Cnty. of Ventura v. City of Moorpark

Decision Date12 June 2018
Docket Number2d Civil No. B282466
Citation24 Cal.App.5th 377,234 Cal.Rptr.3d 242
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
Parties COUNTY OF VENTURA et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. CITY OF MOORPARK, Defendant and Appellant; Broad Beach Geologic Hazard Abatement District, Defendant and Respondent.

Leroy Smith, County Counsel, Jeffrey E. Barnes, Assistant County Counsel, for Plaintiff and Appellant County of Ventura.

Aleshire & Wynder and June Ailin, Los Angeles, for Plaintiff and Appellant City of Fillmore.

Kevin G. Ennis, City Attorney; Richards, Watson & Gershon, T. Peter Pierce, San Francisco, and Nicholas R. Ghirelli, Los Angeles, for Defendant and Appellant City of Moorpark.

Elkins Kalt Weintraub Reuben Gartside, John M. Bowman, Los Angeles, and Ernest J. Guadiana, for Defendant and Respondent Broad Beach Geologic Hazard Abatement District.


The purpose of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is to ensure "[t]he maintenance of a quality environment for the people of this state now and in the future." ( Pub. Resources Code, 1

§ 21000, subd. (a).) But the scope of CEQA is not unlimited. ( Sunset Sky Ranch Pilots Assn. v. County of Sacramento (2009) 47 Cal.4th 902, 907, 102 Cal.Rptr.3d 894, 220 P.3d 905 ( Sunset Sky ).) CEQA applies only to activities that meet the definition of a "project" under the statute. ( Ibid . ) And certain projects are statutorily exempt from environmental review. ( Ibid . ) Thus, "[a]lthough we construe CEQA broadly "to afford the fullest possible protection to the environment within the reasonable scope of the statutory language," we do not balance the policies served by the statutory exemptions against the goal of environmental protection." ( Ibid . )

This case requires us to consider whether the broad definition of "project" that mandates more extensive CEQA review also applies to statutory exemptions. It additionally presents questions of state law preemption, the limits of a city’s contractual authority, and the abdication of a government entity’s police power.

The County of Ventura and City of Fillmore (collectively, Appellants) appeal from the judgment denying their petition for writ of mandate and request for injunctive relief, and denying, in part, their request for declaratory relief. Appellants contend the trial court erred when it determined that a beach restoration project undertaken by Broad Beach Geologic Hazard Abatement District (BBGHAD) is exempt from CEQA review. They also contend a settlement agreement between BBGHAD and the City of Moorpark (collectively, Respondents) that was incorporated into the project: (1) is preempted by state law, (2) constitutes an illegal attempt by Moorpark to regulate traffic outside city limits, and (3) represents an abdication of BBGHAD’s police power. In its cross-appeal, Moorpark challenges the court’s finding that portions of the agreement are void.

We conclude that the beach restoration project, including its incorporation of Respondents' settlement agreement, is a single "project" that is statutorily exempt from CEQA review. The traffic restrictions in the agreement are not preempted by state law, nor do they constitute extraterritorial regulations. Instead, they represent a valid exercise of Moorpark’s contracting authority. But because BBGHAD abdicated its police power in portions of the agreement, we conclude those provisions are void or subject to future modification. We reverse the judgment in part, affirm in part, and remand.


The state formed BBGHAD to restore a 46-acre stretch of Broad Beach in the City of Malibu. The beach restoration project requires 300,000 cubic yards of sand initially, with four subsequent deposits of equal size to be made at five-year intervals. Periodic supplemental deposits of up to 75,000 cubic yards each may be made on an as-needed basis. The project will continue no more than 20 years, unless BBGHAD and applicable permitting agencies approve an extension.

Each of the five major deposits will generate 44,000 one-way truck trips over the course of three to five months. BBGHAD will obtain sand for the project primarily from the Grimes Rock and CEMEX quarries, both located adjacent to State Highway 23 between Fillmore and Moorpark. It may also obtain a limited amount of sand from the P.W. Gillibrand quarry.

