APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Ann I. Jones, Judge. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BS125872)
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Zelon, J.
CERTIFIED FOR PARTIAL PUBLICATION*fn1
Affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded for further proceedings.
The City of Maywood filed a petition for writ of mandate seeking to overturn the Los Angeles Unified School District's (LAUSD) decision to certify a final environmental impact report (FEIR) analyzing the environmental consequences of constructing a high school. Maywood argued that the FEIR did not satisfy the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) because it failed to adequately assess various environmental impacts and did not include a sufficient discussion of project alternatives. Maywood also alleged that the LAUSD's decision to certify the FEIR violated school siting procedures enumerated in the Education Code.
Although the trial court rejected a majority of Maywood's claims, it found that the FEIR was deficient in four ways. First, it concluded that the report failed to consider whether the design of the school campus, which was bisected by an active roadway, presented any significant impacts to pedestrian safety. Second, the court concluded that the report did not adequately assess whether the project site was contaminated with hazardous materials. Third, it found that the report failed to analyze the cumulative impacts from a planned expansion of the I-710 freeway. Fourth, the court ruled that the report did not contain a sufficient discussion of project alternatives.
The trial court entered a peremptory writ prohibiting the LAUSD from taking any further actions to approve the project until it had prepared and certified a revised EIR. In addition, the court granted a motion awarding Maywood approximately $670,000 in attorneys' fees pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5.
The LAUSD appeals the peremptory writ and the trial court's order awarding attorneys' fees. We affirm in part, reverse in part and remand for further proceedings. We affirm the portion of the writ requiring the LAUSD to address whether the proposed design of the project presents significant impacts to pedestrian safety. The remainder of the trial court's writ is reversed. We also reverse the trial court's order awarding attorneys' fees and remand for further proceedings.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
A. Description of the Project
The project at issue is the construction of "South Region High School No. 8," intended to serve the Los Angeles Unified School District's South Region Planning Area. The project has several objectives, including: "[r]eliev[ing] overcrowding at Bell High . . ."; "[e]liminat[ing] involuntary busing of students"; and "[p]rovid[ing] multipurpose fields for students and community use outside normal school operation hours . . ."; "[p]rovid[ing] an adult school program to serve demand in the local area while making efficient use of educational facilities."
The project site is located in the City of Maywood and consists of two city blocks approximately a half-mile from the I-710 freeway. The 8.37-acre site is bordered by 57th Street on the north, Slauson Avenue on the south, King Avenue on the west and Mayflower Avenue on the east. The site is bisected by 58th Street, which divides the campus along an east/west axis.
The proposed project would consist of 146,000 square feet of school facilities to accommodate up to 1,215 high school students. The southern block of the campus, situated south of 58th Street, will include 43 classrooms, a library, a performing arts center, a multi-purpose facility, a gymnasium, a medical clinic, a food services area and additional space for maintenance and other support services.
The northern block of the campus, situated north of 58th Street, will include a lighted football/soccer stadium that will seat approximately 1,200 people, a 40,000 square foot parking garage and a set of basketball courts located on the roof of the parking garage. The two sides of the campus will be connected by a pedestrian bridge on the east side of the project site that spans 58th Street. The bridge will be accessible from the northern side of the campus through the top level of the parking garage (where the basketball courts are located) and will be accessible from the southern side of the campus through the gymnasium.
At the time the LAUSD announced the project, the two city blocks within the project site contained seven parcels of commercial property and 40 parcels of residential property. The commercial parcels included nine commercial units and the residential parcels included 119 units of housing consisting of 10 single-family units, 29 multi-family units and a motel.
1. Notice of Preparation and Initial Study
In July 2009, the LAUSD issued a "Notice of Preparation and Initial Study" (NOP) announcing that it was "proposing to construct and operate a new high school on a 9.4 acre site at the northeast corner of Slauson Avenue and King Avenue, in the City of Maywood."*fn2 The NOP indicated that 8.65 acres of the site consisted of two city blocks bordered by 57th Street, Mayflower Avenue, Slauson Avenue and King Avenue. The remaining 0.75 acres consisted of the portion of 58th Street that ran between the two blocks, which would be vacated and incorporated into the project. The NOP was accompanied by several appendices, including a cultural resources and architectural evaluation, a geological seismic hazard report, an environmental site assessment report, a health risk assessment and a rail safety study.
