Citizens for a Responsible Caltrans Decision v. Dep't of Transp.

Decision Date24 March 2020
Docket NumberD074374
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
Parties CITIZENS FOR A RESPONSIBLE CALTRANS DECISION, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, Defendant and Respondent.

Chatten-Brown, Carstens & Minteer; Jan Chatten-Brown, Santa Monica, and Joshua Chatten-Brown for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Jeanne Scherer, Chief Counsel, Jeffrey B. Benowitz, Deputy Chief Counsel and Glenn B. Mueller, Assistant Chief Counsel, for Defendant and Respondent.

BENKE, Acting P. J.

In 2017, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) released a final environmental impact report (FEIR) for the construction of two freeway interchange ramps connecting Interstate 5 (I-5) and State Route 56 (SR 56) (the Project). The FEIR stated: "After the [FEIR] is circulated, if Caltrans decides to approve the [P]roject, a Notice of Determination (NOD) will be published in compliance with CEQA by Caltrans, as well as[ ] by the California Coastal Commission (CCC), and Caltrans will publish a Record of Decision (ROD) in compliance with NEPA from Caltrans/FHWA." However, before the public comment period for the FEIR commenced and without issuing a notice of determination (NOD), Caltrans approved the Project a few days later and then filed a notice of exemption (NOE) two weeks later. The NOE stated that the Project was exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) ( Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq. ) pursuant to Streets and Highways Code section 103,1 which was enacted as of January 1, 2012. Citizens for a Responsible Caltrans Decision (CRCD) did not become aware of the NOE filing until after the 35-day statute of limitations period for challenging the NOE had run.

CRCD filed a petition for writ of mandate and declaratory relief alleging, inter alia, that Caltrans erroneously claimed the Project is exempt from CEQA under section 103 and that Caltrans is equitably estopped from relying on the 35-day statute of limitations for challenging notices of exemption. Caltrans demurred to the petition on the grounds that the causes of action were barred by the applicable statute of limitations and that the Project is exempt from CEQA under section 103. CRCD opposed the demurrer, arguing that: (1) the petition alleged facts regarding Caltrans's statements and conduct showing that Caltrans is equitably estopped from relying on the 35-day statute of limitations; and (2) section 103's CEQA exemption did not apply to Caltrans's approval of the Project. The trial court sustained the demurrer without leave to amend and entered a judgment of dismissal.

On appeal, CRCD contends the trial court erred by sustaining Caltrans's demurrer to the petition because: (1) section 103 does not exempt Caltrans from complying with CEQA in its approval of the Project; and (2) the petition alleged facts showing equitable estoppel applies to preclude Caltrans from raising the 35-day statute of limitations. As explained post , we agree that the court erred by sustaining Caltrans's demurrer and therefore reverse the judgment of dismissal.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The North Coastal Corridor (NCC) project includes multiple proposed projects by Caltrans and the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) to improve vehicle and railroad transportation in the 27-mile corridor from La Jolla to Oceanside. One of the NCC projects is the Project, which involves the construction of two freeway interchange ramps connecting I-5 and SR 56.

In 2005, a notice of preparation of an environmental impact report (EIR) for the Project was filed by Caltrans with the California Office of Planning and Research (OPR). Effective as of January 1, 2012, section 103 was enacted, providing for, inter alia, integrated regulatory review by the CCC of a public works plan (PWP) for the NCC projects, rather than a project-by-project approval approach. ( § 103, subd. (a)(4).) In April 2012, Caltrans circulated a draft environmental impact report/environmental impact statement (DEIR) for public review and comment. The DEIR stated: "Caltrans is the lead agency under CEQA." The DEIR further stated:

"Following receipt of comments from the public and reviewing agencies, an [FEIR] will be prepared. Caltrans may undertake additional environmental and/or engineering studies to address comments. The [FEIR] will include responses to comments received on the [DEIR] and will identify the preferred alternative. Following circulation of the [FEIR ], if the decision is made to approve the [P]roject, a Notice of Determination [NOD] will be published for compliance with [CEQA] , and a Record of Decision will be published for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA]." (Italics added.)

In October 2013, Caltrans issued an FEIR/environmental impact statement for its proposed NCC widening improvements to I-5 (i.e., construction of four express lanes), stating: "CA SB 468 [ § 103 ] is not intended to eliminate project-specific [CEQA ] or [NEPA ] reviews ; rather, it provides for integrated regulatory review by the [CCC]." (Italics added.) It noted that the I-5 NCC widening project and the Project (i.e., the I-5/SR 56 interchange project) "were ... independently evaluated under CEQA and NEPA."

