Skip to content How Will This Project Change The Weather? Limiting an Environmental Impact Report to Concerns Which Can Be Meaningfully Addressed


Search Publications

July 2010

How Will This Project Change The Weather? Limiting an Environmental Impact Report to Concerns Which Can Be Meaningfully Addressed

San Diego Navy Broadway Complex Coalition v. City of San Diego

The California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District recently issued a unanimous decision which provides significant guidance for public entities, developers, and land owners entering into agreements requiring the preparation and submission of an environmental impact report ("EIR"). The Court found that only environmental concerns which can be "meaningfully addressed" by a public entity need to be identified in an EIR. This opinion narrows the potential scope of an EIR by only requiring that an entity evaluate environmental concerns when the preparing entity can actually address and respond to those concerns. The result of this opinion is that the preparation of an EIR by a public entity may become a simpler, less time consuming, and less costly undertaking.

The San Diego Navy Broadway Complex is a large swath of land located on the waterfront in downtown San Diego. The property currently includes dilapidated office buildings, parking lots, industrial space, and open land, formally occupied by the US Navy. In 1992, the City of San Diego ("City") entered into an agreement with the Federal Government, the owner of this complex, to redevelop the property.

Pursuant to the terms of the agreement, the developer of the project, Manchester Pacific Gateway LLC ("Manchester") submitted its plans to the public non-profit corporation, Centre City Development Corp. ("CCDC") for review. The CCDC was created to staff and implement redevelopment projects in downtown San Diego. The plan, as required by the agreement, included specific aesthetic design guidelines and was to include up to 1.6 million sq. ft. of office space, 1.2 million sq. ft. of hotel space, 25 thousand sq. ft. of retail space, and 55 thousand sq. ft. of museum/public attraction space.

Under the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA"), a public entity is required to prepare an EIR if they undertake a discretionary project that may affect the environment. The CCDC evaluated Manchester's proposed plans in conjunction with the EIR, and concluded that no further environmental review was required under CEQA. Then, pursuant to CEQA requirements, the City certified an environmental impact report ("EIR") which evaluated the project's anticipated environmental impacts.

The San Diego Navy Broadway Complex Coalition ("Coalition") is a non-profit citizens' group focused on ensuring responsible growth. The Coalition appealed the CCDC's decision of "no further environmental review" to the City, which the City denied. The Coalition then filed a writ of mandate claiming that the City violated CEQA in supporting the determination that no further review was required. The trial court denied the writ and the Coalition then appealed to the 4th District Court of Appeal. The Coalition's principal argument on appeal was that the CCDC violated CEQA when it determined no further review of the EIR was necessary. The Coalition also argued that the EIR failed to evaluate potential impacts of the project on a variety of environmental issues including the project's potential greenhouse gas emissions and vulnerability to climate change.

In affirming the trial court's ruling, the Appellate Court concluded that a public entity is only required to prepare an EIR when that entity has actual authority to address or respond to the environmental issues raised. The Court also concluded that after an EIR has been certified by a public entity (in this case the City), there is a strong presumption against requiring additional review.

Specifically, the Court also held that the City was not required to include an analysis in the EIR concerning the redevelopment's impact on greenhouse gas emissions or climate change. Relying on established case law, the Court reasoned that when an agency has no authority to modify a proposed project based on an analysis performed in an EIR, there is simply no basis for requiring that agency to prepare an analysis of that issue. Here, the CCDC's discretionary review of the EIR was limited to analyzing aesthetic concerns of the project. As such, because neither the CCDC nor the City had the authority to evaluate, let alone alter the project based on its potential impact on climate change, such an analysis would have been a "meaningless exercise", and not required under CEQA.

Environmental/Toxic Tort

Brandon D. Saxon

Environmental/Toxic Tort
Green Technology, Solar & Renewable Energy