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Court Upholds EIR’s Analysis of Public Safety and Traffic Impacts, But Finds Parkland Impacts Analysis Inadequate

CEQA requires agencies to support their environmental conclusions with “substantial evidence.”  In City of Hayward v. Board of Trustees of the California State University, the First District Court of Appeal held that the University’s Master Plan EIR for the expansion of its East Bay campus largely complied with CEQA, except that the University failed to rely on substantial evidence to support its conclusion that the project would have a less than significant environmental impact on parkland resources.  The University complied with CEQA’s requirements in its analysis of impacts on fire services, traffic and parking.  

The decision is instructive on several issues, including a project sponsor’s responsibilities to mitigate impacts to the provision of emergency services, tiering of environmental documents, the deferral of environmental analysis in an EIR, and the adequacy of evidence to support an EIR’s conclusions.  The Court held that the City, not the University, is ultimately responsible for the provision of emergency services.  CEQA requires that EIRs need only analyze and mitigate the environmental impacts of expanding services.  The Court further held that the University properly tiered its environmental analysis and complied with CEQA in deferring some analysis and mitigation.  However, the Court found the EIR’s analysis of impacts on parkland resources was not supported by substantial evidence in the record. 

The project at issue is a Master Plan for the expansion of California State University, East Bay, (“University”) that would provide for an increase from 12,586 to 18,000 full-time students.  In September 2009, the Board of Trustees approved the Master Plan and certified an EIR.  The City of Hayward and the Hayward Planning Association filed lawsuits alleging various violations of CEQA.  The trial court found CEQA violations and issued a writ of mandate invalidating the EIR.  The Court of Appeal affirmed issuance of the writ, but on much narrower grounds than the trial court. 

The Court provided helpful guidance in determining a project sponsor’s duty to mitigate impacts to the provision of emergency services.  The EIR concluded that the project would result in the need for 11 additional firefighters and new fire station facilities.  The EIR’s analysis was limited to the environmental impacts resulting from expanded fire protection services.  The EIR did not include mitigation requiring the University to provide the additional services.  The Court held CEQA does not shift the financial responsibility of providing adequate fire and emergency response services to a project sponsor.  Rather, the provision of emergency services remains the responsibility of the City.  The Court held that the EIR adequately analyzed the project’s impact on response times and public safety, and that the evidence in the record was adequate to support the EIR’s conclusion that the additional fire facilities will not have a significant environmental impact.

The Court then reviewed the EIR’s treatment of traffic impacts from new housing developments contemplated in the Master Plan.  Three potential housing sites were analyzed in the EIR.  However, the University had not yet decided which one would be utilized.  The Court held that the EIR’s analysis was adequate for the purposes of a program level EIR and that the agency properly deferred site-specific CEQA analysis until the site is selected and a project level EIR is prepared. 

The EIR found certain traffic and parking impacts to be significant and unavoidable, despite mitigation.  The EIR includes the Master Plan’s “Transportation Demand Management Program” (“TDM”) as a traffic and parking mitigation measure.  The TDM includes various performance goals to reduce the number of single driver trips to the campus and discusses strategies to meet the performance goals.  Petitioners challenged the TDM mitigation measure as an improper deferral of mitigation.  The Court held that while CEQA generally disfavors the deferral of mitigation measures, the University complied with CEQA in this instance by adopting performance standards and strategies to meet those standards. 

The Court upheld the issuance of the writ of mandate by finding that the University failed to rely on substantial evidence when it concluded that the project would not have significant impacts on parkland resources.  The University asserted that the campus provided adequate park and recreation facilities to meet the needs of its students and staff.  However, it failed to establish that students and staff would not still use nearby off-campus parks.  The Court held it was not sufficient for the University to conclude that the project would have less than significant impacts on the entire East Bay Regional Parks District without analyzing specific impacts to the parks in the immediate vicinity of the campus.