State Supreme Court Decision on CEQA and Water

Dear Friends:

RE: Vineyard Area Citizens for Responsible Growth, Inc. v. City of Rancho Cordova and Sunrise Douglas Property Owners Association et al.
Decision by California Supreme Court, 2/1/07 [attached]

This is an excellent decision, and will help us immensely as we look at CEQA reviews of the upcoming General Plans for Sonoma County and Petaluma, no less for other major development projects being proposed. The impacts of these plans and projects on the long-term health and viability of the Russian and Eel Rivers and their fisheries, and our groundwater resources, must be included in depth in the DEIR. The information presented in the current DEIRs is clearly deficient.

The California Supreme Court has ruled that under CEQA, the provision of water for a new development must look at the impacts over the long term, not just the short term, including the impacts on migratory fish:
“We conclude that while the EIR adequately informed decision makers and the public of the County’s plan for near-term provision of water to the development, it failed to do so as to the long-term provision and hence failed to disclose the impacts of providing the necessary supplies in the long term. While the EIR identifies the intended water sources in general terms, it does not clearly and coherently explain, using material properly stated or incorporated in the EIR, how the long-term demand is likely to be met with those sources, the environmental impacts of exploiting those sources, and how those impacts are to be mitigated. On the second issue, we agree with plaintiffs that the Draft EIR must be revised and recirculated for public comment on the newly disclosed potential impact on Cosumnes River fish migration.” [pg 2]

“The preparation and circulation of an EIR is more than a set of technical hurdles for agencies and developers to overcome. The EIR’s function is to ensure that government officials who decide to build or approve a project do so with a full understanding of the environmental consequences and, equally important, that the public is assured those consequences have been taken into account. (Laurel Heights I, supra, 47 Cal.3d at pp. 391-392.) For the EIR to serve these goals it must present information in such a manner that the foreseeable impacts of pursuing the project can actually be understood and weighed, and the public must be given an adequate opportunity to comment on that presentation before the decision to go forward is made. On the important issues of long-term water supply and impacts on migratory fish, the County’s actions in the present case fell short of these standards.” [pg 44]

Please take the time to read the full decision.

Please ensure that preparation of the Draft and Final EIRs for the Petaluma General Plan and the Sonoma County General Plan, as well as for all significant new water demanding developments, will meet the standards specified by the California Supreme Court.

It is clear that CEQA review of a project cannot be limited to the near term impacts of a project. The same principle would seem to apply to other basic parts of the infrastructure and our public trust resources.

Congratulations to Steve Volker and the other supporting attorneys on this victory, including Bill Lockyer for the State of California. The opposing firms included Meyers, Nave, Riback, Silver and Wilson; Remy, Thomas, Moose and Manley; Morrison Foerster and others.

David Keller
Bay Area Director
Friends of the Eel Riverranchocordovaruling.pdf