111 Cal.Rptr.2d 577, 1 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 7657, 2001 Daily
Journal D.A.R. 9482
RANCH PARTNERS et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
PLACER, Defendant and Respondent.
Appeal, Third District, California.
certified for partial publication. [FN*] ]
to California Rules of Court, rules 976(b) and 976.1, this opinion is certified
for publication with the exception of parts I, II, III and IV.
Developers filed a petition for a writ of mandate
challenging the county's certification of a final environmental impact report
concerning the county's general plan update. Plaintiffs claimed that the
environmental review did not meet the requirements of the California Environmental
Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.), and that the county acted
arbitrarily in prohibiting residential development within one mile of the
county's landfill. The trial court denied the petition. (Superior Court of
Placer County, Nos. SCV-2519 and SCV-2828, James D. Garbolino, Judge.)
The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that the county's decision regarding the
one-mile buffer zone around the landfill was supported by substantial evidence.
The court held that the question on appeal was not whether the buffer zone was
necessary or whether a smaller zone would adequately accommodate the
conflicting land uses; rather, the question was simply whether the propriety of
the one-mile zone was a fairly debatable question, upon which reasonable minds could
differ. The court held that the county's decision regarding the size of the
buffer zone was supported by substantial and relevant evidence, even though no
scientific evidence was presented on the issue. (Opinion by Hull, J., with
Blease, Acting P. J., and Callahan, J., concurring.)
Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, David Elson, Maria D. Hummer
and Donna R. Black for Plaintiffs and Appellants.
Anthony La Bouff, County Counsel, Scott Finley, Deputy
County Counsel; Morrison & Foerster, Michael H. Zischke and Steven L.
Vettel for Defendant and Respondent.
In what is often perceived to be the typical case involving
the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code, § 21000
et seq. [further undesignated statutory references are to the Public Resources
Code]), a zealous citizens group challenges the approval of a development
project by asserting that a government entity failed to consider possible
adverse environmental effects of the projects, or otherwise failed to follow mandated
CEQA procedures. This is not that case. Here, it is the developers who invoke
CEQA's protections to challenge the government agency's actions.
After receiving input on a draft environmental impact report
(DEIR) for its general plan update, the Placer County Board of Supervisors (the
County) opted to modify its plans and, instead of permitting the development of
four new towns in rural portions of the county, decided to meet forecasted
housing needs through the use of in-fill projects in existing towns. This
option, which had been presented as an alternative in the DEIR, was
incorporated into the final environmental impact report (FEIR).
Plaintiffs Placer Ranch Partners, Placer Ranch 160, and Stanford Ranch, Inc.,
developers for some of the proposed new towns, filed a petition for mandate,
asserting various CEQA violations. Essentially, they argued that the County's
decision to eliminate the new towns changed the project to such a degree that,
instead of certifying the FEIR, the County should have prepared and
recirculated a new EIR. Plaintiffs claimed the County's environmental review
did not meet CEQA requirements, and they further argued the County acted
arbitrarily in prohibiting residential development within one mile of the
County's landfill. [FN1] The trial court rejected these claims and
denied plaintiffs' petition.
claims were initially presented in two separate writ petitions that were
On appeal, plaintiffs reiterate their assertions. We conclude the County's
environmental analysis was appropriate to a general plan update. No
recirculation was required. We further conclude substantial evidence supports
the *1339 County's decision to
create a one-mile buffer area around its landfill. We therefore affirm the
In late 1990, the County began the process of updating its
general plan. It embarked on this effort by taking a number of preliminary
steps, such as holding town hall meetings to explain the update process and the
upcoming opportunities for public participation. In October 1992, the County
released a "Draft General Plan Background Report" that provided
background information on the issues to be addressed in the general plan and
described existing conditions and trends within Placer County.
The County worked with its consultants to prepare an "Issues and Options
Report" that was designed to solicit policy direction from the County on
key issues to be addressed in the general plan update. Essentially, this report
served to focus the project. Various issues were discussed, including broadly
defined choices for the pattern of future growth in Placer County. Census and
assessor's data indicated the population of Placer County in 1990 was 170,452.
That population was expected to grow to approximately 310,000 by 2010.
