Friends of Mammoth v. Board of Supervisors

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Citation502 P.2d 1049,104 Cal.Rptr. 761,8 Cal.3d 247
Decision Date21 September 1972
Parties, 502 P.2d 1049, 4 ERC 1705, 2 Envtl. L. Rep. 20,673 FRIENDS OF MAMMOTH et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF MONO COUNTY et al., Defendants and Respondents; INTERNATIONAL RECREATION, LTD., Real Party in Interest and Respondent. Sac. 7924. In Bank

Page 761

104 Cal.Rptr. 761
8 Cal.3d 247, 502 P.2d 1049, 4 ERC 1705, 2 Envtl. L. Rep. 20,673
FRIENDS OF MAMMOTH et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS OF MONO COUNTY et al., Defendants and Respondents;
INTERNATIONAL RECREATION, LTD., Real Party in Interest and Respondent.
Sac. 7924.
Supreme Court of California,
In Bank.
Sept. 21, 1972.
As Modified on Denial of Rehearing Nov. 6, 1972.

Page 763

[502 P.2d 1051] [8 Cal.3d 251] John C. McCarthy, and Young, Henrie & McCarthy, Pomona, for plaintiffs appellants.

Evelle J. Younger, Atty. Gen., Louise H. Renne and Nicholas C. Yost, Deputy Attys. Gen., Carlyle W. Hall, Jr., John R. Phillips, [8 Cal.3d 252] Frederic P. Sutherland, Beatrice Challiss Laws, J. Edd Steppe and Sandy English, Los Angeles, as amici curiae on behalf of plaintiffs and appellants.

N. Edward Denton, Dist. Atty., David M. Kennedy, Asst. Dist. Atty., Kronick, Moskovitz, Tiedemann & Girard, Adolph Moskovitz, Robert E. Murphy and Clifford W. Schulz, Sacramento, for defendants and respondents.

Gray, Cary, Ames & Frye, R. Reaves Elledge, Jr., and Browning E. Marean III, San Diego, for real party in interest and respondent.

MOSK, Justice.

This case affords us the first opportunity to construe provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act of 1970 (EQA). (Pub.Resources Code, §§ 21000--21151.) 1 As the express legislative intent forthrightly declares, the EQA was designed to be a milestone in the campaign for 'maintenance of a quality environment for

Page 764

[502 P.2d 1052] the people of this state now and in the future . . ..' (§ 21000, subd. (a).) The specific question presented here is whether a municipal body is required to submit an environmental impact report (see § 21100) pursuant to section 21151 of the code before it issues a conditional use or building permit.

Real party in interest, International Recreation, Ltd. (International) filed an application for a conditional use permit on April 20, 1971, with defendant Mono County Planning Commission (Commission). The application described the proposed use as follows: 'Two multi-story structures housing 64 1, 2, 3, 4 bedroom condominiums plus 120 studio-type condominiums, a proposed restaurant and specialty shops. All for sale. With ample parking and recreational facilities.' The use permit report refers to a parcel of 5.5 acres, approximately 135 feet by 1,775 feet. It appears from the record that some six buildings are eventually contemplated each with a height of from six to eight stories. Thus a long and relatively narrow structure or series of structures in close proximity is proposed.

The Commission approved the use permit on May 6, 1971. Thereupon on May 21, Frederick Schaeffer and Richard Young, both members of the class represented by plaintiff Charles E. Griffin II, along with two other individuals, appealed the Commission's decision to defendant Mono County Board of Supervisors (Board). On June 14, 1971, the Board affirmed the issuance of the use permit.

[8 Cal.3d 253] On July 12 plaintiffs Friends of Mammoth 2 and Griffin filed a petition for a writ of administrative mandamus with the Court of Appeal attacking the validity of the permit. On July 15, the court denied the writ without prejudice to the filing of proceedings in the superior court. On July 19, plaintiffs filed an identical petition with the Mono County Superior Court. The writ was denied and plaintiffs appeal. We stayed the activities of International for which the conditional use permit and subsequent building permit were issued pending our disposition of the matter.


Mono County is situated in eastern California and is bordered on the east by the State of Nevada. The boundary on the west generally follows the crest of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The county is primarily mountainous and open range land, almost all above 5,000 feet. It is California's third smallest county in population with 4,016 people. Although historically a county oriented to the economy of cattle and sheep ranching, nature's bountiful gifts of majestic mountains, lakes, streams, trees and wildlife have produced in the area one of the nation's most spectacularly beautiful and comparatively unspoiled treasures.