The NOP concluded that the project could result in significant environmental impacts and would therefore require the preparation of an environmental impact report. The LAUSD announced that, as part of the review process, it had scheduled a scoping meeting to allow members of the community to express their "views regarding the . . . content of the environmental information that should be included in the EIR."
During the scoping meeting, which was held on August 19, 2009, several Maywood residents and government officials informed the LAUSD that its proposed design was infeasible because Maywood would not allow the school district to close the portion of 58th Street that bisected the project site. In response to these comments, LAUSD officials stated that they were aware of "the 58th Street issue" and intended to work with Maywood to resolve the matter.
Other residents and local government officials expressed concern that "an upcoming project on the 710 freeway w[ould] open up exit-ramps onto Slauson Avenue, which could greatly increase traffic in the area of the school." A member of the Maywood Planning Commission, commented that the "extension of the 710 fwy. needs to be addressed . . . since it would impact the local school sites, children and air quality." In response, the LAUSD stated that the EIR would look into the issue of the 710 exit"
Several meeting attendees also commented that the LAUSD should investigate the project site for potential ground and water contamination caused by hazardous materials. Although the NOP had concluded that the project would present no significant impacts from the potential release of hazardous materials, members of the community requested that the LAUSD conduct a more thorough analysis as part of the EIR process.
Participants expressed concerns on a wide variety of additional potential project impacts, including the displacement of Maywood residents, destruction of cultural resources, traffic and parking.
2. Draft environmental impact report
In December of 2009, the LAUSD released its draft environmental impact report (DEIR). The project description in the DEIR indicated that the LAUSD had altered the original design of the project. Rather than incorporating 58th Street into the project site, the new design left 58th Street as an active roadway that bisected the site. The new design also included a pedestrian bridge over 58th Street connecting the northern and southern sides of the campus. The student drop-off zone would be located on the south side of 58th Street, in close proximity to the main entrance to the classrooms and other school facilities, and across the street from the football stadium and the parking garage.
a. Summary of areas of controversy
As required under the CEQA Guidelines,*fn3 the DEIR contained a chapter summarizing "areas of controversy" that had been raised by the public and other government agencies during the NOP comment period. (See Guidelines, § 15123, subd. (b)(2).) A list summarizing the "potential areas of controversy" included "cumulative impacts with the proposed I-710 expansion"; "Consideration of alternate sites"; "The City of Maywood will not approve the vacation of 58th Street described in the Initial Study"; "[h]azardous material that may exist onsite."
An accompanying table listed each comment received during the comment period and the section of the DEIR that addressed each comment. In response to comments that Maywood did not intend to vacate 58th Street, the DEIR referred to a section describing the current design of the project, which left 58th Street as an active roadway. In response to comments requesting that the LAUSD consider the proposed expansion of the I-710 freeway, the DEIR referred to a subchapter describing the effects on transportation and traffic. That chapter, however, contained no discussion or reference to the I-710 expansion project.
The DEIR listed numerous additional comments, including concerns about the hazardous materials, displacement of residents, loss of housing and historic buildings, lack of onsite parking, increased traffic and aesthetics.
b. Summary of potential environmental impacts
After summarizing the areas of controversy, the DEIR analyzed several different categories of potential environmental impacts, including, in relevant part, hazardous materials, pedestrian safety and expected cumulative impacts from other current and future projects in the area.*fn4
i. Hazards and hazardous materials
The DEIR subchapter on "Hazards and Hazardous Materials" stated that the NOP determined the project "would have no impact or a less-than-significant impact for all environmental . . . topics [related to] Hazards and Hazardous materials." The DEIR noted, however, that because the public had expressed concerns regarding potential impacts from hazardous materials, the LAUSD elected to include "a more detailed discussion of the potential impacts associated with those topics."
