CITIZENS OF GOLETA VALLEY v. WALLOVER INC

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

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

Civ. B037615.

Decided: September 22, 1989

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

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 appeal, we held that the environmental impact report (EIR) prepared for this project was inadequate under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) 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 ); see Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.  (CEQA), esp. §§ 21001, subd. (g), 21002.1, subd. (a), 21005, 21061, 21100, subd. (d);  Cal.Code Regs., tit. 14 (hereafter Guidelines), § 15126, subd. (d).)  We remanded for issuance of a mandatory writ by the court below on this and other issues.  (Goleta Valley I, supra, at p. 1188, 243 Cal.Rptr. 339.)

The Board of Supervisors submitted a supplemental EIR (SEIR) as the return to the mandatory writ.   That SEIR discussed and analyzed only one alternative site, Santa Barbara Shores.   Other potential sites were mentioned in the SEIR in findings, but were not analyzed.   These findings referred to administrative findings contained in coastal commission reports and a local coastal plan (LCP) prepared nine years earlier which stated that certain other sites were inappropriate for commercial visitor use.

Appellant, Citizens of Goleta Valley (Citizens), an association challenging the adequacy of the SEIR, contends that other alternative sites which include Carpinteria Bluffs, More Mesa, Devereaux, and West Devereaux, were not adequately discussed in the SEIR.

The court below ruled that the SEIR was adequate.

We reverse.   The SEIR prepared in response to Goleta Valley I is still inadequate.   It does not sufficiently inform the public why ostensibly feasible 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.)

We hold that an EIR must contain:  1. a discussion concerning a reasonable range of feasible alternative sites, and 2. a brief discussion of why sites which are apparently or ostensibly feasible were rejected as infeasible, remote or speculative.   The EIR need not discuss sites which are obviously infeasible, remote or speculative.

FACTS

Pending the appeal in Goleta Valley I, Hyatt applied for approval of a final development plan (FDP).   The FDP was not issued at that time because investigation revealed that toxic wastes were present at the proposed site, Haskell's Beach.   Over Hyatt's objection, the Board directed preparation of an SEIR to consider this problem, among others.   The initial SEIR briefly discussed Santa Barbara Shores as an alternative site for the project.

A final SEIR, issued in November 1987, contained a more thorough discussion of Santa Barbara Shores as an alternative site, and compared it to the Haskell's Beach site.   The Board adopted findings for this SEIR on August 15, 1988, infra.   It 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 also rejected Santa Barbara Shores because it felt that the need to develop a specific plan for the site would be too onerous.   The report stated that additional matters would require further study or mitigation if the Santa Barbara Shores site were chosen.   No other sites were analyzed in the SEIR.

The SEIR also stated 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, would also be endangered by the project.

On February 3, 1988, the planning commission approved an FDP for the 400–room project at Haskell's Beach.   Citizens appealed this approval to the Board which held hearings on the economic feasibility of a reduced-scale project and on various traffic matters.   As a result of the feasibility studies, a proposed second phase of the project calling for an additional 125 hotel rooms was eliminated.   The traffic issues are being litigated below.

On June 8, 1988, the court below issued the peremptory writ pursuant to our opinion in Goleta Valley I and directed the Board to vacate its prior approval of the project.

On August 15, 1988, the Board gave its final approval to rezone Haskell's Beach for commercial-visitor use and for concomitant LCP actions.   The findings in the Board's SEIR state 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 LCP analysis and planning staff recommendations.

On August 25, 1988, the Board filed another SEIR, which included these findings, as its return to the peremptory writ.   Citizens filed objections and a motion to strike the return.   Among the grounds cited by Citizens for striking the writ was the Board's failure to prepare an SEIR which adequately considered and discussed alternative sites for the project.

On September 30, 1988, the court below discharged the writ.   It 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 properly considered the LCP.   The court also 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.   Citizens, again, appealed.

