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Latinos Unidos de Napa v. City of Napa

California Court of Appeals, First District, First Division

October 10, 2013

LATINOS UNIDOS DE NAPA, Plaintiff and Appellant,
CITY OF NAPA et al., Defendants and Respondents

Order Filed Date 11/5/13

Napa County Superior Court Super. Ct. No. 26-49634 Honorable Francisca P. Tisher, Judge

Law Offices of David Grabill, David Grabill; Law Office of Amber Kemble and Amber L. Kemble for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Michael Barrett, City Attorney; Jarvis, Fay, Doporto & Gibson and Rick W. Jarvis for Defendant and Respondent City of Napa.

Dondero, J.

Affordable housing advocates Latinos Unidos de Napa (plaintiff) filed a petition for writ of mandate against the City of Napa (City), its city manager, and its community development director seeking to set aside the City’s approval of revisions to the housing element of its general plan, and related general plan and zoning amendments (the Project), on the ground that an environmental impact report (EIR) for the Project is required. The City had concluded the Project would not result in any new significant environmental effects that were not identified and mitigated in its 1998 General Plan Program EIR, and filed a notice of determination to that effect. After the trial court erroneously dismissed plaintiff’s petition on statute of limitations grounds, we reversed the judgment in Latinos Unidos de Napa v. City of Napa. (2011) 196 Cal.App.4th 1154. The trial court subsequently denied the petition on its merits, agreeing with the City’s legal analysis and concluding plaintiff had waived its right to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence. We find no error and affirm.

Factual Background and Procedural History

I. The Parties

Plaintiff identifies itself as “an unincorporated association which advocates for environmentally sound and legally adequate development policies that address the housing needs of all economic segments of the population in the City of Napa and surrounding areas.” The City is the “lead agency” for the subject approvals for the purposes of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.)[1] and is charged with duties to disclose, analyze, and mitigate significant impacts from the Project. (§§ 21067, 21165.)


Under CEQA, an EIR must be prepared before a public agency approves any project that may have a significant effect on the environment. (San Franciscans Upholding the Downtown Plan v. City and County of San Francisco (2002) 102 Cal.App.4th 656, 687–688.) CEQA and its related regulations—ordinarily referred to as “Guidelines” (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 14, § 15001 et seq. (Guidelines))—define an EIR as “an informational document” whose purpose “is to provide public agencies and the public in general with detailed information about the effect which a proposed project is likely to have on the environment; to list ways in which the significant effects of such a project might be minimized; and to indicate alternatives to such a project.”[2] (Pub. Resources Code, § 21061; Guidelines, § 15003, subds. (b)–(e).)

Public Resources Code section 21166 and Guidelines section 15162[3] mandate that once a public agency has prepared an EIR for a project, no further EIR is required unless either (1) substantial changes are proposed in the project that will require major revisions of the EIR, or (2) substantial changes occur with respect to the circumstances under which the project will be undertaken that will require major revisions in the EIR, or (3) new information, which was not known and could not have been known when the EIR was certified, becomes available.[4] Additionally, where an agency prepares a “program EIR” for a broad policy document such as a local general plan, Guideline section 15168, subdivision (c)(2) allows agencies to limit future environmental review for later activities that are found to be “within the scope” of the program EIR.

III. The City’s General Plan

The Planning and Zoning Law (Gov. Code, § 65000 et seq.) requires each city and county to “adopt a comprehensive, long-term general plan for the physical development of the county or city, and of any land outside its boundaries which in the planning agency’s judgment bears relation to its planning.” (Gov. Code, § 65300.) A city’s general plan is its “ ‘ “constitution” for future development’... ‘located at the top of the hierarchy of local government law regulating land use.’ ” (DeVita v. County of Napa (1995) 9 Cal.4th 763, 772–773.) “ ‘[T]he propriety of virtually any local decision affecting land use and development depends upon consistency with the applicable general plan and its elements.’ [Citations.]” (Citizens of Goleta Valley v. Board of Supervisors (1990) 52 Cal.3d 553, 570–571.) The Planning and Zoning Law requires that each general plan include seven mandatory elements, including a land use element, a circulation element, a housing element, a conservation element, an open-space element, a noise element, and a safety element. (Gov. Code, § 65302.)

State law imposes many requirements for housing elements, including a requirement that they be periodically updated pursuant to a statutory schedule. (Gov. Code, § 65580 et seq.) The Housing Element Law provides: “The housing element shall consist of an identification and analysis of existing and projected housing needs and a statement of goals, policies, quantified objectives, financial resources, and scheduled programs for the preservation, improvement, and development of housing. The housing element shall identify adequate sites for housing, including rental housing, factory-built housing, and mobilehomes, and emergency shelters, and shall make adequate provision for the existing and projected needs of all economic segments of the community.” (Gov. Code, § 65583.) The City was required to have adopted updates to its housing element by December 31, 2003 (third revision) and by June 30, 2009 (fourth revision). (Gov. Code, § 65588, subd. (e)(1)(F)).[5]

The City adopted a comprehensive update of its general plan—entitled Envision Napa 2020—in December 1998 (2020 General Plan). As its name suggests, the 2020 General Plan sets forth the City’s future plans for development through the year 2020. The 2020 General Plan includes updates to all elements of the City’s general plan except for the Housing Element, which at the time the City anticipated updating in 2001.

Prior to approving the 2020 General Plan, the City prepared, circulated, and ultimately certified a program EIR (1998 Program EIR). The 1998 Program EIR analyzed the environmental impacts of future projected growth within the City through the year 2020, in accordance with the 2020 General Plan, including analysis of environmental impacts relating to land use, transportation, community services and utilities, cultural resources, visual quality, biological resources, geology, soils, seismicity, ...

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