The DEIR explained that, pursuant to school siting requirements in the Education Code, the LAUSD was working with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) to conduct an environmental evaluation and remediation of the project site. As part of that process, the LAUSD had conducted a phase I environmental assessment (ESA), a preliminary endangerment assessment (PEA), a health risk assessment and a rail safety study.
The DEIR further explained that the initial ESA revealed several potential contamination hazards on and off the project site, which included four industrial facilities and residential structures that exhibited the potential for lead-based paint and termiticide contamination. Based on these areas of concern, the LAUSD conducted a PEA that included a soil analysis of the project site. The PEA analyzed hundreds of soil samples taken from the nine commercial parcels and several of the residential parcels located on the project site. The DEIR noted that because the LAUSD had been unable to secure "access agreements" for 27 of the residential properties, no testing had occurred on those particular parcels. The report also indicated, however, that the DTSC had ordered the LAUSD to test those sites once it had gained access to the properties.
The DEIR further explained that the results of the PEA showed that the project site had an estimated cumulative cancer risk that "exceed[ed] the DTSC target-risk screening goal." Under the Education Code, this finding required LAUSD to complete further steps "in investigating, assessing and remediating the project's sites environmental conditions," which included: (1) preparing a supplemental site investigation that would have to be reviewed and approved by the DTSC; (2) preparing a removal action workplan (RAW) to remediate or remove any contaminated soil, which would also need to be approved by the DTSC; and (3) "perform[ing] the removal action . . . consistent with the DTSC's cleanup standards and other performance criteria and under [the DTSC's] oversight." Finally, prior to construction, the LAUSD would have to obtain "the DTSC's review and approval . . . [that] the site's condition will not significantly threaten the health and safety of workers, students, and adults."
The DEIR concluded that "[w]ith the implementation of the required response actions as approved by DTSC, such as conducting additional investigation and completing the RAW under the DTSC oversight, the proposed project would have a less than significant hazardous materials impact to the public and the environment."
ii. Pedestrian safety issues
The DEIR included a subchapter addressing potential impacts to pedestrian safety. The report concluded that "[i]ncreased levels of traffic and pedestrians on local roadways, along with increased vehicular turning movements at intersections, driveways and curbside parking could increase the risk of conflicts between vehicles and pedestrians." A traffic and safety study found that these pedestrian safety issues could be mitigated by installing traffic signals, crosswalk striping and school crossing signs at various intersections around the exterior of the project site, as well as "passenger loading" signs in the designated drop off and pick up areas.
The DEIR further concluded, however, that the implementation of such mitigation measures was "under the jurisdiction of another agency (City of Maywood) and therefore c[ould not] be guaranteed by LAUSD. Therefore, pedestrian safety impacts would remain significant and unavoidable until mitigation measures are implemented."
The subchapter on pedestrian safety did not discuss whether students and staff would be endangered by the fact that 58th Street bisected the project site or whether the proposed pedestrian bridge would adequately mitigate any such hazards.
iii. Discussion of cumulative impacts
Each subchapter in the environmental analysis section of the DEIR included a discussion of "cumulative impacts" that might occur as "a result of past, present and reasonably foreseeable future projects" located in the same geographic area. The DEIR contained a list of 12 "approved and pending projects" that were considered for the purposes of the cumulative impact analysis. The DEIR did not include the expansion of the I-710 as a reasonably foreseeable project nor did it explain why it had not considered the I-710 project in its analysis.
c. Alternatives to the project
The DEIR contained a 43-page chapter describing six possible alternatives to the project which included one "No Project/No Build" alternative, one "Reduced Project" alternative and four alternatives that utilized different project sites. The DEIR also included a list of approximately 50 additional sites that were considered during the review process, but were ultimately deemed improper for inclusion in the DEIR.
