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Keep Our Mountains Quiet v. County of Santa Clara

California Court of Appeals, Sixth District

May 7, 2015

KEEP OUR MOUNTAINS QUIET, Plaintiff and Appellant,
COUNTY OF SANTA CLARA, Respondent CANDICE CLARK WOZNIAK, as Trustee, etc., Real Party in Interest and Appellant.

Santa Clara County Superior Court Superior Court No. 112CV221481 Hon. Joseph H. Huber Trial Judge.

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Wittwer Parkin William P. Parkin and Jonathan Wittwer for Plaintiff and Appellant.

No appearance for Respondent.

Remy Moose Manley James G. Moose Sabrina V. Teller Jennifer S. Holman Matteoni, O’Laughlin & Hechtman and Barton G. Hechtman for Real Party in Interest and Appellant.

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The Sohagi Law Group Margaret M. Sohagi Philip A. Seymour and R. Tyson Sohagi for League of California Cities and California State Association of Counties as Amici Curiae.


Premo, J.

The County of Santa Clara and the Board of Supervisors of the County of Santa Clara (collectively, the County) adopted a mitigated negative declaration and granted a use permit allowing real party in interest Candice Clark Wozniak, as trustee of the Candice Clark Wozniak Trust (the Trust), to host a limited number of weddings and other events on property located in the Santa Cruz Mountains (the Property). Appellant Keep Our Mountains Quiet (the Association), an unincorporated association of individuals who reside in the vicinity of the Property, successfully petitioned for a writ of mandate on the ground that the County violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)[1] in adopting the mitigated negative declaration instead of requiring an environmental impact report.

The Trust appeals, arguing the County complied with CEQA. The County has not appealed. The Trust filed a separate appeal from a postjudgment order granting the Association attorney fees. The Association cross-appeals as to the attorney fee order. We have consolidated the appeals for purposes of this opinion. We affirm.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

A. The Property

The Property consists of 14.46 acres of land in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It is situated on Summit Road, also known as Highway 35, in Santa Clara County, adjacent to Santa Cruz County. Summit Road is within the jurisdiction of California's Department of Transportation (Caltrans). The Property houses vineyards for the Redwood Ridge Estates Winery, llama and alpaca grazing land, barns, and a residence where Candice Wozniak lives. Adjacent to the Property in Santa Clara County is the Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve (Open Space Preserve), which is owned by the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (Midpeninsula). The Open Space Preserve currently is open to the public by permit only. Midpeninsula plans to open the Open Space Preserve to the general public in the future and proposes to establish a network of hiking trails located 750 feet or more from the Property. The remainder of the area surrounding the Property is characterized by single-family residences on heavily wooded lots that are over two acres in size.

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B. Unpermitted Events

Beginning in 2006, Wozniak hosted a number of weddings and other events on the Property without obtaining the necessary use permit from the County. Music and speech were amplified over a sound system during those events using speakers oriented to the southeast.

At an August 24, 2006 meeting with County officials, Wozniak stated that approximately 100 people typically attended events on her Property. A Web site advertising the Property as an event space represented there was seating for 200. Complaints received by the county sheriff’s office about events in 2006 indicated the events had more than 200 attendees. A zoning violation report cited accounts of wedding receptions with 300 attendees being held at the Property. Three weddings were held on the Property during one weekend in October 2006, each of which was attended by approximately 150 people.

The county sheriff’s office received numerous calls from local residents complaining about the noise associated with unpermitted events at the Property. A number of residents also wrote to County officials to complain that they could hear announcements and loud music late into the night. Many of the complaining residents lived in the Santa Cruz County neighborhood of Marty Road, located about 3, 000 feet south of the Property across a canyon.

The County sent Wozniak three letters during the summer of 2006 informing her that she “must cease” holding wedding receptions on the Property because a land use approval was required for such events.

C. The Project

The project (the Project involves a use permit authorizing 28 special events per year for 100 guests and 12 staff members to be held between the hours of 2:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays between May 1 and September 30. Wozniak first applied for a use permit in December 2008. As discussed below, the County studied the Project for three years before adopting a mitigated negative declaration (MND) in December 2011.

