Citizens of Goleta Valley v. Board of Sup'rs of County of Santa Barbara (Wallover Inc.)

Citation262 Cal.Rptr. 521,214 Cal.App.3d 174
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Decision Date22 September 1989
PartiesPreviously published at 214 Cal.App.3d 174 214 Cal.App.3d 174 CITIZENS OF GOLETA VALLEY, etc., Appellant, v. BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF the COUNTY OF SANTA BARBARA, et al., Respondents. WALLOVER, INC., et al., Real Parties in Interest. Civ. B037615.

Environmental Defense Center and Philip A. Seymour, for appellant.

Marvin Levine, Acting County Counsel, Stephen Shane Stark, Deputy County Counsel, for respondents.

Robert E. Goodwin and Russell R. Ruiz as amici curiae on behalf of respondents.

Hollister & Brace and Richard C. Monk, Matsinger & Blakeboro and Diane M. Matsinger, Baker & McKenzie and Timothy A. Tosta, Maria C. Pracher, for real parties in interest.

GILBERT, Associate Justice.

Real parties in interest, Hyatt Corporation and Wallover, Inc. (Hyatt), desire to build a hotel and conference center on Haskell's Beach, a site Wallover owns.

In a previous appeal, we held that the environmental impact report (EIR) prepared for this project was inadequate under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) because it failed to consider the feasibility of alternative sites for the project. (Citizens of Goleta Valley v. Board of Supervisors (1988) 197 Cal.App.3d 1167, 1180, 243 Cal.Rptr. 339, (hereafter Goleta Valley I ); see Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq. (CEQA), esp. §§ 21001, subd. (g), 21002.1, subd. (a), 21005, 21061, 21100, subd. (d); Cal.Code Regs., tit. 14 (hereafter Guidelines), § 15126, subd. (d).) We remanded for issuance of a mandatory writ by the court below on this and other issues. ( Goleta Valley I, supra, at p. 1188, 243 Cal.Rptr. 339.)

The Board of Supervisors submitted a supplemental EIR (SEIR) as the return to the mandatory writ. That SEIR discussed and analyzed only one alternative site, Santa Barbara Shores. Other potential sites were mentioned in the SEIR in findings, but were not analyzed. These findings referred to administrative findings contained in coastal commission reports and a local coastal plan (LCP) prepared nine years earlier which stated that certain other sites were inappropriate for commercial visitor use.

Appellant, Citizens of Goleta Valley (Citizens), an association challenging the adequacy of the SEIR, contends that other alternative sites which include Carpinteria Bluffs, More Mesa, Devereaux, and West Devereaux, were not adequately discussed in the SEIR.

The court below ruled that the SEIR was adequate.

We reverse. The SEIR prepared in response to Goleta Valley I is still inadequate. It does not sufficiently inform the public why ostensibly feasible alternative sites, other than Santa Barbara Shores, were rejected. (Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents of University of California (1988) 47 Cal.3d 376, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278.)

We hold that an EIR must contain: 1. a discussion concerning a reasonable range of feasible alternative sites, and 2. a brief discussion of why sites which are apparently or ostensibly feasible were rejected as infeasible, remote or speculative. The EIR need not discuss sites which are obviously infeasible, remote or speculative.


Pending the appeal in Goleta Valley I, Hyatt applied for approval of a final development plan (FDP). The FDP was not issued at that time because investigation revealed that toxic wastes were present at the proposed site, Haskell's Beach. Over Hyatt's objection, the Board directed preparation of an SEIR to consider this problem, among others. The initial SEIR briefly discussed Santa Barbara Shores as an alternative site for the project.

A final SEIR, issued in November 1987, contained a more thorough discussion of Santa Barbara Shores as an alternative site, and compared it to the Haskell's Beach site. The Board adopted findings for this SEIR on August 15, 1988, infra. It concluded, among other things, that "[w]hile the Santa Barbara Shores site might be preferable in terms of impacts to biology and cultural resources, the evidence indicates that impacts to traffic, air quality, water resources, geologic hazards and noise from flight patterns associated with the Goleta airport are probably greater than those associated with the project site."

The Board also rejected Santa Barbara Shores because it felt that the need to develop a specific plan for the site would be too onerous. The report stated that additional matters would require further study or mitigation if the Santa Barbara Shores site were chosen. No other sites were analyzed in the SEIR.

The SEIR also stated that some roosting sites for Monarch butterflies, and some fragile and sensitive strand/dune vegetation which supports the globose dune beetle would be lost if the project were developed at Haskell's Beach. Another threatened species, the tidewater goby, would also be endangered by the project.

