San Diego Navy Broadway Complex Coal. v. Cal. Coastal Comm'n

Decision Date27 September 2019
Docket NumberD072568
Citation253 Cal.Rptr.3d 314,40 Cal.App.5th 563
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
Parties SAN DIEGO NAVY BROADWAY COMPLEX COALITION, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION et al., Defendants and Appellants; City of San Diego, Interveners and Appellants.

Briggs Law Corporation, Cory Jay Briggs and Anthony N. Kim, San Diego, for Plaintiff and Appellant San Diego Navy Broadway Complex Coalition.

Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Daniel A. Olivas, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Jamee Jordan Patterson, Supervising Deputy Attorney General, for Defendant and Cross-Appellant California Coastal Commission.

Hogan Law, Michael M. Hogan, San Diego, for Defendant and Cross-Appellant San Diego Unified Port District.

San Diego City Attorney's Office, Mara W. Elliott, City Attorney, Glenn T. Spitzer and Michael Travis Phelps, Deputy City Attorneys, for Intervener and Cross-Appellant City of San Diego.

Latham & Watkins, Christopher W. Garrett, Taiga Takahashi and Daniel Brunton, San Diego, for Intervener and Cross-Appellant One Park Boulevard, LLC.

DATO, J.

INTRODUCTION

This appeal involves the proposed expansion of the San Diego Convention Center (Convention Center) by the City of San Diego and of the adjacent Hilton San Diego Bayfront hotel by One Park Boulevard, LLC (One Park, and collectively, the Project). The San Diego Unified Port District (Port) approved a port master plan amendment authorizing the Project (Amendment). The California Coastal Commission (Commission) certified the Amendment as consistent with the California Coastal Act ( Pub. Resources Code, § 30000 et seq. ),1 which also required certain findings under the California Environment Quality Act (CEQA) (§ 21000 et seq.).

San Diego Navy Broadway Complex Coalition (Navy Broadway) filed a petition for writ of administrative mandamus against the Commission and the Port to challenge the certification, later adding the City and One Park (collectively, Defendants).2 Defendants asserted a statute of limitations defense, which the trial court rejected after a bench trial. The court then held a hearing on the merits, denied Navy Broadway's petition, and entered judgment for Defendants.

Navy Broadway appealed from the judgment, and Defendants filed a cross-appeal challenging the statute of limitations ruling. We conclude the trial court erred in rejecting Defendants' statute of limitations defense, the action should have been dismissed, and the judgment for Defendants should be affirmed. We also elect to address Navy Broadway's appeal and further conclude we could affirm based on the merits of its petition as well.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
A. Background Facts

The Convention Center is situated in downtown San Diego next to San Diego Bay. Following a Phase II expansion, the Convention Center occupied a contiguous 13-acre site, bounded by Harbor Drive (next to the Gaslamp Quarter district), Park Boulevard, and Convention Way on the southwest (bay) side. The Hilton is across Park Boulevard, along the bay.

The Port began considering a Phase III expansion of the Convention Center and a related expansion of nearby hotel facilities. In May 2012, the Port circulated the Amendment and a Draft Environmental Impact Report (Draft EIR) for public review and comment. In September 2012, the Port adopted resolutions certifying the Final Environmental Impact Report (Final EIR), approving the Amendment, and directing filing with the Commission for certification. 3

Port staff communicated with Commission staff and revised the Amendment based on their input. In October 2013, the Commission held a hearing on the Amendment and, after the Port agreed to additional changes, unanimously certified it as consistent with the Coastal Act. In February 2014, the Commission adopted revised findings supporting its October 2013 approval. The Port adopted the certified Amendment, and the Commission accepted the Port's adoption in June 2015.

As certified by the Commission, the Amendment provided for issuance of coastal development permits for the Convention Center and hotel expansions.

The Convention Center expansion would be approximately 740,000 square feet, with around 15,000 square feet of visitor-serving uses along the southwestern façade.4 Existing truck operations on that side would be relocated. A pedestrian accessway would be constructed inland of Convention Way, which itself would be shifted next to the Embarcadero Promenade along the waterfront. An approximately five-acre rooftop park would be constructed, with a corresponding substantial reduction in ground level park areas. The Hilton would also be expanded, adding a second tower and up to 500 new rooms. Other changes included relocation of a water transit center; construction of a 1,900 square foot plaza; and opening an existing pier at the foot of Park Boulevard for recreational use. An amended public access program would incorporate a plan for public realm design principles and programming and, among other things, provide for improved wayfinding, pedestrian amenities, and reports on rooftop utilization.

