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Parks Legal Defense Fund et al v. the City of Huntington Beach et al

December 13, 2010


Appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court of Orange County, David C. Velasquez, Judge. Affirmed in part, reversed in part. (Super. Ct. No. 30-2008-00051261)

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

Parks Legal Defense Fund v. The City of Huntington Beach



California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.


Parks Legal Defense Fund and a number of individuals (collectively Parks) filed a petition for a writ of mandate (petition) seeking injunctive and declaratory relief challenging the City of Huntington Beach's (the City) decision to build a senior center on open land in Central Park. The petition contained four causes of action. As to the second cause of action, the superior court denied petitioner's request to require the voters to approve the project a second time, as time-barred. The court granted Parks' request for relief on the remaining causes of action. Parks and the City each appeal from the part(s) of the judgment adverse to their position.



In June 2005, the City hired an architectural firm to study the feasibility of constructing and operating a new senior center based upon the growth of the City's senior population. The City anticipated a 64 percent increase in the senior population to over 50,000 by 2010. The March 2006 feasibility study concluded a building in excess of 45,000 square feet would be required to meet the needs of the senior community. The preferred site for the senior center is in the City's Central Park.

Before the City may construct in a city park any building in excess of 3,000 square feet or at a cost of more than $100,000, the City Charter requires an "affirmative vote of at least a majority of the electors voting on such proposition at a general or special election at which such proposition is submitted." (H.B. Charter, § 612(b).) On July 17, 2006, the City ordered Measure T placed on the ballot. The ballot measure read: "Shall a centrally located senior center building, not to exceed 47,000 square feet, be placed on a maximum of five acres of an undeveloped 14-acre parcel in the 356-acre Huntington Beach Central Park, generally located west of the intersection of Goldenwest Street and Talbert Avenue, between the disc golf course and Shipley Nature Center, following City Council approval of all entitlements and environmental review?" (Italics omitted.) The Huntington Beach voters passed the measure on November 7, 2006. The City subsequently began its environmental impact study.

Earlier that year, on October 16, 2006, the City entered into an agreement with the developer of the Pacific City Project, Makalon Atlanta Huntington Beach, LLC. (developer), whereby the developer would construct the proposed senior center with in-lieu fees assessed pursuant to the Quimby Act. (Gov. Code, § 66477 et seq.) Under the Quimby Act, a city may require a developer to dedicate an amount of land or pay fees in-lieu thereof for park or recreational purposes as a condition to the approval of a tentative map or parcel map. (Gov. Code, § 66477, subd. (a).) The Pacific City Project involved the proposed construction of a 165 room boutique hotel, 163,000 square feet of retail stores, 12,000 square feet of restaurants, a 2.0 acre open space/park, and 516 condominium units in the "Main-pier sub-area of the Huntington Beach Redevelopment Project" adjacent to Pacific Coast Highway. The proposed senior center location is a straight-line distance of 2.95 miles from the northwest corner of the Pacific City Project.

On February 20, 2007, the City contracted EIP Associates/PBS&J to prepare an environmental impact report (EIR) for the new senior center on a five-acre site within the 356-acre Huntington Central Park. The City gave notice on September 17, 2007, that a draft EIR had been prepared for an approximately 45,000 square feet senior center on undeveloped land within Central Park and of the public comment period. The location was zoned as a low intensity recreation area, which permitted "barbeque and picnic amendities, a restroom, tot-lot, open turf area, and parking uses."

A number of individuals voiced their opposition to the project and EIR. Opposition grounds included the failure to consider alternative sites and that the proposed in-lieu funding violated the Quimby Act.

The City's planning commission certified the final EIR and approved a conditional use permit (CUP) on December 11, 2007. The final EIR consisted of the draft EIR with text changes and responses to comments. The mayor appealed the decision. On February 4, 2008, after a public hearing on the appeal, the city council voted to approve the resolution certifying the final EIR and approved the CUP for the senior center.

Parks filed a petition on March 4, 2008. The petition alleged the City's certification of the EIR violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.),*fn1 inter alia, in that it failed to consider "a reasonable range of alternatives" including possible school sites that became available after the draft EIR was prepared, but before certification of the final EIR.

The second cause of action alleged the City violated CEQA and City Charter section 612 by purporting to approve the project without voter approval as required by the City Charter. The petition alleged the voters' action in approving Measure T in 2006 was not final approval. The third cause of action alleged the City violated its general plan and failed to modify the general plan or its zoning ordinance to accommodate the proposed senior center. The fourth cause of action sought declaratory relief and alleged the City's intended use of park in-lieu fees to fund construction of the proposed senior center violated the Quimby Act.

The superior court bifurcated the trial on the petition. On February 10, 2009, the court held the second cause of action was time-barred under section 21167, subdivision (a) and Government Code section 65009, subdivision (c)(1). It found that in certifying the EIR the City abused its discretion by failing to proceed in the manner provided by law and the City's findings regarding the lack of feasible alternative sites lacked substantial evidence. The court also found the EIR failed to discuss the consequences to the City of open space park land and the loss of funds to replace the land because the City planned to divert the in-lieu funds to finance the senior center rather than replenish the lost open space. The court also found the CUP was issued in violation of the City's general plan. Lastly, the court found that use of in-lieu funds from the Pacific City project to finance the senior citizen center violated the Quimby Act because (1) the funds were not intended to be used to provide for park and open space land, and (2) using the entire in-lieu fee to pay for 100 percent of the cost of building the senior citizen center bore no reasonable relationship to the degree to which the future inhabitants of the Pacific City project would use the center. The court found that in all other respects, the City did not abuse its discretion in certifying the EIR.

The court directed the City to set aside and vacate the EIR for the proposed senior center in Central Park, all actions of the city council on Feburary 4, 2008 regarding the proposed senior center, and the issuance of the CUP. The court further found the senior center may not be funded by the in-lieu fees without violating the Quimby Act and the City's enabling ordinance, Huntington Beach Municipal Code section 254.08.



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