The "Reduced Project Alternative" consisted of a high school located on the same project site "that would require 25 percent less land and would have 25 percent less capacity than the Proposed Project." This alternative would accommodate approximately 300 fewer students and would not include a football stadium. The DEIR concluded that although the reduced project alternative would have less significant impacts in numerous different environmental categories, it would not relieve overcrowding at Bell High school to the same extent as the proposed project.
One of the four alternative project sites discussed in the DEIR was "Site No. 26," which was located in a commercial area of Vernon, California. Site No. 26 was approximately the same size as the proposed project site and would include the same facilities. The DEIR concluded that because Site No. 26 was surrounded by commercial parcels, it would require no residential displacements and impose less significant impacts in terms of noise and aesthetics. The DEIR further concluded, however, that the site would have greater impacts on pedestrian safety due to "a high volume of truck traffic." The DEIR also stated that impacts from hazards and hazardous materials would be greater because the site was currently used for industrial and commercial purposes and was surrounded by similar land uses.
During the public comment period for the DEIR (see Pub. Resources Code, § 21091), Maywood raised several of the same objections asserted in response to the NOP.*fn5 For example, Maywood asserted that the DEIR failed to address "the impacts of the planned Slauson Avenue/I-710 Freeway interchange." According to Maywood's engineering expert, "[t]he new ramps will modify traffic circulation in the area and are expected to bring additional traffic, especially truck traffic, to Slauson Avenue in the project vicinity."
Maywood also argued that the DEIR did not contain a sufficient discussion of potential impacts from hazardous materials. Maywood noted that the DEIR indicated that the LAUSD had "tested the soils conditions at only roughly half the lots, and almost none of the residential properties [in the project site]." Moreover, the DEIR included no discussion explaining site clean-up.
Maywood further asserted that the DEIR should include a "reduced project" alternative that retained the same number of classrooms as the proposed project while reducing non-classroom facilities. According to Maywood, the LAUSD's reduced project alternative - which would service 25 percent less students than the proposed project - was a "straw man" option "designed to fail from the outset." Maywood also asserted that the DEIR should provide "[f]urther consideration of rejected Alternative Site No. 26 for the proposed school" and assess several alternative sites that had been proposed during the school site selection process.
Maywood also raised questions about the safety of the redesigned campus, indicating that it had "serious safety concerns about the design of the campus with a busy truck-laden street running down the middle and no effective way to prevent teens from jaywalking." Maywood's engineering expert concluded that the LAUSD's traffic and safety study failed to analyze whether "students/staff would use the bridge instead of crossing at ground level."
Finally, Maywood asserted that the DEIR failed to adequately analyze numerous additional categories of environmental impacts, including, in part: effects on displaced residents, destruction of cultural resources, aesthetics, air quality, earth and geology, parking, land use and planning, pedestrian safety, traffic, public services, recreation, utilities and climate change.
3. Summary of the Final EIR
In February of 2010, the LAUSD issued its final EIR (FEIR), the substantive content of which was essentially identical to the DEIR. The FEIR included a chapter identifying all of the changes from the DEIR, which consisted of line edits and minor alterations to traffic flow data. (See Guidelines, § 15132, subd. (a.) ["The Final EIR shall consist of: [¶] (a) The Draft EIR or a revision of the draft"].) As required under the CEQA guidelines, the FEIR also included several new chapters including, in relevant part, a chapter summarizing and responding to all comments received on the DEIR and a section detailing mitigation efforts necessary to reduce significant effects on the environment. (See Guidelines, § 15132.)
a. Summary of significant and unavoidable environmental impacts
The FEIR concluded that the project would produce significant unavoidable environmental impacts in three areas: pedestrian safety, noise and parking. The FEIR explained that although the pedestrian safety issues could be mitigated by implementing various traffic signs and signals, LAUSD could not guarantee the implementation of those measures, which were under the jurisdiction of Maywood. Thus, the pedestrian safety impacts would remain significant and unavoidable unless and until Maywood agreed to such mitigation measures.
b. The LAUSD's response to comments
The FEIR included a 350-page chapter summarizing and responding to comments on the DEIR, 75 pages of which responded to written comments submitted by Maywood. In response to Maywood's assertion that the DEIR failed to consider pedestrian safety impacts presented by 58th Street, the LAUSD noted that "[s]tudents would be required to use the bridge to cross 58th Street, and would be prohibited from crossing 58th Street at street level. Because the bridge provides the most direct access to the on-site parking garage, teachers would use the bridge for their primary access to the main school area on the southern block. Crosswalks on 58th Street would be signed with 'school crossing' signs, as well as striped with high-visibility striping appropriate for school areas."