The Issues and Options Report was presented to the public in six town hall
meetings in early 1993 and was the subject of seven public meetings of the
County from February through July 1993.
This report analyzed three different land use alternatives for accommodating
the development forecasted to occur through the year 2010. "Alternative 1
" directed new urban growth to the cities, and emphasized shifting control
of growth and development from the County to the cities. "Alternative
2" promoted new growth in established unincorporated areas near existing
developed areas. Under this scenario, the County would retain the authority
over development proposals. "Alternative 3" proposed a new growth
area, redirecting growth from established unincorporated areas. This
alternative would permit urban development in an entirely new location. The
report assumed this "new town " would have a build-out population of
approximately 20,000 in an area of approximately four square miles.
The County opted in favor of a modified version of Alternative 3, dubbed "
Alternative 5," which proposed the creation of four new growth areas.
Plaintiffs own land on which some of these developments were planned. Under the
existing general plan, this land was zoned for agricultural and industrial
uses. Alternative 5 rezoned this property for residential development. *1340
A DEIR was prepared that described Alternative 5 and the various other land use
proposals that had been considered. Appendix A to the DEIR, a summary of the
Issues and Options Report, outlined the three original land use alternatives
(urban in-fill, unincorporated in-fill, and new towns) and compared them on a
variety of issues, such as jobs-housing balance, agricultural land conversion,
air quality, traffic, infrastructure, and financial/fiscal matters.
When the DEIR was circulated for public comment, a great deal of controversy
arose over the plan for four new towns. Existing cities, citizens groups, and
individuals objected to this plan and expressed their strong preferences for
directing growth to existing urban areas.
In response to these concerns, the County modified its
proposed general plan update by abandoning the "new towns" concept
and instead promoting Alternative 1, focusing new growth to existing towns.
Under this proposal, plaintiffs' land would not be rezoned but would retain its
agricultural/industrial zoning. The County also opted to impose a one-mile
buffer around its landfill and preclude residential development within this area.
An FEIR was prepared reflecting these decisions. The County
certified the FEIR, adopted findings, a statement of overriding considerations,
and the general plan update.
Plaintiffs filed a petition for writ of mandate, asserting the County did not
comply with CEQA requirements. They claimed the project as ultimately approved
was so different from the project described in the DEIR that the County should
have recirculated an EIR. They challenged the incorporation of materials in the
EIR, and raised a multitude of other assertions, including claims that the EIR
did not adequately analyze impacts, alternatives or mitigation measures. They
challenged the imposition of a one-mile buffer area around the landfill, and
further argued the EIR violated state mandates for affordable housing.
The trial court denied plaintiffs' petition, and this appeal followed.
footnote, ante, page 1336.
. . . . .
. . . . . .*1341
In adopting the general plan update, the County imposed a
one-mile buffer around its landfill, leaving that property zoned for
agricultural and industrial use. Plaintiffs, who own this property and had
hoped to develop it as part of a residential community, assert there was no
evidence to support the buffer zone. We disagree.
Substantial evidence challenges under CEQA "are resolved much as
substantial evidence claims in any other setting: a reviewing court will
resolve reasonable doubts in favor of the administrative decision, and will not
set aside an agency's determination on the ground that the opposite conclusion
would have been equally, or more reasonable." (County of Amador v. El
Dorado County Water Agency (1999) 76 Cal.App.4th 931, 945-946 [91 Cal.Rptr.2d
"While local bodies retain broad discretion in zoning
issues, their authority is not boundless. Zoning restrictions may be stricken
if they are ' arbitrary and unreasonable and without substantial relation to
public health, safety, or morals.' [Citation.] In other words, 'a land use restriction
lies within the public power if it has a "reasonable relation to the
public welfare." [Citations.]' [Citation.] ' "The courts may differ
with the zoning authorities as to the 'necessity or propriety of an enactment,'
but so long as it remains a 'question upon which reasonable minds might
differ,' there will be no judicial interference with the municipality's
determination of policy." [Citation.] ... Setbacks and similar buffers are
among the tools counties may use in the interest of sound community planning."
(Big Creek Lumber Co. v. County of San Mateo (1995) 31 Cal.App.4th 418, 428-429
[37 Cal.Rptr.2d 159]; see also Birkenfeld v. City of Berkeley (1976) 17 Cal.3d
129, 159-160 [130 Cal.Rptr. 465, 550 P.2d 1001].)