In June 2014, Caltrans and SANDAG issued the PWP for the NCC project.2 In August 2014, the CCC approved the PWP. The PWP set forth "a blueprint for implementing a $6-billion 40-year program of rail, highway, transit, bicycle, pedestrian, and coastal resource improvements that span 27 miles of the Northern San Diego County coastline from La Jolla to Oceanside. In particular, the PWP provided for improvements to I-5 through the addition of two express lanes in each direction. The PWP also discussed alternatives for improvements to the I-5/SR 56 interchange to provide better connectivity. The PWP stated:

"Development activities requiring coastal development permits in the [CDP's] are regulated by the [CCC] and local governments through their respective [CDP] processes. Coastal Act Chapter 3 policy mandates and [CDP] requirements are implemented by local governments (cities and counties) pursuant to a certified LCP [local coastal plan]. Upon certification of an LCP by the [CCC], local governments assume [CDP] responsibility for most new development within their jurisdictions.
"A PWP is an alternate vehicle for obtaining approval of large or phased public works projects and remains under the authority of the [CCC] irrespective of coastal permit jurisdictional boundaries. A PWP is an alternative to project-by-project review for public works (which could require multiple [CDP's ] for different components of a public works project) . A PWP must be sufficiently detailed regarding the size, kind, intensity, and location of development to allow the [CCC] to determine its consistency with the policies in Chapter 3 of the Coastal Act (pre-LCP certification) or the certified LCP (post-LCP certification). Once the [CCC ] approves a PWP, no [CDP ] is required if the development is consistent with the PWP . Instead, the permittee provides a Notice of Impending Development (NOID) to the [CCC] and other interested persons, organizations, and government agencies. The [CCC] then reviews the NOID for consistency with the approved PWP; if the [CCC] determines that the NOID is consistent with the PWP, the development may proceed. In these cases, however, the [CCC] may still apply conditions to that specific project to ensure consistency with the PWP." (Italics added.)

Importantly, the PWP added the following footnote to the above discussion of PWP's:

"The [CCC ] PWP review and approval process is not intended to supplant the review processes required by [CEQA ], [NEPA] or other regulatory schemes; compliance with the CEQA , NEPA and/or other regulatory schemes are addressed at the project level ...." (Italics added.)

Regarding the Project, the PWP stated: "Given that a preferred alternative has not yet been selected for the [Project], this project may be subject to future PWP amendment and a NOID to ensure consistency with the approved PWP, or Caltrans may choose (in consultation with the [CCC] and the city) to submit a [CDP] application to the city. Project alternatives include improvements to local streets, adding auxiliary lanes along I-5 and SR 56, interchange improvements, or southbound-to-eastbound and westbound-to-northbound freeway connector ramps. An environmental document [i.e., the DEIR] analyzing the alternatives was released in May 2012."

The PWP further provided that when Caltrans and SANDAG submit an NOID for a specific development project, they must attach a project report for that specific project. A project report must include, inter alia, "[e ]nvironmental documentation for the proposed development prepared pursuant to CEQA and/or NEPA," as well as findings that "[t ]he proposed development has been reviewed in compliance with CEQA and/or NEPA, and all conditions and/or mitigation measures identified in those CEQA and/or NEPA documents have been incorporated as part of the proposed development." (Italics added.)

On June 26, 2017, Caltrans, as lead agency, released the FEIR for the Project. The State Clearinghouse assigned to the FEIR the identifying number, "2005051061." The FEIR stated: "After the [FEIR ] is circulated, if Caltrans decides to approve the [P ]roject, a Notice of Determination (NOD) will be published in compliance with CEQA by Caltrans , as well as[ ] by the [CCC], and Caltrans will publish a Record of Decision (ROD) in compliance with NEPA from Caltrans/FHWA." (Italics added.) However, the FEIR also included the following (apparently inconsistent) language:

"On January 1, 2012, ... section 103 became effective. [Citation.] ... [S ]ection 103, subdivision (d), together with Public Resources Code section 21080.5, mandate that instead of being analyzed under CEQA, the Interstate 5 North Coast Corridor and all of the
...

To continue reading

Request your trial
7 cases
  • Organizacion Comunidad De Alviso v. City of San Jose
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • February 9, 2021
    ...notice to all potential litigants of the correct parties to name in a CEQA action. Citizens for a Responsible Caltrans Decision v. Department of Transportation (2020) 46 Cal.App.5th 1103, 260 Cal.Rptr.3d 306, cited by plaintiff, is factually distinguishable. In that case a state agency prom......
  • Beverly v. Riverside Cnty. Pub. Adm'r
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • March 10, 2022
    ...of a cause of action and will be disregarded. (Citizens for a Responsible Caltrans Decision v. Department of Transportation (2020) 46 Cal.App.5th 1103, 1116 [On appeal following the sustaining of a demurrer, the Court of Appeal "must disregard allegations that are contrary to law . . . ."].......
  • Laboratories v. Cnty. of San Diego
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • June 23, 2020
    ...to occur and then plead in defense the delay occasioned by his own conduct.' " (Citizens for a Responsible Caltrans Decision v. Department of Transportation (2020) 46 Cal.App.5th 1103, 1128.) " '[C]onduct onbehalf of a public agency, which would induce a reasonably prudent person to avoid s......
  • Oakes v. Progressive Transp. Servs., Inc.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • November 10, 2021
    ...question involves issues of statutory construction, which we review de novo. ( Citizens for a Responsible Caltrans Decision v. Department of Transportation (2020) 46 Cal.App.5th 1103, 1120, 260 Cal.Rptr.3d 306.)" ‘A fundamental rule of statutory construction is that a court should ascertain......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT