Sw. Reg'l Council of Carpenters v. City of L. A.

Decision Date07 March 2022
Docket NumberB301374
Citation76 Cal.App.5th 1154,291 Cal.Rptr.3d 863
Parties SOUTHWEST REGIONAL COUNCIL OF CARPENTERS et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents, v. CITY OF LOS ANGELES et al., Defendants and Appellants; The Icon at Panorama, LLC, Real Party in Interest and Appellant.
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals

Michael N. Feuer, Los Angeles City Attorney, Leonard P. Aslanian, Assistant City Attorney, Terry Kaufmann Macias and Kathryn C. Phelan, Deputy City Attorneys; Thomas Law Group, Tina A. Thomas, Amy R. Higuera, and Christopher J. Butcher for Appellants, City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles City Council, and Department of City Planning.

Ambruster Goldsmith & Delvac LLP, Damon P. Mamalakis, Los Angeles, for Real Party in Interest and Appellant, The Icon at Panorama, LLC.

Lozeau Drury, Richard T. Drury, Brian B. Flynn and Rebecca L. Davis, Oakland, for Plaintiffs and Respondents, Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters and Laborers’ International Union of North America, Local 300.

Rob Bonta, Attorney General of California, Edward Ochoa, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Sarah E. Morrison, Supervising Deputy Attorney General, Scott J. Lichtig, Lani M. Maher, Deputy Attorneys General for Amicus Curiae Attorney General of California.

Cox, Castle & Nicholson, Michael H. Zischke and Amy F. Foo, San Francisco, for Amicus Curiae California Building Industry Association, California Business Properties Association, Building Industry Association of the Bay Area.

Law Offices of Ryan Gordon and Ryan Gordon for Amicus Curiae Saul Mejia.

Remy, Moose, Manley, Whitman F. Manley and Nathan O. George, Sacramento, for Amicus Curiae League of California Cities and California State Association of Counties.

California Renter's Legal Advocacy and Education Fund, Dylan Casey as Amicus Curiae.

David Petit for Amicus Curiae Natural Resources Defense Council, Planning and Conservation League and Coalition for Clean Air.

CURREY, J.

The Icon at Panorama, LLC (Icon) proposed a mixed-use commercial and residential development in the Panorama City neighborhood of Los Angeles, to be called The Icon at Panorama. The City of Los Angeles (City) certified a final environmental impact report (FEIR) and approved the project. Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters and Laborers’ International Union of North America, Local 300 (collectively, Petitioners), challenged the approval, principally arguing the City approved a project not described in the draft or final environmental impact reports. The trial court granted the unions’ writ petition, finding the City's draft environmental impact report (DEIR) and FEIR lacked an accurate, stable, and finite project description as required by cases interpreting the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). (See, e.g., County of Inyo v. City of Los Angeles (1977) 71 Cal.App.3d 185, 193, 139 Cal.Rptr. 396 ( Inyo ); Washoe Meadows Community v. Department of Parks and Recreation (2017) 17 Cal.App.5th 277, 288, 225 Cal.Rptr.3d 238 ( Washoe Meadows ).) The trial court also concluded that the FEIR failed to adequately address a comment on local sewer capacity. It ordered the City to prepare and circulate a new or supplemental Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

Because we agree with the City and Icon that the City's EIRs contained a sufficiently accurate, stable and finite project description, and that the City's response to the comment regarding local sewer capacity was adequate given the nature of the proposed development, we reverse.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
1. DEIR, April 6, 2017.

The developer, Icon, conceived of what the parties refer to as the Project as a mixed-use development on an approximately nine-acre site in Panorama City. The site is bounded on three sides by city streets: Roscoe Boulevard, Tobias Avenue, and Cedros Avenue.

Three commercial structures (a former Montgomery Ward, a restaurant, and an automotive repair shop, all vacant since 2003), occupy the Project site. The site is surrounded by a mix of residential, retail, office, and restaurant development, and is in a "Transit Priority Area."

On April 6, 2017, the City, as lead agency,1 released the DEIR for public review and comment.2 As described in the DEIR, Icon proposed to demolish the existing structures and build seven buildings, consisting of 422 residences (totaling 387,000 square feet), an additional 200,000 square feet of commercial space, including a 1,200-seat theater complex, a grocery store, and associated parking for 1,690 vehicles in a multi-story parking structure. The commercial space would occupy five one- and two-story buildings with a six-level parking garage, and the residential units would occupy two seven-story buildings with two stories of above-ground parking. The Project would not include any affordable housing units.

