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County of Sacramento v. Superior Court of Sacramento County

December 29, 2009

COUNTY OF SACRAMENTO ET AL., PETITIONERS,
v.
THE SUPERIOR COURT OF SACRAMENTO COUNTY, RESPONDENT;
FORSTER-GILL, INC., REAL PARTY IN INTEREST.



ORIGINAL PROCEEDINGS: Petition for writ of mandate. Granted. (Super. Ct. No. 34200800013077CUWMGDS).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robie, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

In this mandamus proceeding, we are called on to determine whether a request for a hearing in an action alleging noncompliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA; Pub. Resources Code,*fn1 § 21000 et seq.) must be made in a writing filed with the court to avoid dismissal under section 21167.4, subdivision (a) for failure to "request a hearing" within 90 days of the filing of the petition. Construing section 21167.4 as a whole, as we must, we conclude the answer to that question is "yes."

Because the petitioner here failed to file a written hearing request within the time allowed, its CEQA claims must be dismissed. Accordingly, we will order that a writ of mandate issue directing the trial court to vacate its denial of the motion to dismiss at issue here and enter a new order granting that motion.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On June 12, 2008, Forster-Gill, Inc., filed a petition for writ of mandate and complaint for quiet title and other relief in the Sacramento County Superior Court relating to the County of Sacramento's approval of a project known as "The Landing" and the final environmental impact report for the project. The first cause of action alleged violations of the county's general plan and planning laws. The second cause of action alleged violations of CEQA. The third cause of action was for quiet title, the fourth for related declaratory relief, and the fifth was a taxpayer suit. The petition/complaint named the county as respondent and numerous other parties as defendants/real parties in interest. Among those other parties were Syufy Enterprises, LLC; Bradshaw Landing, LLC; and Sywest Development, LLC. For convenience, we will refer to those three parties jointly as Syufy.

Having filed the petition and complaint on June 12, 2008, Forster- Gill had until September 10 to request a hearing on its CEQA claims. (See § 21167.4, subd. (a).)

Forster-Gill served the county with the petition and complaint on or about June 20. This gave the county until about August 19 to prepare and certify the administrative record. (See § 21167.6, subd. (b)(1).)

In September, with the administrative record not yet prepared, county counsel drafted a stipulation to give the county until October 20 to complete the record. (See § 21167.6, subd. (c).) County counsel signed the stipulation on September 9; Syufy's counsel signed it September 10; and Forster-Gill's counsel signed it September 11.

In October, Forster-Gill's counsel prepared a second stipulation to give the county until November 7 to complete the administrative record. This stipulation noted that Forster-Gill had "previously reserved a court date of January 9, 2009" on the writ petition. The stipulation provided for that court date to be moved to March 6 instead. County counsel and Syufy's counsel signed the second stipulation on October 17. It was made a court order on October 27.

On November 24, 2008, Forster-Gill served Syufy and the county with notice of the March 6 hearing on the writ petition.

The administrative record was finally certified on January 6, 2009, and lodged with the court on January 8.

On or about February 9, 2009, another one of the defendants/real parties in interest (Bradshaw Industrial Park) filed a cross-complaint relating to Forster-Gill's quiet title and declaratory relief causes of action.

On March 6, a status conference was held in the case, but then dropped and rescheduled for March 20 due to the absence of Forster- Gill's attorney. In the meantime, the court ordered counsel to meet and confer regarding the order of trial ...


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