Summary of case involving CEQA challenge to EIR based on traffic conditions: Pfeiffer v. City of Sunnyvale (Nov. 22, 2011)

Pfeiffer v. City of Sunnyvale (Nov. 22, 2011)

Cal. Court of Appeal (6th District) H036310

Interesting case involving CEQA challenge to EIR based on traffic conditions:

SUMMARY OF KEY FACTS:

The project proponent sought in this case to demolish a medical building, parking lots and several residences in order to build a larger medical complex. Neighbors challenged the EIR under CEQA, claiming traffic and noise baselines were incorrect.

SUMMARY OF COURT RULING:

The trial court ruled in the city’s favor, and the Court of Appeal affirmed, finding the city correctly judged whether the project would have any significant impacts on the environment based on the conditions in the vicinity of the project.

The Court of Appeal concluded the city could also rely upon predicted conditions of traffic increase, based upon approved but not yet built projects and general predicted increases in traffic. The city was not limited to existing conditions.

The Court further stated there is no rigid formula for considering traffic or other impacts. Generally, impacts are assessed as of the time of the Notice of Preparation, or, if none, then at the time environmental analysis is started. But, just as projects’ completion time can vary, so can the timing and nature of impacts.

Challengers have the burden of proof, which can be daunting, particularly in light of the great deference accorded the agency decision. Technical perfection is not required, and the agency decision is presumed correct unless the decision lacks substantial evidence, generally shown by the absence of any evidence to support a decision, as opposed to conflicting evidence in the record.

Prepared by John Reaves

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