D. Administrative Proceedings

Following the preparation of an initial study, the County issued a notice of intent to adopt an MND on June 30, 2010. The County planning commission held a public hearing on the Project on August 5, 2010. The planning commission continued the Project to evaluate the many public comments it received regarding potential noise and traffic impacts. Following another

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continuation in September 2011, the planning commission adopted a revised MND and approved the use permit on December 1, 2011.

The mitigation measures set forth in the revised MND as conditions of project approval (and as conditions on the use permit) include, among others: (1) orienting the speakers away from neighboring residences and towards the Open Space Preserve, with specific placement to be approved by the planning office and reviewed by a noise consultant; (2) the provision and posting of a noise complaint telephone number; and (3) an annual report by the planning office assessing compliance with the conditions for at least the first year. As part of that compliance report, County staff is required to retain a qualified noise consultant, paid for by Wozniak, to conduct noise readings at a minimum of four random events. The mitigation measures authorize the planning commission to revoke or modify the use permit based on compliance with the foregoing conditions and to extend noise monitoring for at least one year if there is evidence reception noise exceeds the County noise ordinance or General Plan thresholds. The use permit also includes the condition that only one outdoor live band event, to be monitored by a County-retained noise consultant, be permitted during the first year of operation. “If the Planning Commission determines based on the monitoring results that the live band monitored noise meets the County Noise Ordinance Standards, the following years of operation may allow more outdoor live band events.”

The Association appealed to the board of supervisors. Following a public hearing, the board of supervisors denied the appeal and affirmed the adoption of the revised MND and the approval of the use permit.

The following evidence was adduced during the administrative proceedings.

E. Evidence of Noise Impacts

1. County Noise Standards

The County’s noise ordinance provides that between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. in residential areas, exterior noise levels containing music must not exceed 70 dBA[2] and must not exceed 50 dBA for more than 30 minutes in any hour. These noise levels must not be exceeded on other (i.e., neighboring) properties. The noise ordinance does not apply to open space preserves. The County’s general plan provides exterior noise standards based on the

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average noise level measured over a 24-hour period (the day-night average sound level). The general plan’s limit for both residential areas and open space preserves is a day-night average sound level of 55 decibels (dB). Santa Cruz County’s General Plan provides that, between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m., exterior noise levels are not to exceed 70 dBA or an hourly average of 50 dBA.

2. Wozniaks Sound Consultant

Wozniak retained an acoustical consultant, Rosen, Goldberg, Der & Lewitz, Inc. (Rosen), to analyze the sound generated by three wedding receptions held on the Property during a single weekend in October 2006. Rosen presented its findings in a report dated July 2008.

According to that report, at each wedding, there were approximately 150 attendees and a sound system with speakers pointed to the southeast was used to amplify recorded music and speech. Throughout the weekend, Rosen monitored and documented the sound levels at two locations near the property line and in the direction of nearby homes. In particular, the monitoring locations were south of where the wedding receptions were held, in the direction of the Marty Road neighborhood.

Rosen concluded that the County’s noise standards were not exceeded throughout the weekend. In compliance with the County’s noise ordinance, the sound levels never exceeded 50 dBA for more than 30 minutes in any hour and wedding noise never exceeded 70 dBA. The highest noise level achieved for an extended period of time (30 minutes in any hour) was 45 dBA. In accordance with the County’s general plan, the day-night average sound levels at the two locations were 49 dB and 48 dB, below the 55 dB limit. And, as required by the Santa Cruz County General Plan, the hourly average noise levels were below 50 dBA, at 48 dBA and 49 dBA.

3. The Countys Sound Consultant

The County’s acoustical consultant, Edward L. Pack Associates, Inc. (Pack), conducted a peer review of the Rosen noise analysis. In its review, Pack was “unable to concur that the events... unequivocally do not generate any significant noise impacts.” Pack opined that the locations at which Rosen monitored the wedding noise were “topographically shielded.” Pack further indicated Rosen failed to consider the potential impact of the acoustic spreading of sound waves from a loud speaker, sound reflected off the canyon walls, wind, and temperature inversion. Pack commented in its review that “[b]ands and DJ’s at a wedding will typically play at 85-88 dBA Leq (average) at a distance of 20 ft. from the front of the stage and speakers.”

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Pack recommended the performance of one or more noise analyses of mock or real events using a DJ or band and vocal announcements typical of a wedding. Pack further recommended that noise level be measured at ...

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