In responding to Maywood's comments about alternative sites, the FEIR explained that it had not considered a "reduced project" alternative that maintained the same number of classrooms while reducing the overall acreage of the project because any such configuration would violate Department of Education policies governing maximum student-per-acre density requirements. The FEIR also explained why it had rejected various alternatives, including Site No. 26. According to the FEIR, the LAUSD concluded that Site No. 26 would present greater potential impacts in the areas of pedestrian safety and hazardous materials than the proposed project.
With regard to comments regarding the DEIR's failure to consider the cumulative impacts of the I-710 freeway expansion project, the LAUSD stated that the expansion project was still in the early planning stages and therefore did not qualify as a "reasonably foreseeable" future project.
Finally, in regard to comments questioning the analysis of impacts from hazardous materials, the FEIR posited that the LAUSD was permitted to conduct a more detailed investigation and remediation of the project site after the EIR process was completed. The FEIR contended that the LAUSD had fully complied with its duties under CEQA by conducting a preliminary investigation of the environmental condition of the project site and committing itself to a remediation plan that would be overseen by the DTSC.
In March 2010, the LAUSD issued a statement of overriding considerations and findings of fact approving the project despite the fact that it would impose unavoidable significant impacts on pedestrian safety, noise and parking. The LAUSD formally approved the project and certified the FEIR on March 11, 2010.
Shortly before the LAUSD certified the FEIR and approved the project, the California Department of Education (CDE) issued a letter informing the district that the site did not comply with "Title 5" school siting standards. (See Cal. Code Regs., tit. 5, § 14010.)*fn6 The letter explained that the FEIR found the project would result in unavoidable significant impacts on pedestrian safety. According to CDE, because the LAUSD could not guarantee necessary mitigations, it had failed to comply with a siting requirement mandating "the mitigation of traffic hazards." (Id., § 14010, subd. (l).) The CDE indicated that, after LAUSD approved the FEIR, it would reevaluate whether LAUSD had demonstrated that it could assure mitigation of the pedestrian hazards.
In July 2010, the LAUSD released an "addendum" to the FEIR and a revised findings of fact and statement of overriding considerations concluding that the project would not have an unavoidable and significant impact on pedestrian safety. The addendum concluded that Vehicle Code sections 21372 and 21373 would enable LAUSD to require Maywood to implement the traffic controls necessary to mitigate pedestrian traffic hazards. According to the addendum, "[t]hese statutes require the City of Maywood . . . to implement the mitigation measures identified in the EIR, which would eliminate the significant and unavoidable pedestrian safety impacts."
The CDE found that, with the addendum to the FEIR, the LAUSD had adequately demonstrated that "the site will meet the Title 5 site approval standards."
C. City of Maywood's Petitions for Writ of Mandate
1. Summary of petition for writ of mandate challenging the original FEIR
In April 2010, the City of Maywood filed a petition for writ of mandate alleging that the LAUSD had: (1) failed to comply with CEQA procedures governing the preparation of an environmental impact review, and (2) violated "Education Code requirements for siting . . . new school facilities."