Plaintiffs contend that, while a smaller buffer zone around
the landfill may have been appropriate, no evidence supports the imposition of
a one-mile buffer.
"The question, however, is not whether this court ... is convinced [one
mile] of buffer [is] 'necessary,' or whether [a] smaller zone would
adequately accommodate the conflicting land uses. The legal issue is whether
the propriety of the larger zone is a fairly debatable question, one upon
which reasonable minds could differ." (Big Creek Lumber Co. v. County of
San Mateo, supra, 31 Cal.App.4th at p. 429.)
As plaintiffs note, there was no scientific evidence
presented that a one-mile buffer was necessary. In testifying before the
County, witnesses from various governmental agencies and task forces testified
that, while the selection of a one-mile buffer (versus a smaller buffer) was
somewhat "arbitrary," there were reasons for that decision. The
landfill was an important and valuable county asset, and was predicted to
remain viable for years to come. If residential areas encroached on that space,
its period of usefulness might be reduced, and siting a new landfill would be
difficult. Landfills pose health and safety concerns, and can affect property
values in the area. Residents from more than two miles away from the current
landfill had complained of dust, odors, litter and traffic. The very real
concerns raised by a landfill, as well as the public perceptions relating to a
site, can prompt an outcry by area residents.
Witnesses explained that the size of buffers in other jurisdictions depended in
part on the topography of the area and the site location. Some counties, with
landfills in isolated areas, did not require any buffer area. Landfills that
were not highly visible tended to be subject to smaller buffer areas. [FN8]
The site here was flat, and the landfill could be seen from a distance.
Plaintiffs criticize some of this testimony as vague, noting the speaker did
not identify the names of people in other counties he had spoken to, and had
not ascertained whether they had sufficient knowledge to respond to his
questions. However, the same can be said of the information presented by
plaintiffs' experts: They did not identify how they obtained their information
on other landfills, nor did they discuss the backgrounds of the people who
provided that information.
None of the proposed buffer area was currently zoned for residential use, and
the witnesses pointed out that other nonresidential uses would continue to be
permitted within the proposed one-mile buffer zone.
Witnesses testifying for plaintiffs argued a 1,000to 2,000-foot buffer zone
would be adequate. They asserted there was no evidence that a one-mile buffer
provided better protection, and pointed out that no other jurisdictions
required such a large buffer between a landfill and residential areas.
As the recap of this evidence indicates, different witnesses had different
opinions about the proper size of a landfill buffer zone. While no scientific
evidence was introduced to support a one-mile buffer, other substantial and
relevant evidence supports the County's decision. (See Stubblefield
Construction Co. v. City of San Bernardino (1995) 32 Cal.App.4th 687, 711 [38
Cal.Rptr.2d 413] [opinions of area residents are an appropriate factor to
consider in making zoning decisions].) Given the need to preserve the landfill
for future community use and the concerns expressed by residents as far as two
miles from the site, the County acted properly in deciding to *1342 maintain the existing zoning
surrounding the landfill and to require a one-mile buffer between the landfill
and any residential development. This restriction has a reasonable relation to
the public welfare and is a valid exercise of the County's police powers. [FN9]
(Big Creek Lumber Co. v. County of San Mateo, supra, 31 Cal.App.4th at pp.
to rules of appellate procedure, plaintiffs raise a brief equal protection
argument in a footnote. (Cal. Rules of Court, rule 15(a).) We will not consider
this claim. (See Opdyk v. California Horse Racing Bd. (1995) 34 Cal.App.4th
1826, 1830-1831, fn. 4 [41 Cal.Rptr.2d 263].) Moreover, plaintiffs did not
voice this concern to the County during the environmental review process, which
precludes their claim here. (Park Area Neighbors v. Town of Fairfax (1994) 29 Cal.App.4th
1442, 1447-1448 [35 Cal.Rptr.2d 334].)
The judgment is affirmed.
Blease, Acting P. J., and Callahan, J., concurred. *1344
PLACER RANCH PARTNERS et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v.
COUNTY OF PLACER, Defendant and Respondent.
END OF DOCUMENT