Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley (Feb. 15, 2012) (First Dist.)
2012 DJDAR 2123
The trial court ruled the City of Berkeley’s categorical exemption under CEQA and approval of a permit to construct a large single-family residence were legally proper.
The Court of Appeal disagreed, holding the categorical exemption is not appropriate if there are “unusual circumstances” and a fair argument can be made that significant environmental impacts could occur, even if there is contrary evidence of such. In particular, the Court found the size of the proposed residence, 6,478 square-foot house with 3,394 square-foot 10-car garage on a hillside, was “unusual” relative to typical projects under that exemption, even if only slightly larger than some other homes in the immediate vicinity. Also, the Court found the possibility, supported by an expert’s submission, that a large amount of grading and foundational support would be required, and the possibility of lurching in an earthquake zone, supported a fair argument that there could be significant environmental impacts. The Court reversed the decision.