B. Procedural History

In November 2013, Navy Broadway filed its petition for administrative mandamus against the Commission, the Port District, and Doe defendants. It subsequently filed the operative first amended petition, alleging the Commission's approval of the Amendment violated the Coastal Act by, inter alia, certifying it as consistent with the Coastal Act and CEQA. In 2014, Navy Broadway filed another petition, contesting the Commission's adoption of revised findings, which was consolidated with the first lawsuit. Navy Broadway later filed a third action after the Commission accepted the Port's approval of the certified Amendment, but this final petition was not consolidated with the first two.

In 2015, the City and One Park intervened, and Navy Broadway amended its petition to add them as defendants. Defendants contended the City and One Park were indispensable parties and Navy Broadway had failed to timely sue them. The trial court agreed they were indispensable, but found after a bench trial that Navy Broadway had been genuinely ignorant of them. Accordingly, it determined that the amendment related back, and that equitable tolling also applied.

In December 2016, the trial court held a hearing on the merits, after which it issued a statement of intended decision denying Navy Broadway's petition.

The court decided that (i) the Amendment was not improperly modified after submission; (ii) the Commission did not err in finding the Convention Center expansion was not an appealable development under the Coastal Act; (iii) substantial evidence supported the Commission's findings under the Coastal Act; and (iv) the Commission did not err in making its CEQA findings. It overruled Navy Broadway's objections, adopted the statement of decision, and entered judgment for Defendants. After unsuccessful motions for new trial and to vacate the judgment, Navy Broadway appealed. Defendants cross-appealed based on the statute of limitations ruling.

DISCUSSION
A. Relevant Statutes and Standard of Review
1. The Coastal Act

The Coastal Act is a " "comprehensive scheme to govern land use planning for the entire coastal zone of California." " ( San Diego Unified Port District v. California Coastal Commission (2018) 27 Cal.App.5th 1111, 1129, 238 Cal.Rptr.3d 671 (SDUPD ).) "Chapter 3 of the Act sets out coastal resources planning and management policies," which constitute standards for proposed development subject to the Coastal Act. (Id. at p. 1130, 238 Cal.Rptr.3d 671, citing § 30200.) Chapter 8 "governs California ports and port district master plans." ( Id. at p. 1132, 238 Cal.Rptr.3d 671, citing §§ 30700, 30711.) The Commission has " ‘primary responsibility for implementation’ of the [Coastal] Act's provisions," and the " ‘ultimate authority to ensure that coastal development conforms to the policies embodied in the ... Coastal Act.’ " (SDUPD , at p. 1130, 238 Cal.Rptr.3d 671.)

As we later discuss in more detail, the Coastal Act requires that the Port "prepare and adopt a port master plan with public participation and submit it for certification by the Commission." (SDUPD , supra , 27 Cal.App.5th at p. 1132, 238 Cal.Rptr.3d 671.) After a public hearing, the Commission must certify the plan if it conforms with Chapter 8 and, where the plan provides for an appealable development, Chapter 3. (§ 30714, subds. (a) and (b).) Port master plan amendments are processed in the same manner. (§ 30716, subd. (a).)

2. CEQA

In approving a port master plan or port master plan amendment, the Commission "shall make any findings required pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act." ( Cal. Code Regs., tit. 14, § 13632, subd. (d).)5 "CEQA is a comprehensive scheme designed to provide long-term protection to the environment." ( Mountain Lion Foundation v. Fish & Game Com. (1997) 16 Cal.4th 105, 112, 65 Cal.Rptr.2d 580, 939 P.2d 1280 ; see generally Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq. [CEQA].) Agencies are required to make certain findings, including regarding mitigation, in deciding whether to approve projects. (See Cherry Valley Pass Acres & Neighbors v. City of Beaumont (2010) 190 Cal.App.4th 316, 348, 118 Cal.Rptr.3d 182 (Cherry Valley ); Pub. Resources Code, § 21081.)

3. Standard of Review

" Section 1094.5 of the Code of Civil Procedure governs judicial review by administrative mandate of any final decision or order rendered by an administrative agency." ( Wences v. City of Los Angeles (2009) 177 Cal.App.4th 305, 313, 99 Cal.Rptr.3d 199.) Review is for, among other things, whether "there was any prejudicial abuse of discretion." ( Code Civ. Proc., § 1094.5, subd. (b).) An abuse of discretion is established if Commission "has not proceeded in a manner required by law, the ... decision is not supported by the findings, or the findings are not supported by the evidence." (Ibid. )

"Our scope of review is...

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