The CEQA cause of action asserted that the FEIR failed to "sufficiently address" a wide range of "potential adverse impacts to the environment," including, in part: (1) the extent to which the site was contaminated by hazardous materials; (2) "the cumulative impacts of the new Slauson on/off ramp at the I-710 Major [c]orridor project"; (3) "the pedestrian risks to high school students associated with [a] street bisecting the campus"; (4) "impacts associated with the cultural historic and architectural significance of structures on the Proposed Maywood Site"; (5) greenhouse gas emissions impact[s]"; (6) "traffic and parking impacts"; (7) "light, glare and noise" impacts for the "sports field"; and (8) "the effect of removing residences for about 116 families . . . from Maywood." The petition also alleged that the FEIR failed to "provide a reasonable range of [project] alternatives." In total, the petition alleged the FEIR violated CEQA in over two dozen ways.*fn7
Maywood's second cause of action alleged that the LAUSD had "failed to comply with the [new school siting] procedures set forth in Education Code sections 17210 et seq." In particular, Maywood alleged that the Education Code prevented the LAUSD from approving the project until it had conducted hazardous materials testing on each parcel of property on the project site and completed a full remediation of any such contamination. The petition also alleged that the LAUSD's failure to adequately investigate pedestrian safety issues and alternative project sites violated the Education Code.
2. Maywood's petition for writ of mandate challenging the FEIR addendum
On August 12, 2010, the City filed a second petition for writ of mandate, which was assigned a separate case number. The petition sought to invalidate the addendum to the FEIR and any subsequent actions to approve the project site. The petition argued that, under CEQA, LAUSD was required to circulate a "revised" EIR and "revised" CEQA findings prior to approving the addendum. The petition further asserted that, like the FEIR, the addendum did not address potential pedestrian hazards associated with the design of the school, which was bisected by an active roadway. According to Maywood, the addendum's conclusion that the project would not create any significant impact to pedestrian safety was not supported by substantial evidence.
The petition also included non-CEQA related claims alleging that the LAUSD violated provisions of the Maywood Municipal Code, including zoning ordinances and a recently passed historic preservation ordinance.
3. Maywood's memorandum in support of its petition for writ of mandate
On November 1, 2010, Maywood filed a memorandum in support of its initial petition for writ of mandate, which set forth five primary arguments. First, Maywood contended that the FEIR did not consider a reasonable range of project alternatives or adequately explain why the LAUSD had refused to consider alternatives set forth in Maywood's written comments. In particular, Maywood argued that the LAUSD had a mandatory duty to consider "reduced project" alternatives that would reduce the size of the school's facilities while maintaining the same number of overall classrooms. In addition, Maywood argued that the LAUSD did not provide sufficient detail or analysis of the alternative sites that were discussed in the FEIR.
Second, Maywood argued that the FEIR failed to address or mitigate the significant impacts associated with destroying cultural, historic and architectural resources in the "long standing Slauson Neighborhood." Maywood asserted that "the most notable example of this fatal flaw" was the EIR's "total failure" to consider the "Winans House," which was allegedly designed and built by a notable architect and designated as a cultural resource under local ordinance.
Third, Maywood argued that the LAUSD failed to assess whether the design of the school campus presented impacts on pedestrian safety. Although Maywood acknowledged that the design incorporated a pedestrian bridge spanning 58th Street, it contended that LAUSD made no effort to review whether this design element would effectively address potential safety issues caused by the presence of an active roadway in the middle of the campus site.
Fourth, Maywood argued that the FEIR failed to properly assess traffic, parking and pedestrian safety impacts because it did not "identify and study as a related project the I-710 [c]orridor project of Caltrans." Maywood further asserted that the FEIR failed to assess the safety of numerous traffic intersections near the project site or to adequately consider mitigation of parking problems.
Finally, the City argued that the FEIR contained no evidence to support the LAUSD's finding that the condemnation of numerous residential properties would have no significant impacts on the population and housing availability in Maywood.
In addition to its CEQA arguments, Maywood's brief argued that the LAUSD had violated Education Code requirements pertaining to the siting of new schools. First, Maywood contended that the LAUSD was required to conduct various "environmental assessment" procedures before approving the school site, including: (1) testing each individual parcel of property for hazardous materials contamination, and (2) drafting and implementing a remediation work plan describing how the District would clean the project site. Second, Maywood asserted that several of the acts that had allegedly violated CEQA, including the LAUSD's failure to adequately investigate pedestrian hazards or project alternatives, also violated Education Code siting requirements.
