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California Oak Foundation v. County of Tehama et al

May 25, 2012


(Super. Ct. No. CI58258)

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

California Oak Foundation v. County of Tehama CA3


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 This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

In this action under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code, § 21050 et seq.), plaintiff and appellant California Oak Foundation (COF) appeals from the trial court's orders (1) denying COF's request for attorney fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5;*fn1 (2) discharging the writ of mandate following a remand from this court on one issue of CEQA compliance; and (3) ruling in favor of real parties in interest- --Del Webb California Corporation et al. (real parties)--for costs incurred prior to the first appeal. We shall strike $15,771.25 from the real parties' cost award as unrecoverable attorney/paralegal fees. Otherwise, we shall affirm the challenged orders.


We sketch the general background here, and detail the pertinent facts when we discuss the issues on appeal.

In October 2006, defendant and respondent County of Tehama (the County) circulated the final environmental impact report (EIR) for the Sun City-Tehama Project (the Project). The Project proposed the development of an age-restricted golf course community of 3,700 homes on over 3,000 acres, with a commercial center, adjacent to Interstate Highway 5 (I-5) between Red Bluff and Redding.

In January 2007, COF filed the operative pleading, a first amended petition for writ of mandate. In this petition, COF alleged that the County's EIR failed to adequately mitigate (1) the Project's impacts on blue oak woodlands, and (2) the Project's projected traffic increase on I-5. COF requested that the County's approval of the Project be set aside, and that the County and real parties not proceed further on the Project until they complied with CEQA.

The trial court denied COF's petition for writ of mandate.

COF appealed. As relevant at this point, we upheld the EIR's sufficiency with respect to the blue oak woodlands and the I-5 issues, save for one I-5 issue involving an economic standard that was used in determining the Project's I-5 residential-based traffic mitigation fee. On the basis of this one I-5 issue, we reversed the judgment, set aside the Project's approvals, and remanded the matter to the County "for the limited purpose" of considering this issue.

On remand, the County held two public hearings. It then reapproved the Project without any substantive change after finding that the economic standard at issue was appropriate.

The trial court subsequently (1) denied COF's motion for attorney fees under section 1021.5, (2) granted the County's motion to discharge the writ of mandate, and (3) ruled in real parties' favor as to costs.

These are the three issues that COF now raises in the present appeal. We will discuss each in turn.


I. COF's Request for Attorney Fees Under Section 1021.5

To encourage private litigants to look after the public interest, section 1021.5 authorizes an award of attorney fees "to a successful party" when "(1) the action 'has resulted in the enforcement of an important right affecting the public interest,' (2) 'a significant benefit, whether pecuniary or non-pecuniary, has been conferred on the general public or a large class of persons,' and (3) 'the necessity and financial burden of private enforcement . . . are such as to make the award appropriate.'" (§ 1021.5; Serrano v. Stefan Merli Plastering Co., Inc. (2011) 52 Cal.4th 1018, 1026.)

In determining whether a party has met these requirements, a court "'must realistically assess the litigation and determine from a practical perspective whether the statutory criteria have been met. [Citation.] [A trial court's] decision will be reversed only if there has been a prejudicial abuse of discretion.'" (Marine Forests Society v. California Coastal Com. (2008) 160 Cal.App.4th 867, 876.) As we ...

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