The DEIR stated the Project was designed to provide for the efficient and functional development of the underutilized site, by allowing for regional commercial development through the replacement of vacant buildings and surface parking lots with new housing and commercial uses to meet community and regional demands. The Project would create new housing to meet the needs of existing residents and projected population growth within the Mission Hills/Panorama City/North Hills Community Plan area. In addition, the Project would eliminate blight and enhance the visual quality of Panorama City by providing a new and attractive development. The DEIR warned, however, that the Project would result in significant unavoidable environmental impacts, including emissions of volatile organic compounds and nitrous oxides resulting from increased traffic.

The DEIR listed four smaller alternatives to the Project:

(1) The required "No Project" alternative of no development whatsoever.

(2) The "Reduced Project" alternative consisting of 283 residential units (257,300 square feet), 134,000 square feet of commercial space, and 1,132 parking spaces. The residential units would be in two buildings up to five stories high, and the commercial uses would be in three separate one- and two-story buildings. According to the DEIR: "The design and configuration of this alternative would be similar to the Project. The main difference would be the total square footage and building height, resulting in a mixed use development with approximately 67 percent of the mass of the [P]roject."

(3) The "All Commercial Project" alternative containing no residential units and consisting of 583,000 square feet of floor area, with 2,500 parking spaces in a nine-story parking structure. Per the DEIR, "[t]he proposed shopping center would feature a mix of retail land uses that would complement the nearby Panorama Mall shopping center to the east." The All Commercial Project would consist of multiple buildings of up to three stories with height limits of 60 feet.

(4) The "By-Right Project" alternative would be developed without the zoning change required for the Project and would include 350 residential units totaling 259,600 square feet, with approximately 160,000 square feet of commercial space, and 1,350 parking spaces. The DEIR noted: "To conform to the existing zoning requirements, the uses within the By-Right Project Alternative would be segregated. The residential units would be constructed within an L-shaped building up at the northeastern portion of the Project Site. The seven-story residential building would front Tobias Avenue and would wrap around a two-story commercial building. Two additional smaller commercial buildings (one and two stories) would front Roscoe Boulevard."

Public comment on the DEIR highlighted two principal issues: hazardous soil contamination and traffic impact. Petitioners’ expert soil consultant (Soil Water Air Protection Enterprise (SWAPE)) opined the DEIR did not identify health risks to construction workers and failed to consider harm to the groundwater from soil contamination resulting from past site uses as an automotive repair facility. Petitioners’ traffic expert Daniel T. Smith opined that traffic service at the nearby intersection of Roscoe and Woodman would be reduced to an F level of service (due to increased traffic flow). Commenters asserted the DEIR failed to consider the proposed expansion of the adjacent Panorama Mall, which would add 266,000 square feet of commercial space next to the Project. In addition, the Los Angeles’ Sanitation Department (LASAN) commented that wastewater would be handled by the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant, which had sufficient capacity for the project. Detailed gauging, however, would be needed at the time of permitting to identify the local sewer connection point. If immediately adjacent sewer lines had insufficient capacity to convey anticipated wastewater, the developer would be required to pay for building sewer lines to a point in the sewer system with sufficient capacity.

Petitioners requested that the City adopt an alternative with reduced traffic impact, and suggested mitigation measures for emissions and traffic impacts.

2. Revised DEIR (RDEIR), August 31, 2017.

The City revised the DEIR after considering the comments, and on August 31, 2017, released the RDEIR for public review and comment. The RDEIR's primary focus was traffic. It noted the Project would affect seven intersections, but with roadway improvements and new signals, impacts could be reduced at one of the seven intersections. The RDEIR's description of the Project and alternatives was identical to the DEIR; it did not add any new alternatives to the project.

Again, Petitioners and others submitted written commentary, including Smith's opinion that the RDEIR underestimated traffic impacts and vehicle trips per day, and that the Project's significant and unavoidable impact would be more severe than the RDEIR disclosed. Smith recommended adoption of Alternative 2. SWAPE opined that due to this underestimation of traffic, air pollution was similarly understated in the...

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