The Fifth District Court of Appeal has upheld the environmental impact report certified by Merced County for the University community plan. Adopted in December 2004, the plan lays out details for a proposed community that would support the University of California, Merced, campus. The plan envisions 11,600 residential units plus 2 million square feet of office and research space and retail space on 2,133 acres adjacent to the new UC campus.

Environmental groups San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center and Protect Our Water sued, arguing the environmental review documents and process were inadequate. Those groups and others have long contended that the UC campus, which opened in 2005, will exacerbate urban sprawl onto farmland instead of focusing development within the Merced city limits (see CP&DR Insight, October 2005; Q&A, January 2003; Public Development, April 2001).

A Merced County Superior Court Judge ruled against the environmentalists and the Fifth District upheld that decision in an unpublished ruling. The court determined that the environmental groups ignored large amounts of evidence that conflicted with their arguments over the administrative record, project impacts and mitigations.

The case is San Joaquin Raptor Rescue Center v. County of Merced, No. F051540.

Shopping center giant General Growth Properties has been ordered to pay developer Rick Caruso's firm $89 million for interfering with lease negotiations for a Caruso project in Glendale.

General Growth, which owns Glendale Galleria, has tried seemingly everything to halt Caruso's neighboring The Americana at Brand project, an open-air "lifestyle center" featuring 75 retail shops, an 18-screen cinema and 338 apartments. General Growth forced a referendum vote on the city's approval of the project, but voters narrowly backed the project in September 2004. General Growth also filed lawsuits over the project EIR and the city's disposition and development agreement with Caruso. General Growth lost that litigation in 2005 (see CP&DR Legal Digest, January 2006).

In a suit against General Growth, Caruso argued that General Growth interfered with negotiations with Cheesecake Factory for leasing space. General Growth, according to Caruso, threatened to block the restaurant from General Growth malls if it leased space at The Americana at Brand.

In November, a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury awarded Caruso Affiliated $74 million in compensatory damages and $15 million in punitive damages. An appeal by General Growth appears certain. The Americana at Brand is scheduled to open in 2008.

A multiple-species habitat conservation plan for the Coachella Valley appears to be complete after 11 years of study, planning and negotiation. Eight cities, Riverside County and two water districts have adopted the plan, and state and federal agency approval is expected by March 2008, according to the Coachella Valley Association of Governments, which oversaw plan preparation.

The species plan is one of the most ambitious ever, setting aside 240,000 acres of permanent open space in addition to 500,000 acres of existing public land for 27 threatened species of plants and animals. Although both environmentalists and building industry officials backed the plan, it got sidetracked when the City of Desert Hot Springs refused to go along (see CP&DR In Brief, July 2006; Local Watch, April 2006). Desert Hot Springs' stance caused CVAG to amend the plan, carve out that city, and start over on the approval process.

In October, Landmark Properties, U.S., the developer of the proposed Palmwood golf course resort and housing project on 1,700 acres that Desert Hot Springs wants to annex, sued over the species plan. It designates the Palmwood site for conservation.

A review by the state controller's office has found that school districts are underreporting pass-through payments they receive from redevelopment agencies The finding was one of several in a report released in November by state Controller John Chiang and prepared at the request of the Legislature. The controller's office also "found errors and inaccuracies in the data submitted by RDAs [redevelopment agencies]" in annual reports to the state, as well as irregular implementation at the county level of the 2004 "triple flip" and vehicle license fee swap.

For redevelopment projects adopted or amended since 1994, state law requires redevelopment agencies to pass through to school districts a portion of the tax increment (the increase in property tax revenues). School districts reported to the Department of Education that they received $1.8 million in pass-through payments during the 2005-06 fiscal year. But redevelopment agencies reported to the state controller's office that they passed through $162 million that same year.

The controller's office said it was unable to decide whose figures were correct but estimated the school district's underreporting cost the state general fund between $20 million and $30 million for the 2005-06 year alone. The controller's office promised to conduct additional reviews. The report, "Distribution and Reporting of Local Property Tax Revenue," is available on the state controller's office website at