DISCUSSION

 The applicable standard of review is whether the Board committed a prejudicial abuse of discretion.  (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;  Goleta Valley I, supra, at p. 1176, 243 Cal.Rptr. 339.)   Abuse of discretion is established if the Board has failed to prepare an SEIR which is adequate according to law, or if the decision of the Board is not supported by substantial evidence in light of the record as a whole.   (Ibid.;  and see Rural Landowners Assn. v. City Council (1983) 143 Cal.App.3d 1013, 1020, 192 Cal.Rptr. 325.)   Our function is to determine whether the SEIR is legally adequate as an informational document.  (Laurel Heights, supra, at pp. 392, 401, 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, 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 the EIR, nor the environmental effects dismissed as insignificant in the initial study.  (Guidelines, §§ 15143, 15063.)

The Guidelines, however, do not permit the use of scoping to bypass current study and discussion in the EIR of a reasonable range of potentially feasible alternatives to the proposed location of a project.  (Guidelines, § 15126, subd. (d).)  The Guidelines specifically state that the lead agency is to “[d]escribe a range of reasonable alternatives 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), emphasis added.)

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 were 1980 and 1985 coastal commission reports and a 1980 LCP analysis.   These administrative documents are not “functionally equivalent” to an EIR.  (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, 253, 227 Cal.Rptr. 899.)

 Even if they were the functional equivalent to an EIR, there is no evidence that the coastal commission conducted any alternative site analysis in its report, or that the Board ever considered such evidence from any source.

 The 1980 LCP does not qualify as the functional equivalent of an EIR, either.   Review of a previous LCP is an inadequate substitute for specific study and analysis in the EIR of the currently proposed project.  (City of Carmel–By–The–Sea v. Board of Supervisors, supra, 183 Cal.App.3d at pp. 252–253, 227 Cal.Rptr. 899.)

 Assuming these documents had been the functional equivalents of an EIR, the Board failed to provide public notice of its intent to rely on them and to certify that it had actually reviewed and considered them before it resolved the question of the suitability of alternative sites.  (See Guidelines, § 15253;  Emmington v. Solano County Redevelopment Agency (1987) 195 Cal.App.3d 491, 502–503, 237 Cal.Rptr. 636.)   Neither were the findings circulated for general public review, which is a requirement under CEQA.  (See Sutter Sensible Planning, Inc. v. Board of Supervisors (1981) 122 Cal.App.3d 813, 822–823, 176 Cal.Rptr. 342.)   Mere reference to these reports in the EIR does not give the public sufficient notice of why these alternative sites were rejected.

The Board also relied on planning staff determinations as a basis for its findings.   It may not do so.   The planning commission's function is only to advise and recommend action to the Board.  (See Perley v. Board of Supervisors (1982) 137 Cal.App.3d 424, 435–436, 187 Cal.Rptr. 53;  Environmental Defense Fund, Inc. v. Coastside County Water Dist. (1972) 27 Cal.App.3d 695, 104 Cal.Rptr. 197.)

Proper application of the rule of reason

The leitmotif 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.  (See 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.)

But CEQA does not require the Board to study and discuss every alternative site imaginable.  (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, 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).)

 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).)   It states:  “ ‘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, at pp. 1176–1177, 243 Cal.Rptr. 339, citing Guidelines, § 15151.)   This rule is applied on a case-by-case basis.  (Id., at p. 1179, 243 Cal.Rptr. 339.)

 Unless some information 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 reasonable range of alternatives in the EIR, would be to sanction the avoidance of public discussion of alternatives.

 Even where the lead agency determines that ostensibly feasible 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 Improvement Assn. v. Regents of University of California, supra, 47 Cal.3d at pp. 404–405, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278.)  “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.’ ”  (Id., 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.)

In some cases alternatives may be limited or even nonexistent.   In such cases, an EIR will be found acceptable if the lead agency independently participates, reviews, analyzes and discusses the limited potential alternatives in good faith.  (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.)

Here, the situation is different.   The Board knows that Haskell's Beach and Santa Barbara Shores present numerous environmental and development problems.   Under these circumstances, some other ostensibly 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, be unsuitable sites, but they cannot be classified as obviously infeasible, remote or speculative without a current analysis.

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.)

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.

None of these alternatives was evaluated or discussed, beyond a statement 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.)   Based on “various internal planning processes,” the Regents then concluded there were no feasible alternative sites to Laurel Heights.  (Id., at p. 404, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278.)

