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Lotus v. Department of Transportation

California Court of Appeal, First District, Third Division

January 30, 2014

Trisha Lee LOTUS et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION et al., Defendants and Respondents.

[CERTIFIED FOR PARTIAL PUBLICATION[*]]

Humboldt County Superior Court, Hon. Dale A. Reinholtsen (Humboldt County Super. Ct. No. CV110002).

Page 646

COUNSEL

[167 Cal.Rptr.3d 384] Kevin P. Bundy, Center for Biological Diversity, Joseph W. Cotchett, Philip L. Gregory and Paul N. McCloskey, Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, Stuart G. Gross, Burlingame, Gross Law, Sharon E. Duggan, Law Offices of Sharon E. Duggan, San Francisco, for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Ronald W. Beals, Chief Counsel, David Gossage, Lucille Baca, Janet Wong, San Francisco, and Stacy Lau, Department of Transportation, for Defendants and Respondents.

OPINION

Pollak, J.

Page 647

Appellants [1] appeal from a judgment denying their petition for a writ of mandate and injunctive relief challenging the sufficiency of an environmental impact report [167 Cal.Rptr.3d 385] (EIR) approved by the State of California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). The project involved is highway construction to adjust the alignment of the approximately one-mile stretch of United States Route 101 that passes through Richardson Grove State Park

Page 648

(park). While we reject many of appellants' challenges to the adequacy of the EIR, we agree that the report is insufficient insofar as it fails to properly evaluate the significance of impacts on the root systems of old growth redwood trees adjacent to the roadway. Accordingly, we shall reverse the judgment and remand the matter for further proceedings.

Factual and Procedural History

Richardson Grove State Park is home to redwood trees 300 feet tall and thousands of years old, of particular importance because of the high quality of the old growth redwood trees.[2] The park " is the first stand of old growth redwoods that travelers on U.S. Route 101 pass through while on their northbound trek from San Francisco to Eureka and the Oregon Coast" and the " [m]assive old growth trees located immediately adjacent to the highway draw the full visual attention of all visitors who travel through this section of U.S. Route 101."

As Route 101 passes through the park, it narrows to a two-lane road that curves tightly between the trees. The curves of the roadway and inadequate shoulder widths, among other things, do not meet current design standards. As a result, large vehicles traveling on this roadway find it difficult " to stay within the travel lane without using part of the opposing lane of traffic (‘ off-tracking’ ) or traveling off the roadway and using the shoulders." Due to the current size and configuration of the road, industry standard-sized trucks authorized by the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 (STAA trucks) are prohibited from using this portion of Route 101.[3] This segment of roadway is the only portion of Route 101 that restricts access of STAA trucks into Humboldt County. According to Caltrans, this restriction prevents " ‘ businesses [in Humboldt County] from being profitable and competitive with other similar business along the west coast.’ " Accordingly, the proposed project is designed " to adjust the roadway alignment to accommodate [STAA] truck travel, thereby removing the restriction for STAA vehicles, and improve the safety and operation of U.S. Route 101 while also improving goods movement."

Caltrans issued a Notice of Preparation for an EIR in May 2008 and released the draft EIR (DEIR) on December 4, 2008. Following a public comment period, Caltrans released and certified the final EIR and approved the project on ...


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