadium Com. v. Board of Trustees, supra, 89 Cal.App.3d at p. 288, 152 Cal.Rptr. 585.)   The Residents court stated that the lead agency need not devote itself to an extended discussion of alternatives which are “remote from reality” or of “speculative feasibility” or which could be implemented only after “significant changes in governmental policy or legislation.”  (Id., at pp. 286–287, 152 Cal.Rptr. 585.)   This includes sites for which significant adverse environmental effects cannot be eliminated or lessened.   The Residents court, however, also stated that it is not appropriate to disregard alternatives simply because they may require implementing legislation.  (Ibid.)

 An alternative may be summarily labeled as too remote and speculative because of legislative or policy complications only when the alternative would require “an overhaul of basic legislation” or “basic changes ․ in statutes and policies of other agencies․”  (See Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. v. Morton (D.C.Cir.1972) 458 F.2d 827, 837–838.)   The proffered alternatives do not appear to require such changes.

The dividing line between alternative sites that are apparently reasonable, and those that are not, may be illusive.   Even though we cannot offer a “bright line” test, the agency is not hopelessly lost in a fog of subjectivity.   The watchword is “reasonable.”

 “The discussion of alternatives need not be exhaustive, and the requirement as to the discussion of alternatives is subject to a construction of reasonableness․   Absolute perfection is not required;  what is required is the production of information sufficient to permit a reasonable choice of alternatives so far as environmental aspects are concerned.   It is only required that the officials and agencies make an objective, good-faith effort to comply.”  (Foundation for San Francisco's Architectural Heritage v. City and County of San Francisco, supra, 106 Cal.App.3d at p. 910, 165 Cal.Rptr. 401.)   Therefore, where the nature of the particular project would permit its location at many sites over a large region, the lead agency is entitled to deference in limiting the number of sites to be studied.

As we pointed out in Goleta Valley I, there is no “rationale for an inflexible rule that the availability of other sites always must be considered or that it never need be considered.   Situations differ;  what is reasonable in one case may be unreasonable in another.   It is necessary to examine the particular situation presented to determine whether the availability of other feasible sites must be considered in the EIR.”  (197 Cal.App.3d at p. 1179, 243 Cal.Rptr. 339.)

Consideration of other apparently reasonable sites is warranted here, but if an EIR is adequate as an informational document, it is unlikely that an appellate court will strike down the site choice of the lead agency, even if it is environmentally inferior to another site, under the substantial evidence test developed for CEQA.

 That test requires only “enough relevant information and reasonable inferences from this information that a fair argument can be made to support a conclusion, even though other conclusions might also be reached․   Mere uncorroborated opinion or rumor does not constitute substantial evidence.”  (Guidelines, § 15384.)   This is a low standard.   It gives the lead agency plenary say over its choice if the EIR provides at least minimal information about a reasonable range of alternatives.   Failure to do this renders the EIR inadequate as a matter of law.  (See Pub. Resources Code, § 21005.)

Alternative sites suggested by Citizens

 The Board improperly rejected Carpinteria Bluffs on jurisdictional grounds.  (County of Inyo v. Yorty (1973) 32 Cal.App.3d 795, 810, 108 Cal.Rptr. 377, quoting Environmental Defense Fund, Inc. v. Coastside County Water Dist. (1972) 27 Cal.App.3d 695, 704–705, 104 Cal.Rptr. 197;  and see Bozung v. Local Agency Formation Com. (1975) 13 Cal.3d 263, 283, 118 Cal.Rptr. 249, 529 P.2d 1017;  Guidelines, §§ 15125, 15206.)   The lead agency is required to consider sites in the entire region, not just those within the agency's immediate jurisdictional boundaries.  (Ibid.)

On the other hand, if current feasibility studies show that the Bluffs would be economically infeasible to meet the basic objectives of the project, the Board could have briefly discussed this as the basis for rejection of the site as infeasible.   Even a brief update on a previous feasibility study would have sufficed.   Here, the Board summarily rejected smaller scale development at Carpinteria Bluffs as economically infeasible, but listed smaller scale developments as on-site alternatives in the SEIR.

Other examples of improper summary rejection of sites are those along the Gaviota Coast which have been previously designated rural.   Hyatt argues that because such sites are secondary alternatives to urban locations under the land use policies of the LCP and CEQA (see Pub. Resources Code, § 30250, subd. (c)), it would be useless to analyze these properties.   In some cases this argument would be valid.

But here, the proposed site itself and its alternative may pose significant environmental concerns, supra.   It is incumbent upon the lead agency to consider other sites which could eliminate the significant adverse environmental effects.  (See Guidelines, § 15126, subd. (d)(3);  Pub. Resources Code, § 30250, subd. (c), authorizing commercial-visitor uses in rural areas when such uses cannot feasibly be located in existing urban areas.)   Discussion of rural sites under these circumstances may be necessary to permit a reasoned choice.  (Guidelines, § 15126, subd. (d)(5).)

At the time the LCP was published, it deemed Dos Pueblos, a rural site, to be suitable for commercial visitor-oriented use (CV designation).   A brief comment, based upon current investigation, might be sufficient to show that such sites are now infeasible for this project.

