48 Cal.4th 32, S163680, Committee for Green Foothills v. Santa Clara County Bd. of Supervisors

Docket NºS163680
Citation48 Cal.4th 32, __ Cal.Rptr.3d__, __P.3d __
Opinion JudgeCORRIGAN, J.
Party NameCOMMITTEE FOR GREEN FOOTHILLS, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. SANTA CLARA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS et al., Defendants and Respondents; BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE LELAND STANFORD JUNIOR UNIVERSITY et al., Real Parties in Interest and Respondents.
AttorneyWittwer & Parkin, William P. Parkin and Jonathan Wittwer for Plaintiff and Appellant. Frank G. Wells Environmental Clinic, Sean B. Hecht and Katherine Trisolini for Sierra Club, Endangered Habitats League, Planning and Conservation League, Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Defense Ce...
Judge PanelGeorge, C. J., Kennard, J., Baxter, J., Werdegar, J., Chin, J., and Moreno, J., concurred.
Case DateFebruary 11, 2010
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)

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48 Cal.4th 32

__ Cal.Rptr.3d__, __P.3d __

COMMITTEE FOR GREEN FOOTHILLS, Plaintiff and Appellant,

v.

SANTA CLARA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS et al., Defendants and Respondents;

BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE LELAND STANFORD JUNIOR UNIVERSITY et al., Real Parties in Interest and Respondents.

S163680

Supreme Court of California

February 11, 2010

Santa Clara County Super. Ct. No. CV065186, Leslie C. Nichols, Judge

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COUNSEL

Wittwer & Parkin, William P. Parkin and Jonathan Wittwer for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Frank G. Wells Environmental Clinic, Sean B. Hecht and Katherine Trisolini for Sierra Club, Endangered Habitats League, Planning and Conservation League, Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Defense Center and Communities for a Better Environment as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiff and Appellant.

Ann Miller Ravel, County Counsel, Miguel Marquez, Acting County Counsel, and Lizanne Reynolds, Deputy County Counsel, for Defendants and Respondents.

Bingham McCutchen, Stephen L. Kostka, Barbara J. Schussman, Julie Jones and William Bates III for Real Parties in Interest and Respondents.

Remy, Thomas, Moose and Manley and Sabrina V. Teller for League of California Cities, California State Association of Counties and Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Respondents and Real Parties in Interest and Respondents.

Miller Brown & Dannis, Mark W. Kelley and Clarissa Canady for Education Legal Alliance of the California School Boards Association as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Respondents and Real Parties in Interest and Respondents.

Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and Lisabeth D. Rothman for California Building Industry Association as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Respondents and Real Parties in Interest and Respondents

OPINION

CORRIGAN, J.

In general, challenges to governmental action under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)1 face unusually short statutes of limitation. (§ 21167.) Most limitation statutes are triggered by the filing of a public notice, which reports an agency’s determination about the applicability of CEQA or the potential environmental impact of a project. (§§ 21108, 21152.)

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As we explain in greater detail, an action challenging this determination must generally be brought within 30 days after the notice is filed. (§ 21167, subds. (b), (c) & (e).)

This case involves a particular kind of challenge following a notice of determination (or NOD). If an NOD has been filed, but an action alleges that no environmental review was undertaken, which statute of limitations applies: (1) the general 30-day limit on challenges following a notice, or (2) the longer 180-day period provided for a case alleging that no environmental determination was made (§ 21167, subd. (a))? We hold that the filing of an NOD triggers a 30-day statute of limitations for all CEQA challenges to the decision announced in the notice. This interpretation is consistent with the language of section 21167 and the general approach of all notice-based statutes of limitation. The Legislature clearly intended the 30-day statute to apply when an agency files an NOD, and this limitations period may not be extended based on the nature of the CEQA violation alleged.

Because the Court of Appeal reached a contrary conclusion, we reverse that judgment.