The court rejected that EIR for its failure to include in meaningful detail a discussion of facts and an analysis of a range of alternative sites, and for its failure to include the reasons and facts which would support the conclusion that the alternatives are 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 argues that Laurel Heights is distinguishable from this case because the Regents summarily dismissed as infeasible “presumptively reasonable on-campus and off-campus alternatives” whereas here, the EIR contains a “full range” of on-site alternatives, infra, and a comprehensive analysis of an alternative site, Santa Barbara Shores.

Hyatt misconstrues Laurel Heights.   The Laurel Heights court chastised the Regents for its reliance on internal planning processes and for its subsequent failure to inform the public of the facts in the EIR.  (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.)   The university had to “explain in meaningful detail in a new EIR a range of alternatives to the proposed project and, if UCSF finds them to be infeasible, the reasons and facts that UCSF claims support its conclusion.”  (Id., at p. 406, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278.)   The additional sites suggested by Citizens here are similar to the sites reflected by dots on the map in Laurel Heights.   The sites not discussed in Laurel Heights are no more presumptively feasible than are the sites suggested by Citizens.

Here, the SEIR might have met the threshold of sufficiency if the Board had done a little more.   For example, the Board could have cited the various reports it had actually considered, explained briefly its current investigation of a reasonable range of alternative sites, reported the discussions with current planning staff regarding those sites, and then stated specific conclusions based on those facts.   In this way, the Board could perhaps have shown how the objectives of the project could not have been reasonably or feasibly met at these sites.  (See Guidelines, § 15150 on incorporation of documents by reference.)

Inclusion of other alternatives in the SEIR

 Hyatt argues that the Board satisfied the requirement to consider feasible alternatives by adding seven more alternatives in its return.   Of the eight “alternatives,” six contemplate various degrees of development of Haskell's Beach.   Only one alternative considers another site, Santa Barbara Shores.   The last alternative is a “no project” alternative, which is mandated by CEQA.  (See Guidelines, § 15126, subd. (d)(2).)   This list of “alternatives” is insufficient.  (San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, Inc. v. County of San Bernardino (1984) 155 Cal.App.3d 738, 750, 753, 202 Cal.Rptr. 423;  Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents of University of California, supra, 47 Cal.3d at pp. 400, 405, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278.)

Rationales for summary findings

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.   Furthermore, their study would delay the development of the project and present additional cost.   These are improper reasons for failure to discuss such sites in the EIR.  (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.   Its reliance is misplaced.

In that case, various alternatives were discussed and rejected.   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 expressly stated that it is not appropriate to disregard alternatives simply because they may require implementing legislation.   (Id., at p. 286, 152 Cal.Rptr. 585.)

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.

Although CEQA, the Guidelines and case law require thorough discussion of a reasonable range of potentially feasible sites and a minimal discussion of ostensibly feasible sites determined to be remote and speculative, we are unaware of any explanation of these rules.  (But see Concerned Citizens of Costa Mesa, Inc. v. 32nd Dist. Agricultural Assn., supra, 42 Cal.3d at p. 935, 231 Cal.Rptr. 748, 727 P.2d 1029;  Citizens to Preserve the Ojai v. County of Ventura, supra, 176 Cal.App.3d p. 429, 222 Cal.Rptr. 247;  Santiago County Water Dist. v. County of Orange (1981) 118 Cal.App.3d 818, 831, 173 Cal.Rptr. 602;  City of Carmel–By–The–Sea v. Board of Supervisors, supra, 183 Cal.App.3d at p. 241, 227 Cal.Rptr. 899—on the need to include empirical data, scientific authority and explanatory information comparing feasible sites.)

The dividing line between apparently reasonable alternatives and patently or obviously infeasible alternatives may be illusive.   We can offer no “bright line” tests.   We trust that good judgment and common sense will provide the answer.   The sites proposed by Citizens are ostensibly reasonable, feasible alternative sites, which, at minimum, require brief discussion.   On the other hand, a site next to a toxic waste dump 25 miles inland would be an obviously infeasible site and need not be discussed.