 Hyatt argues that one reason Santa Barbara Shores is the only alternative site discussed is that it is the only site which would not require a change in the Coastal Land Use Plan by a land use plan amendment approved by both the Board and the commission.  (See Pub. Resources Code, § 30514.)   But the need to make a change in a zoning ordinance or in a land use plan does not constitute such a major change in the law as to permit summary rejection of a site.  (Residents Ad Hoc Stadium Com. v. Board of Trustees, supra, 89 Cal.App.3d at pp. 286–287, 152 Cal.Rptr. 585;  Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. v. Morton, supra, 458 F.2d at pp. 837–838.)   In the instant case, the Board rezoned Haskell's Beach itself in August 1988.

The Board's similar summary findings regarding More Mesa, Devereaux and West Devereaux, which are based upon the LCP, without any current study or discussion, are insufficient to reject such sites.

Response to public comments

 The conclusional statements issued by the Board in response to Citizens' comments were inadequate.   The Board must provide a factual response to such comments.  (See Guidelines, § 15088;  Sutter Sensible Planning, Inc. v. Board of Supervisors (1981) 122 Cal.App.3d 813, 820, 176 Cal.Rptr. 342;  People v. County of Kern (1974) 39 Cal.App.3d 830, 841–842, 115 Cal.Rptr. 67;  Cleary v. County of Stanislaus (1981) 118 Cal.App.3d 348, 355–357, 173 Cal.Rptr. 390;  Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents of University of California, supra, 47 Cal.3d at pp. 404–405, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278.)

For example, in response to Citizens' comments about the Wallover property, which is located north of the 101 highway, the Board stated that it need not consider that site because it is inland and therefore does not meet the basic objectives of the project.

We cannot tell from the record how far the Wallover site is from the beach.   Whether or not it should have initially been included for discussion in the SEIR we leave to the discretion of the Board.   If, for example, the ocean were readily accessible from the Wallover site, it would be a likely candidate for inclusion.   If the site is inland, and not reasonably near the beach, then it would not be an ostensibly reasonable site.   If this be the case, then the Board need only state specifically the facts which support its conclusion.

Timeliness of comments

Lastly, Hyatt opines that Citizens engaged in dilatory tactics because it did not proffer specific alternative sites until April 4, 1988, the date of the Board's first hearing on the appeal to its approval of the final development plan.

 Hyatt misconstrues the role of a lead agency for an EIR under CEQA.   It is the responsibility of the lead agency to search for alternative sites and to study them, without prompting from the public.  (Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents of University of California, supra, 47 Cal.3d at p. 405, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278.)

IN SUMMARY

 The legal duties imposed by CEQA are to be strictly enforced to prevent its subversion and to provide the fullest possible protection to the environment within the reasonable scope of the law.  (Goleta Valley I, supra, 197 Cal.App.3d at p. 1176, 243 Cal.Rptr. 339;  Mira Monte Homeowners Assn. v. County of Ventura (1985) 165 Cal.App.3d 357, 365–366, 212 Cal.Rptr. 127.)

The Board abused its discretion by failing to provide the public and decisionmakers with an SEIR which adequately discusses alternative sites to Haskell's Beach.  (Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents of University of California, supra, 47 Cal.3d at pp. 392, 401, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278;  Goleta Valley I, supra, 197 Cal.App.3d at p. 1176, 243 Cal.Rptr. 339;  and see Rural Landowners Assn. v. City Council (1983) 143 Cal.App.3d 1013, 1019–1020, 192 Cal.Rptr. 325.)

 The Board must independently find, study, consider and discuss a range of potentially feasible alternative sites to Haskell's Beach.   That discussion must be contained within the SEIR.  (Goleta Valley I, supra, 197 Cal.App.3d at p. 1180, 243 Cal.Rptr. 339;  Pub. Resources Code, §§ 21001, subd. (g), 21002.1, subd. (a), 21005, 21061, 21100, subd. (d);  Guidelines, § 15126;  Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents of University of California, supra, 47 Cal.3d at p. 400, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278.)

 An EIR is insufficient if it relies on old administrative reports, findings and staff recommendations alone, without any current investigation and discussion to support those findings.  (City of Carmel–By–the–Sea v. Board of Supervisors, supra, 183 Cal.App.3d at pp. 252–253, 227 Cal.Rptr. 899;  Perley v. Board of Supervisors (1982) 137 Cal.App.3d 424, 435–436, 187 Cal.Rptr. 53;  see also Environmental Defense Fund, Inc. v. Coastside County Water Dist., supra, 27 Cal.App.3d 695, 104 Cal.Rptr. 197.)   Here, there was no evidence that the Board ever considered any alternative site analysis in the coastal commission reports.   If the Board did so, then it should say so in the EIR.

Current investigation of alternative sites may reveal that they are infeasible for this project.   A new SEIR which is prepared in accordance with this opinion may result in the same findings as the previous SEIR.   The SEIR, however, will be the product of an informed decision made with fair notice to the public.   We are mindful that the costs to the real parties in interest may be onerous, but the requirements of CEQA compel our decision.

We reverse, remand and direct the court below to issue a peremptory writ to strike the SEIR as inadequate.

Costs to appellants.

GILBERT, Associate Justice.

STONE, P.J., and ABBE, J., concur.

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