City and Regents’ housing project in drought-prone area failed to satisfy CEQA where the project description omitted required LAFCO approval and the alternatives omitted reduced-water considerations.

Habitat and Watershed Caretakers v. City of Santa Cruz

(H037545) 2012 DJDAR 15945 (6th Dist.) (November 27, 2012)

Santa Cruz has struggled to supply adequate amounts of water to its residents during dry years. The city is just starting to consider a desalinization facility.  The Regents of U.C. Santa Cruz proposed housing on campus, which was outside the jurisdiction of the city. The city certified an EIR for a project to amend its sphere of influence (SOI) to include the undeveloped portion of the campus so as to provide water and sewer services.

The legislature has given the power to local agency formation commissions (LAFCO) to decide whether to approve changes to the SOI. Govt. Code section 56428(e). LAFCO also must decide whether a city has the capacity to provide services outside its jurisdiction, and a city must first get approval from LAFCO before providing such services. So, the city’s project here needed approval by LAFCO, and the Regents should have at the same time sought LAFCO approval of its agreement with the city to provide additional housing which required the water and sewer.

The city acknowledged there would be water shortages on occasion. Petitioners challenged the EIR, saying the city failed to accurately describe the project or to consider limited water alternatives.

The trial court sided with the city, but the Court of Appeal reversed. The Court held the city had to get approval from the local agency formation commission (LAFCO) before it could provide services outside of city boundaries. The EIR inaccurately described the project as the city providing water to the new construction, but the true project was to get the discretionary approval of LAFCO. Further, the EIR should have, but did not, consider potentially feasible alternatives involving reduced development or a limited-water approach. The city improperly did not consider those because it felt those alternatives did not achieve the project goals. Thus, the EIR failed to inform the decision maker of the full ramifications of water shortages.

Prepared by John Reaves

This entry was posted in Appellate Case Summaries. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.