On February 3, 1988, the planning commission approved an FDP for the 400-room project at Haskell's Beach. Citizens appealed this approval to the Board which held hearings on the economic feasibility of a reduced-scale project and on various traffic matters. As a result of the feasibility studies, a proposed second phase of the project calling for an additional 125 hotel rooms was eliminated. The traffic issues are being litigated below.

On June 8, 1988, the court below issued the peremptory writ pursuant to our opinion in Goleta Valley I and directed the Board to vacate its prior approval of the project.

On August 15, 1988, the Board gave its final approval to rezone Haskell's Beach for commercial-visitor use and for concomitant LCP actions. The findings in the Board's SEIR state that alternative sites On August 25, 1988, the Board filed another SEIR, which included these findings, as its return to the peremptory writ. Citizens filed objections and a motion to strike the return. Among the grounds cited by Citizens for striking the writ was the Board's failure to prepare an SEIR which adequately considered and discussed alternative sites for the project.

other than Santa Barbara Shores are either infeasible, speculative or remote. The only support in the SEIR for these findings were brief findings in 1980 and 1985 coastal commission reports, a 1980 LCP analysis and planning staff recommendations.

On September 30, 1988, the court below discharged the writ. It stated that the Board's findings were adequate and that the SEIR was not deficient in failing to consider alternative sites suggested by Citizens because the Board properly considered the LCP. The court also found there was no alternative site analysis made in the coastal commission report, and even if there had been, there was no evidence that the Board considered it. Citizens, again, appealed.


The applicable standard of review is whether the Board committed a prejudicial abuse of discretion. (Laurel Heights Improvement Assn. v. Regents of University of California, supra, 47 Cal.3d at p. 392, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278; Goleta Valley I, supra, at p. 1176, 243 Cal.Rptr. 339.) Abuse of discretion is established if the Board has failed to prepare an SEIR which is adequate according to law, or if the decision of the Board is not supported by substantial evidence in light of the record as a whole. (Ibid.; and see Rural Landowners Assn. v. City Council (1983) 143 Cal.App.3d 1013, 1020, 192 Cal.Rptr. 325.) Our function is to determine whether the SEIR is legally adequate as an informational document. (Laurel Heights, supra, at pp. 392, 401, 253 Cal.Rptr. 426, 764 P.2d 278.)

Hyatt and the Board opine that no other alternatives need be discussed in the SEIR because their use of "scoping," by internal review of administrative reports, revealed to them that all other sites are remote and speculative.

"Scoping" is defined in the Guidelines, section 15083, as early consultation with people or organizations believed to be concerned with the environmental effects of a proposed project, after an initial study determines that an EIR will be required. The Guidelines permit some leeway for the Board to define the scope of study as to alternatives, and they encourage the use of multiple data bases for doing this. (Guidelines, § 15083.) The Board need not discuss the scoping process in the EIR, nor the environmental effects dismissed as insignificant in the initial study. (Guidelines, §§ 15143, 15063.)

The Guidelines, however, do not permit the use of scoping to bypass current study and discussion in the EIR of a reasonable range of potentially feasible alternatives to the proposed location of a project. (Guidelines, § 15126, subd. (d).) The Guidelines specifically state that the lead agency is to "[d]escribe a range of reasonable alternatives to the ... location of the project, which could feasibly attain the basic objectives of the project and evaluate the comparative merits of the alternatives." (Guidelines, § 15126, subd. (d), emphasis added.)

Hyatt argues that the administrative documents reviewed during the scoping process are functionally equivalent to an EIR, and urge that a perusal of the administrative record justifies its decision not to discuss any other alternatives in the SEIR. (Guidelines, §§ 15063, 15365, 15082, 15120-15132; Citizens Comm. Against Interstate Rt. 675 v. Lewis (S.D. Ohio 1982) 542 F.Supp. 496, 544.) We disagree.

The administrative documents here were 1980 and 1985 coastal commission reports and a 1980 LCP analysis. These administrative documents are not "functionally equivalent" to an EIR. (Cf. Pub. Resources Code, § 21080.5 on functionally equivalent documents to an EIR; Guidelines, § 15251, subd. (f); City of Carmel-By-The-Sea v. Board of Supervisors (1986) 183 Cal.App.3d 229, 253, 227 Cal.Rptr. 899.)

Even if they were the functional equivalent to an EIR, there is no evidence that the coastal commission conducted any alternative site analysis in its report, or that the...

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