Rialto Citizens for Responsible Growth v. City of Rialto

Decision Date12 December 2012
Docket NumberNo. E052253.,E052253.
Citation146 Cal.Rptr.3d 12,208 Cal.App.4th 899
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesRIALTO CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBLE GROWTH, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. CITY OF RIALTO et al., Defendants and Appellants; Wal–Mart Real Estate Business Trust et al., Real Parties in Interest and Appellants.

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Drinker Biddle & Reath, Henry Shields, Jr. and Paul M. Gelb, Los Angeles, for Real Parties in Interest and Appellants, Wal–Mart Real Estate Business Trust, Wal–Mart Real Estate Business Trust, Inc., and Wal–Mart Real Estate Trust, Inc.

Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth, Allison E. Burns, Newport Beach, Joseph M. Adams, and Reed T.C. Glyer, Newport Beach, for Defendants and Appellants City of Rialto and Redevelopment Agency of the City of Rialto.

Briggs Law Corporation, Cory J. Briggs and Mekaela M. Gladden, San Diego, for Plaintiff and Respondent Rialto Citizens for Responsible Growth.

OPINION

KING, J.

I. INTRODUCTION

Defendant, City of Rialto (the City), approved a 230,000–square–foot commercial retail center to be anchored by a 24–hour Wal–Mart “Supercenter” (the project). Plaintiff, Rialto Citizens for Responsible Growth (Rialto Citizens), petitioned the trial court for a writ of administrative mandate invalidating several project approvals, including the City's resolution certifying the final environmental impact report (the EIR) for the project, several resolutions amending the City's general plan and the Gateway Specific Plan governing the project site, and an ordinance approving a development agreement for the project.

The trial court entered judgment in favor of Rialto Citizens and issued a peremptory writ invalidating the challenged resolutions and ordinance. Real parties in interest, Wal–Mart Real Estate Business Trust, Wal–Mart Real Estate Business Trust, Inc., and Wal–Mart Real Estate Trust, Inc. (collectively Wal–Mart), appeal. The City and its redevelopment agency, another named defendant, join Wal–Mart's appeal. Based on our de novo review of the City's actions certifying the EIR and approving the project, we find no prejudicial abuse of discretion on the part of the City. (Code Civ. Proc., § 1094.5.) Accordingly, we reverse the judgment in its entirety.

II. SUMMARY OF CLAIMS AND CONCLUSIONS

As a preliminary matter, Wal–Mart claims for the first time on appeal that Rialto Citizens lacks standing to challenge the project approvals because neither it nor any of its members are beneficially interested in the issuance of the judgment or writ. Based on the record before us, we conclude that Rialto Citizens has public interest standing. It is therefore unnecessary to determine whether Rialto Citizens or any of its members have a beneficial interest in the issuance of judgment or the writ.

In a separate section of this opinion, we address whether the City violated the Planning and Zoning Law (Gov.Code, § 65000 et seq.) 1 in approving the project. The trial court set aside the City's resolutions approving the general and specific plan amendments and the ordinance approving the development agreement on the ground the City violated the Planning and Zoning Law in two respects. First, the court concluded that the notice of the public hearing on the project before the City Council was defective because it did not include the planning commission's earlier recommendations that the City Council approve the plan amendments and the development agreement. ( §§ 65033, 65094.) The court also ruled that the City erroneously adopted the ordinance approving the development agreement without expressly finding that the provisions of the agreement were consistent with the general and specific plans governing the project site, as the Planning and Zoning Law also requires. ( § 65867.5, subd. (b).)

On independent review of these legal questions, we agree with the trial court that the notice of hearing was defective because it did not include the planning commission's recommendations. We also agree that the City erroneously adopted the ordinance approving the development agreement without finding that the provisions of the agreement were consistent with the general and specific plans. Importantly, however, Rialto Citizens made no attempt to show and the trial court did not find that either the defective notice of hearing or the omitted factual finding resulted in prejudice, substantial injury, and that a different result was probable absent these errors or omissions. (§ 65010, subd. (b).) In the absence of these factual findings by the trial court, the resolutions approving the plan amendments and the ordinance approving the development agreement were erroneously invalidated as a matter of law.

