Opinion issued in Rialto Citizens for Responsible Growth v. City of Rialto (Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust et al. Real Parties in Interest) No. E052253.

By Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law

Yesterday, July 31, 2012, the California Court of Appeal 4th District, Division 2 issued a ruling, certified for partial publication in the case of Rialto Citizens for Responsible Growth v. City of Rialto.  The appeal arose out of a writ of mandate case heard before Judge Donald Alvarez of the San Bernardino Superior Court (San Bernardino Superior Court Case CIVSS 810834).  The ruling is found at, for the moment, 2012 WL 3089826.  The real parties in interest are Wal-Mart related entities.

Justice King wrote the opinion, with Acting Presiding Justice McKinster and Justice Miller concurring.  The procedural history, summary and conclusion follow:

Defendant, City of Rialto (the City), approved a 230,000–square–foot commercial retail center to be anchored by a 24–hour Wal–Mart “Supercenter” (the project). Plaintiff, Rialto Citizens for Responsible Growth (Rialto Citizens), petitioned the trial court for a writ of administrative mandate invalidating several project approvals, including the City’s resolution certifying the final environmental impact report (the EIR) for the project, several resolutions amending the City’s general plan and the Gateway Specific Plan governing the project site, and an ordinance approving a development agreement for the project.

The trial court entered judgment in favor of Rialto Citizens and issued a peremptory writ invalidating the challenged resolutions and ordinance. Real parties in interest, Wal–Mart Real Estate Business Trust, Wal–Mart Real Estate Business Trust, Inc., and Wal–Mart Real Estate Trust, Inc. (collectively Wal–Mart), appeal. The City and its redevelopment agency, another named defendant, join Wal–Mart’s appeal. Based on our de novo review of the City’s actions certifying the EIR and approving the project, we find no prejudicial abuse of discretion on the part of the City. (Code Civ. Proc., § 1094.5.) Accordingly, we reverse the judgment in its entirety.
II. SUMMARY OF CLAIMS AND CONCLUSIONS
As a preliminary matter, Wal–Mart claims for the first time on appeal that Rialto Citizens lacks standing to challenge the project approvals because neither it nor any of its members are beneficially interested in the issuance of the judgment or writ. Based on the record before us, we conclude that Rialto Citizens has public interest standing. It is therefore unnecessary to determine whether Rialto Citizens or any of its members have a beneficial interest in the issuance of judgment or the writ.
In a separate section of this opinion, we address whether the City violated the Planning and Zoning Law (Gov.Code, § 65000 et seq .) in approving the project. The trial court set aside the City’s resolutions approving the general and specific plan amendments and the ordinance approving the development agreement on the ground the City violated the Planning and Zoning Law in two respects. First, the court concluded that the notice of the public hearing on the project before the City Council was defective because it did not include the planning commission’s earlier recommendations that the City Council approve the plan amendments and the development agreement. (§§ 65033, 65094.) The court also ruled that the City erroneously adopted the ordinance approving the development agreement without expressly finding that the provisions of the agreement were consistent with the general and specific plans governing the project site, as the Planning and Zoning Law also requires. (§ 65867.5, subd. (b).)
On independent review of these legal questions, we agree with the trial court that the notice of hearing was defective because it did not include the planning commission’s recommendations. We also agree that the City erroneously adopted the ordinance approving the development agreement without finding that the provisions of the agreement were consistent with the general and specific plans. Importantly, however, Rialto Citizens made no attempt to show and the trial court did not find that either the defective notice of hearing or the omitted factual finding resulted in prejudice, substantial injury, and that a different result was probable absent these errors or omissions. (§ 65010, subd. (b).) In the absence of these factual findings by the trial court, the resolutions approving the plan amendments and the ordinance approving the development agreement were erroneously invalidated as a matter of law.
 In the final section of this opinion, we address whether the City violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.) in approving the project, specifically in certifying the EIR and in rejecting a “reduced density alternative” as infeasible. The trial court ruled that the EIR was inadequate and therefore erroneously certified because: (1) its project description did not identify the development agreement as an approval required to implement the project; (2) it inadequately analyzed the project’s cumulative impacts on air quality, traffic, and on greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change; and (3) it improperly deferred mitigation measures to reduce the project’s potential impacts on five special status plant species and three special status wildlife species, namely, the San Bernardino and Stephens’ kangaroo rats, and the burrowing owl. The court also concluded that insufficient evidence supported the city council’s factual finding, at the project approval stage, that the reduced density alternative to the project was infeasible.
We agree with the trial court that the project description was inadequate because it did not identify the development agreement as an approval required to implement the project. Importantly, however, this omission did not preclude or undermine informed decisionmaking on the project as a whole or the development agreement, because the ordinance approving the development agreement was duly noticed and considered, along with other project approvals, at the public hearing on the project before the City Council.
We also conclude, contrary to the trial court’s rulings, that the EIR adequately analyzed the project’s cumulative impacts on air quality, traffic, and on greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change, and did not improperly defer mitigation of potential impacts on any of the special status plant or wildlife species. Lastly, we conclude that substantial evidence supports the City’s finding, at the project approval stage, that the reduced density alternative was infeasible.
Thus we find no prejudicial violations of either the Planning and Zoning Law or CEQA in the City’s approval of the project.  Rialto Citizens for Responsible Growth v. City of Rialto (2012) .       Cal.Rptr.3d      , 2012 WL 3089826, *1-*2 [Footnotes omitted].
The information you obtain at this blog is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is established by reading or commenting on this blog. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.
A: 300 E. State St., Suite 517
Redlands, CA 92373-5235
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About Michael Reiter, Attorney at Law
Michael Reiter is a Redlands, California-based lawyer, serving San Bernardino County and Riverside County in Southern California's Inland Empire. Michael Reiter is a lawyer practicing in the following fields of law: Municipal Law, Code Enforcement Law, Small Business Law and Real Estate Law. Michael Reiter practices in all the local courts, including San Bernardino Superior Court, Riverside Superior Court, and the United States District Court for the Central District of California. Michael Reiter was admitted to the California State Bar in 1998. Michael Reiter was Assistant City Attorney for the City of Redlands, a Deputy City Attorney for the City of San Bernardino, and Staff Attorney for Legal Aid Society of San Bernardino. Michael Reiter serves all of San Bernardino and Riverside County, Orange County, and Los Angeles County. Michael Reiter can be reached at (909) 296-6708, or by electronic mail at michael@michaelreiterlaw.com. 300 E. State St. #517 Redlands CA 92373-5235

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