BACKGROUND

In 2000, the Leland Stanford Junior University (Stanford) applied for a community plan and general use permit (Permit) to add buildings on its campus. An environmental impact report (EIR) prepared for the overall project (the Permit EIR) identified potential environmental effects and proposed specific mitigation measures. The Permit EIR found that the development would significantly impact public access to recreational facilities. In addition to requiring improvements to area parks, a mitigation measure in the Permit EIR directed that Stanford dedicate certain trail easements shown on the Santa Clara County (County) Trails Master Plan2 and coordinate with the County parks department regarding the trails’ locations, uses, construction and management. On December 12, 2000, the County’s Board of Supervisors (Board) certified the Permit EIR and approved the Permit. The Permit was expressly conditioned on satisfaction of mitigation measures discussed in the Permit EIR. Relevant here, condition I.2 required Stanford to “dedicate easements for, develop, and maintain the portions of the two trail alignments which cross Stanford lands shown in the 1995 Santa Clara County wide Trails Master Plan (Routes S1 and C1)....” Specifically, within one year after

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permit approval, Stanford was required to identify trail easements and reach agreements with the County on issues of trail construction, management and maintenance.3

Stanford and County staff proposed an agreement in December 2001, but the Board took no action and directed the parties to explore other alternatives for alignment of the S1 trail. In June 2002, the Board directed County staff to proceed with environmental analysis of five S1 routes and four C1 routes. A dispute soon arose about the location of the C1 route, and the Board directed that work be suspended on the C1 alignment. Analysis of the S1 alignment proceeded, however, and a supplemental EIR (SEIR) analyzing three potential S1 routes was published on September 20, 2004. A final SEIR for the S1 trail was completed and presented to the Board on September 13, 2005.

Stanford and the County explored possible alignments for the C1 trail on both sides of San Francisquito Creek. An alignment on the western side would require the agreement and cooperation of San Mateo County, the City of Menlo Park, and the Town of Portola Valley. A trail located on the eastern side would be within Santa Clara County’s jurisdiction. However, the eastern alignment was thought to have potentially significant environmental impacts, and County staff believed regulatory approval could be difficult to obtain. On September 13, 2005, the Board instructed County staff to pursue an agreement with Stanford on the location of the C1 alignment.

Subsequent negotiations produced the “Trails Agreement,”4 which was presented to the Board in December 2005. The Trails Agreement recites that its purpose is to satisfy condition I.2 of the Permit. Stanford agreed to dedicate easements for the S1 trail and portions of the C1 trail, construct and maintain the S1 trail, and fund improvements to the C2 trail by providing $8.4 million to San Mateo County and $2.8 million to the Town of Portola Valley. The agreement also requires that Stanford provide $1.05 million to the Town of Los Altos Hills for improvements to the C2 connector trail.5 These funds were intended to pay for C1 trail construction and for “costs to comply with CEQA or to implement mitigation measures....” A map attached to the Trails Agreement shows the C1 trail on the western side of San Francisquito Creek. Elsewhere, however, the agreement explains that this route is “only one possible alignment.” The final placement of the C1 trail would depend on

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further environmental analysis and Stanford’s agreement with San Mateo County and the Town of Portola Valley.

On December 13, 2005, the Board authorized the County to enter the Trails Agreement. It also made numerous CEQA findings about existing and proposed trails and certified a final SEIR for the S1 trail. The Board found that no CEQA review was currently required for the C1 trail because approval of the Trails Agreement did “not constitute County approval of construction, operation or maintenance of specific trail improvements” of the C1 trail. Instead, the Trails Agreement contemplated that, before any trail improvements were made, “detailed construction plans [would] be reviewed and considered by the jurisdictions of San Mateo County, Town of Portola Valley and Town of Los Altos Hills....” The Board observed that when these jurisdictions ultimately consider detailed designs and construction plans, “they will be required by CEQA to determine the type and extent of environmental review that is necessary for their actions,” and the Trails Agreement provides funds to pay for this environmental review. Accordingly, the Board concluded the County was not required to conduct further CEQA review before entering into the Trails Agreement. The Board thus implicitly determined this aspect of the agreement did not constitute a new project subject to independent CEQA review. Because the agreement obligated Stanford to build trail segments on its own land and to provide funding “for trail construction and environmental compliance” on segments outside the County, the Board found that Stanford had satisfied Permit condition I.2.

On December 16, 2005, the County filed an NOD with the county clerk. The notice described only the S1 trail alignment. It reported that an EIR had been prepared for this trail project and findings had been made “pursuant to section 15091 of CEQA.”6 Four days later, on December 20, 2005, the County filed a revised NOD. The revised notice included the C1 and C2 trail routes in its description of the project and identified the Board’s actions with respect to the trail alignments as part of the project description. Specifically, the notice reported that the County had approved an agreement for the C1 and C2 alignments, but had not approved any specific trail improvements. It explained that plans for such improvements would be reviewed and considered by San Mateo County and the Towns of Portola Valley and Los Altos Hills. The revised NOD again stated that an EIR had...

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