Court Holds That CEQA Does Not Require Analysis Of The Environment's Impacts On A Proposed Project

December 21, 2011, by Julia Bond,

In Ballona Wetlands Land Trust v. City of Los Angeles, the Court addressed an apparent inconsistency between the CEQA Guidelines and the statute.  The Court held the CEQA does not require analysis of the impacts of the existing environment on a proposed project (as distinguished from the impacts of the project on the environment), and sharply criticized the CEQA guidelines that suggest otherwise.  The opinion also upheld the EIR's discussion of mitigation for impacts to archeological resources, provides useful guidance on return to writ proceedings, and held that Respondents were prevailing parties for the purpose of awarding costs on the return to the writ, even though they lost the first round of CEQA litigation that led to initial issuance of the writ. 

This case potentially eliminates the need for agencies to determine the significance of certain types of impacts -- including some seismic risk, flood hazard, and climate change impacts -- to the extent that those impacts would be caused by the existing environment and would be experienced by the proposed project or its users.  Nevertheless, CEQA review likely still needs to analyze whether the proposed project would significantly exacerbate seismic risks, flood hazards, and climate change impacts on the environment.  This distinction will not always be easy to identify, and agencies should obtain legal advice before deciding to eliminate review of impacts traditionally considered in CEQA documents.

Go here for the full analysis of the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust v. City of Los Angeles case.

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