Irrigation District’s agreement with tribe to supply water for casino did not meet the small construction project exemption under CEQA, and the District could not ignore a LAFCO water limitation by calling it unconstitutional.

Voices for Rural Living v. El Dorado Irrigation District

No. C064280 (2012 DJDAR 13777 (October 4, 2012)

An Irrigation District and tribe made an agreement for a large amount of water to be piped to at tribe to support a desired casino. The District first concluded that an earlier LAFCO decision limiting water supplies to 40 residential lots was unconstitutional. The District then concluded the project was exempt from CEQA as a small construction project. Petitioners challenged on both fronts.

The trial court agreed with Petitioner, and the Court of Appeal affirmed. First, the District lacked the power to decide whether another agency exercised its powers in a constitutional manner. Second, the small project exemption under CEQA may not apply if there are “unusual circumstances.” The Court noted small construction projects include a single-family residence, small commercial structures, utility improvements, etc. The Court concluded the sheer amount of water to be provided the casino was unusual enough; moreover, the casino was so large it required its own freeway interchange. When compared to other types of projects that are commonly exempt, this project was unusual and required CEQA compliance.

Prepared by John Reaves

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