D. The Trial Court's Ruling on the Petitions for Writ of Mandate
On March 16, 2011, the trial court heard Maywood's petitions for writ of mandate challenging the LAUSD's certification of the FEIR and the certification of the addendum. The court informed the parties that it had elected to consider the CEQA arguments Maywood raised in relation to the FEIR addendum - which appeared in the second petition - as part of the first petition for writ of mandate. The remaining arguments set forth in the second petition, which pertained to the LAUSD's alleged violation of local ordinances, would be considered separately.*fn8 After argument, the court granted, in part, the first petition and denied the second petition.
The trial court's written order identified "three different ways . . . [in which the] EIR and environment review process did not satisfy statutory and regulatory requirements."*fn9 First, the court found that the FEIR failed to adequately assess whether the design of the project would impact pedestrian safety. Specifically, the court concluded that the FEIR failed to consider whether students and other pedestrians would be endangered by the active street that bisected the campus or whether the pedestrian bridge would adequately mitigate any such dangers. The court explained that although the LAUSD prepared a safety study analyzing potential hazards to pedestrians traveling to the campus, the study did not assess the safety of pedestrian "movement . . . once on campus." According to the court, the record did not contain "even a scintilla of empirical evidence regarding [the] efficacy [of pedestrian] bridges," rendering it "impossible to know whether the mitigation proposed here would be effective." The court added that the pedestrian safety issues were "compounded" by the DEIR's failure to evaluate the "cumulative effect of a new off-ramp onto Slauson Avenue from the I-710 corridor which will add additional traffic into this school zone."
The trial court noted that the addendum to the FEIR, which was issued in July 2010, did not address these issues. Instead, the addendum merely concluded that the LAUSD could utilize sections of the Vehicle Code to force Maywood to implement the traffic control measures needed to reduce hazards to pedestrians walking to the school site. According to the court, the addendum did not contain any information pertaining to potential pedestrian hazards caused by the location of 58th Street, and therefore did not alleviate the defects in the initial FEIR.
Second, the court found that the FEIR did not contain an adequate discussion of project alternatives. The court agreed with Maywood's assertion that the LAUSD should have considered a "reduced project" alternative that retained the same number of classrooms while eliminating additional non-classroom facilities. The court also found that the FEIR should have contained a more "detail[ed]" examination of Site No. 26, explaining: "[LAUSD's] conclusion regarding alternative no. 26, that it would 'have greater impacts associated with pedestrian safety, land use, and hazards and hazardous materials,' tha[n] the proposed Maywood site, is simply unsupported by substantial evidence."
Third, the court ruled that the FEIR did not adequately investigate potential impacts from hazardous material contamination at the project site. The court emphasized that the LAUSD failed to conduct contamination testing on numerous parcels within the project site: "As far as almost half of the property at issue is concerned, there is no information in the EIR regarding any potential for the release of hazardous and/or toxic waste in the soil and groundwater at these locations during the construction phase of this project, or afterward." It also ruled that the record lacked "substantial evidence [demonstrating] . . . that the disturbance of currently unknown amounts of contaminated soils and groundwater can be mitigated to a point where it is not a substantial impact."
The court also ruled that the LAUSD's certification of the FEIR violated Education Code sections 17211 and 17213.1, which require school districts to take certain actions before acquiring a school site. The court concluded that, under these statutes, the district was prohibited from approving the FEIR until it had: (1) adequately investigated pedestrian hazards caused by 58th Street, (2) prepared a financial analysis detailing the costs of conducting a site cleanup, and (3) obtained the California Department of Education's approval of the project site.
The trial court entered a peremptory writ that prohibited the LAUSD from taking any further actions to approve the project until it had prepared and certified a revised EIR. Shortly thereafter, the City filed a motion for attorneys' fees pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5. The court granted the motion and awarded the City approximately $670,000 in attorneys' ...