 Lead agencies need not study alternatives which do not fulfill the basic objectives of the proposed project.  (City of Angoon v. Hodel (9th Cir.1986) 803 F.2d 1016, 1021;  and see Residents Ad Hoc Stadium Com. v. Board of Trustees, supra, 89 Cal.App.3d at pp. 286–287, 152 Cal.Rptr. 585, in which the 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.”)   This includes sites for which significant adverse environmental effects cannot be eliminated or lessened.

 Where the nature of the particular project would permit its location at many sites over a large region, the lead agency is entitled to some deference in limiting the number of sites to be thoroughly studied.   To comply with the rule of reason, however, the agency must state its reasons for limiting its review.

 If an EIR is minimally 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., supra, 27 Cal.App.3d at pp. 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, disapproved on other grounds in City of Redding v. Shasta County Local Agency Formation Com. (1989) 209 Cal.App.3d 1169, 1177, 257 Cal.Rptr. 793;  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 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).)

Hyatt's reliance on older policy statements, such as those contained in the coastal commission reports, the Coastal Zoning Ordinance, and the LCP, which favor locating major visitor-serving commercial development in urban areas, is improper, supra.   Neither we nor the public can know the current status of such sites vis-a-vis this project without discussion based upon current study.   At the time it was published, the LCP 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 are inadequate, too.   The Board must provide a factual response to such comments.  (See Guidelines, § 15088;  Sutter Sensible Planning, Inc. v. Board of Supervisors, supra, 122 Cal.App.3d at p. 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.

Although lead agencies need not study alternatives which do not fulfill the basic objectives of the project, supra, a site which could feasibly attain the basic objectives of the project may not be summarily rejected.   If the Board had stated that review of the site showed that reasonable access to the beach is not feasibly attainable, this may have been a sufficient response.

Hyatt asserts that Kleppe v. Sierra Club (1976) 427 U.S. 390, 410–412, 96 S.Ct. 2718, 2730–31, 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, support its claim that the Board has the discretion to choose summarily which alternatives merit study and discussion in the EIR.   These cases do not support Hyatt's position.

In Kleppe, no environmental impact statement (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. 2725–27;  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 inapposite.   It, too, involved no specific EIS.   It involved the development of a generic rule governing licensure of specific nuclear power plants.   The court found that a tabular summarization of highly technical information, for the promulgation of a generic rule, 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. 2254–56;  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. 2253–54, fns. 12, 13.)

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 FDP.

 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 has abused its discretion by failing to provide the public and decisionmakers with an EIR 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, supra, 143 Cal.App.3d at pp. 1019–1020, 192 Cal.Rptr. 325.)

The Board must independently find, study, consider and discuss a reasonable 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;  San Bernardino Valley Audubon Society, Inc. v. County of San Bernardino, supra, 155 Cal.App.3d at pp. 750–751, 202 Cal.Rptr. 423;  Foundation for San Francisco's Architectural Heritage v. City and County of San Francisco, supra, 106 Cal.App.3d at pp. 909–910, 165 Cal.Rptr. 401;  Residents Ad Hoc Stadium Com. v. Board of Trustees, supra, 89 Cal.App.3d at pp. 286–287, 152 Cal.Rptr. 585;  County of Inyo v. Yorty, supra, 32 Cal.App.3d at pp. 808–811, 108 Cal.Rptr. 377;  Wildlife Alive v. Chickering (1976) 18 Cal.3d 190, 197, 132 Cal.Rptr. 377, 553 P.2d 537.)

Reliance on old administrative reports, findings and staff recommendations alone, without any current investigation and discussion to support those findings, is insufficient.  (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, supra, 137 Cal.App.3d at pp. 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.

Current investigation of alternative sites may reveal that they are infeasible for this project.   Discussion in the SEIR which is prepared in accordance with this opinion may result in the same findings presented here.   But, the SEIR 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 seem onerous, but the requirements of CEQA compel our decision.

We reverse, remand and direct the court below to issue a peremptory writ to compel the completion of another SEIR, consistent with this opinion.

Costs to appellants.

GILBERT, Associate Justice.

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