During the project approval process, Moorpark officials expressed concern that hauling sand through or adjacent to their city would negatively impact residents. Respondents held discussions to address Moorpark’s concerns, which culminated in a settlement agreement. Provisions of the agreement relevant to this appeal include:

Section 2: "Trucks used for sand hauling in connection with the Project are prohibited from using Walnut Canyon Road, Grimes Canyon Road south of Broadway Road[,] or any other highway, road[,] or street in or immediately adjacent to the City of Moorpark, except in cases of ‘emergency,’ as defined in Section 5."
Section 3: "All trucks used for sand hauling in connection with the Project shall not be staged or parked in [Moorpark] or immediately adjacent to [Moorpark], at anytime [sic ] for the duration of the Project."
Section 4: "All sand hauling trucks for the Project shall use Grimes Canyon Road (State Route 23) to State Highway 126 through Fillmore as the haul route from the Grimes Rock quarry and/or the CEMEX quarry to the Project site[,] and the same route from the Project site to the [quarries]."
Section 5: "An ‘emergency’ exists, for purposes of Sections 2 and 6, only when a first responder ... determines all lanes on State Highway 126 west of State Highway 23 or State Highway 23 north of the quarry are closed to truck traffic. An emergency ceases to exist when a first responder determines that at least one lane becomes available to truck traffic on [the] portions of State Highway 126 and State Highway 23 referenced above."
Section 7: "The haul route prohibitions shall apply to the BBGHAD’s use of the Grimes Rock Quarry and CEMEX Quarry throughout the duration of the Project. The BBGHAD shall provide [Moorpark] notice of the commencement and completion of each of the sand deposition events for the Project."
Section 8: "The BBGHAD shall include the haul route prohibitions in any agreements entered into between [it], the quarries, and any contracted haulers[,] and require[ ] contracted haulers to include such terms in their agreements with their subcontracted haulers involved in the Project...."
Section 26: "This Agreement may be amended or modified only by the mutual agreement of the Parties and only when all Parties memorialize in writing their consent to amend or modify."

The Coastal Commission approved a coastal development permit for the beach restoration project, including its incorporation of Respondents' settlement agreement, in October 2015. The State Lands Commission approved a lease for the project the following year.

Appellants challenged the project in a petition for writ of mandate and request for injunctive and declaratory relief. The trial court found the project statutorily exempt from CEQA. It also determined that the settlement agreement is neither preempted by the Vehicle Code nor an improper attempt by Moorpark to regulate traffic outside city limits. But the court did find that BBGHAD improperly contracted away to Moorpark its police power in portions of the agreement. It declared void the first sentence of section 7, declared void all of section 26 to the extent it prohibits BBGHAD from modifying haul routes in response to changed circumstances, and found section 8 subject to modification should hauling routes change in the future.


Appellants contend the settlement agreement is distinct from BBGHAD’s beach restoration activities, and is thus a separate, nonexempt CEQA project. We disagree.

CEQA establishes a three-tier process to ensure that public agencies inform their decisions with environmental considerations. ( Muzzy Ranch Co. v. Solano County Airport Land Use Com. (2007) 41 Cal.4th 372, 379-380, 60 Cal.Rptr.3d 247, 160 P.3d 116 ( Muzzy Ranch ).) An agency must first determine whether an activity is a "project" for purposes of CEQA. ( Id. at p. 380, 60 Cal.Rptr.3d 247, 160 P.3d 116.) If it is, the agency determines whether an exemption applies. ( Ibid. ) If the project is exempt, no further environmental review is required. ( Ibid. ) If the project is not exempt and may cause significant environmental effects, however, the agency must prepare an environmental impact report (EIR). ( Id . at p. 381, 60 Cal.Rptr.3d 247, 160 P.3d 116.)

CEQA "projects" include activities undertaken by public agencies that cause direct physical changes to the environment. (§ 21065.) What constitutes a project is given a broad interpretation. ( RiverWatch v. Olivenhain Municipal Water Dist. (2009) 170 Cal.App.4th 1186, 1203, 88 Cal.Rptr.3d 625 ( RiverWatch ).) A project refers to "the whole of an action" ( Cal. Code Regs., tit. 14, § 15378, subd. (a) ), not each individual component ( Sierra Club v. West Side Irrigation Dist. (2005) 128 Cal.App.4th 690, 698, 27 Cal.Rptr.3d 223 ). Thus, where two activities are "part of a coordinated endeavor" ( Tuolumne County Citizens for Responsible Growth, Inc. v. City of Sonora (2007) 155 Cal.App.4th 1214, 1228, 66 Cal.Rptr.3d 645 ( Tuolumne CCRG ) ), "among the ‘various steps which taken together obtain an objective’ " ( id . at p. 1226, 66 Cal.Rptr.3d 645 ), or otherwise "related to each other" ( Plan for Arcadia, Inc. v. City Council of Arcadia (1974) 42 Cal.App.3d 712, 726, 117 Cal.Rptr. 96 ), they constitute a single project for purposes of CEQA. It is only "where the second activity is independent of, and not a contemplated future part of, the first activity, [that] the two activities may be reviewed separately." ( Sierra Club , at p. 699, 27 Cal.Rptr.3d 223.) Whether two activities are parts of a single project is a question for our independent review. ( ...

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