In the final section of this opinion, we address whether the City violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.) in approving the project, specifically in certifying the EIR and in rejecting a “reduced density alternative” as infeasible. The trial court ruled that the EIR was inadequate and therefore erroneously certified because: (1) its project description did not identify the development agreement as an approval required to implement the project; (2) it inadequately analyzed the project's cumulative impacts on air quality, traffic, and on greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change; and (3) it improperly deferred mitigation measures to reduce the project's potential impacts on five special status plant species and three special status wildlife species, namely, the San Bernardino and Stephens' kangaroo rats, and the burrowing owl. The court also concluded that insufficient evidence supported the city council's factual finding, at the project approval stage, that the reduced density alternative to the project was infeasible.

We agree with the trial court that the project description was inadequate because it did not identify the development agreement as an approval required to implement the project. Importantly, however, this omission did not preclude or undermine informed decisionmaking on the project as a whole or the development agreement, because the ordinance approving the development agreement was duly noticed and considered, along with other project approvals, at the public hearing on the project before the City Council.

We also conclude, contrary to the trial court's rulings, that the EIR adequately analyzed the project's cumulative impacts on air quality, traffic, and on greenhouse gas emissions and global climate change, and did not improperly defer mitigation of potential impacts on any of the special status plant or wildlife species. Lastly, we conclude that substantial evidence supports the City's finding, at the project approval stage, that the reduced density alternative was infeasible.

Thus we find no prejudicial violations of either the Planning and Zoning Law or CEQA in the City's approval of the project.2

III. BACKGROUND
A. The Project

As approved on July 15, 2008, the project consists of an approximate 230,000–square–foot commercial retail center, anchored by a 24–hour Wal–Mart Supercenter with 197,639–square–feet of retail floor space. The Wal–Mart Supercenter would sell general merchandise, groceries, and liquor. It would also include a pharmacy with a “two-lane drive-thru,” a vision and hearing care center, food service center, photographic studio and photographic finishing center, banking center, garden center, tire and lube facilities, and outdoor sales facilities.

In addition to the Wal–Mart Supercenter, the project also includes four commercial outparcels, a gas station with 16 fueling pumps, and a detention/retention basin for stormwater. The project will have a total of 1,143 parking spaces, including 880 on the Wal–Mart Supercenter parcel, and is expected to generate 17,317 additional daily vehicle trips. The project is located on 25.18 acres of vacant land, bounded by San Bernardino Avenue to the north, industrial uses and additional vacant land to the south, Riverside Avenue to the east, and Willow Avenue to the west.

B. The EIR and Project Approvals

A draft EIR for the project was issued in May 2007 and circulated between May 18, 2007 and July 2, 2007. On July 15, 2008, following public hearings on the project before the planning commission and the City Council, the City Council adopted resolution No. 5612 certifying the final EIR, dated June 2008, and adopting factual findings and a statement of overriding considerations. The final EIR concluded that the project would have significant impacts on traffic, noise, and air quality despite mitigation measures to reduce these impacts.

Also on July 15, 2008, and as part of the project approvals, the City Council adopted resolution No. 5613 amending the City's general plan; resolution Nos. 5614 and 5615 amending the Gateway Specific Plan; and ordinance No. 1424 approving the development agreement between the City and Wal–Mart Real Estate Business Trust, Inc. The general and specific plan amendments changed the permitted land use on the project site from office to general commercial, and from office park to retail commercial, respectively.

IV. ANALYSIS/PUBLIC INTEREST STANDING

We first address Wal–Mart's claim that Rialto Citizens lacks standing to bring the present writ petition. Lack of standing is a jurisdictional defect that may be raised at any time, including, as it is here, for the first time on appeal. ( Qualified Patients Assn. v. City of Anaheim (2010) 187 Cal.App.4th 734, 751, 115 Cal.Rptr.3d 89.)

As we explain, Rialto Citizens has standing under the “public interest exception” to the general rule that a party must be beneficially interested in the issuance of a writ in order to petition for the writ. ( Waste Management of Alameda County, Inc. v. County of Alameda (2000) 79 Cal.App.4th 1223, 1232–1233, 94 Cal.Rptr.2d 740( Waste Management ), disapproved on other grounds in Save the...

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