Mammoth Lakes, the section of Mono County immediately involved in this action, consists of some 2,100 acres of land surrounded by the Inyo National Forest. Plaintiffs assert that acute water and sewage problems will be created if International is permitted to construct its proposed condominium complex. Additional matters of concern include snow removal, police protection and the diminution of open space in general. Documents filed with defendant Commission prior to its decision indicate that the Commission may have considered in general the effect of the construction on the character and value of surrounding property, traffic, water and sewage facilities, snow removal, and fire and police protection.

The principal legal question that arises is whether the EQA applies to private activities for which a permit or other similar entitlement is required. This issue has been ventilated, not only by the named parties but also by the Attorney General and the Sierra Club as amici curiae. Defendants and International contend that even if their interpretation of the EQA

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[502 P.2d 1053] does not prevail, plaintiffs should be denied relief for other reasons. Plaintiffs likewise assert additional grounds for setting aside the use and building permits. In view of the impact inherent in the initial judicial consideration of the EQA, we turn first to that issue.
8 Cal.3d 254


Though recognition of the problem in and out of government is more pervasive today, concern over violation of our environment is not entirely a contemporary phenomenon. Four decades ago Justice Holmes described a river as 'more than an amenity, it is a treasure. It offers a necessity of life that must be rationed among those who have power over it.' (New Jersey v. New York (1931) 283 U.S. 336, 342, 51 S.Ct. 478, 479, 75 L.Ed. 1104.) Five years ago Justice Douglas spoke for the high court in admonishing the Federal Power Commission that the issue is not 'whether the project will be beneficial to the licensee . . .. The test is whether the project will be in the public interest . . . in preserving reaches of wild rivers and wilderness areas . . . and the protection of wildlife.' (Udall v. Federal Power Commission (1967) 387 U.S. 428, 450, 87 S.Ct. 1712, 1724, 18 L.Ed.2d 869.) More recently, a circuit court discussed statutes attesting 'to the commitment of the government to control, at long last, the destructive engine of material 'progress. " The duty of the judiciary, it held, is to assure that important environment purposes, heralded in legislative halls, are not lost or misdirected in the vast hallways of administrative bureaucracy. (Calvert Cliffs' Coordinating Committee, Inc. v. United States Atomic Energy Comm. (1971) 146 U.S.App.D.C. 33, 35, 449 F.2d 1109, 1111.) The public interest involved in a challenge to administrative action need not be economic. (Environmental Defense Fund, Inc. v. Hardin (1970) 138 U.S.App.D.C. 391, 428 F.2d 1093, 1097.)

The most recent declaration on the ecology ethic was the Supreme Court decision in Sierra Club v. Morton (1972) 405 U.S. 727, 92 S.Ct. 1361, 31 L.Ed.2d 636. Though decided on an issue of standing to maintain the action, majority and dissenting opinions agreed on environmental protection principles. Justice Stewart wrote for the majority: 'Aesthetic and environmental well-being, like economic well-being, are important ingredients of the quality of life in our society, and the fact that particular environmental interests are shared by the many rather than the few does not make them less deserving of legal protection through the judicial process.' (405 U.S. at p. 734, 92 S.Ct. at p. 1366.) In dissenting Justice Blackmun decried rigidity of the law that prevented reaching issues involving 'significant aspects of a wide, growing and disturbing problem, that is, the Nation's and the world's deteriorating environment with its resulting ecological disturbances.' (405 U.S. at p. 755, 92 S.Ct. at p. 1376.)

California's Environmental Quality Act of 1970 requires various state and local governmental entities to submit environmental impact reports before undertaking specified activity. These reports compel state and local agencies to consider the possible adverse consequences to the environment[8 Cal.3d 255] of the proposed activity and to record such impact in writing. In an era of commercial and industrial expansion in which the environment has been repeatedly violated by those who are oblivious to the ecological well-being of society, the significance of this legislative act cannot be understated. As section 21001, subdivision (g), clearly sets forth, the EQA requires 'governmental agencies at all levels to consider qualitative factors as well as economic and technical factors and long-term benefits and costs, in addition to short-time benefits and costs and to consider alternatives to proposed actions affecting the environment.'

Pursuant to section 21100, the environmental impact reports required by the act must set forth the following information:

'(a) The environmental impact of the proposed action.

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[502 P.2d 1054] '(b) Any adverse environmental effects which cannot be avoided if the proposal is implemented.

'(c) Mitigation measures proposed to minimize the impact.

'(d) Alternatives to the proposed action.

'(e) The relationship between local short-term uses of man's environment and the maintenance and enhancement of long-term productivity.

'(f) Any irreversible environmental changes which would be involved in the proposed action should it be implemented.'

Under section 21100, the reports are required of 'state agencies, boards and commissions'; section 21101 requires similar information with regard to federal...

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