A square mile of Central Valley farmland moved closer to development with the defeat, on procedural grounds, of a CEQA and reorganization challenge to the annexation of 960 acres by the City of Ceres under its West Landing Specific Plan.

California's Fifth Appellate District rejected an attempt by an unincorporated citizens' group, Protect Agricultural Land (PAL), to get arguments before the court that the annexation and related changes to Ceres' sphere of influence infringed CEQA and the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act. The initial defendant was the Stanislaus County Local Agency Formation Commission (Stanislaus LAFCO) as responsible agency for the annexation. Ceres was named as real party in interest. Both entities were respondents on appeal.

The appeals panel did not address PAL's substantive objections to the annexation. Instead it upheld the Stanislaus County trial court finding that PAL's petition was formally incorrect under both CEQA and the Reorganization Act because it was filed and served as a petition for writ of mandate. Instead, the court found it should have been brought as a reverse validation action under § 56103 of the Cal. Government Code and, as such, should have met different captioning and notice requirements under Cal. Code of Civil Procedure §§ 860-863, including newspaper publication of a public notice.

The trial court did not allow PAL to complete the missed requirements and did not find good cause for the group's failure to comply. Agreeing, the appellate decision threw out the case entirely. 

While the decision turned on the reverse validation action requirements, it noted in passing that PAL failed to meet its 30-day deadline under CEQA to challenge the City of Ceres' certification of the EIR and the statement of overriding considerations that enabled it.

The ruling moves the annexed area closer to major residential and business development.

As of the 2011 EIR, properties in the 960-acre area included about 660 acres of farmland  of which about 187 acres were under Williamson Act conservation contracts; a small residential subdivision; a governmental complex with jail, social service offices and animal shelter; and the large plant buildings of G3 Enterprises, a bottling and winery services business created by members of the Gallo family. 

The Council resolution said the West Landing Specific Plan Project called for development of "up to 3,635 residential units... up to 884,200 square feet of retail commercial; up to 383,910 square feet of office space; 802,100 square feet of light industrial and/or Research and development uses; 16 acres of schools; and 47 acres of parks," while the county and G3 facilities would  continue to expand. 

Staff reports and the Ceres City Council approval resolution are here. You can find a map here.  http://goo.gl/maps/RG596. The land was previously unincorporated. Local addresses appear as "Modesto."

 The case is Protect Agricultural Land v. Stanislaus County LAFCO, opinion text here

Rose M. Zoia was the attorney for PAL. Stanislaus LAFCO was represented by deputy county counsels William Dean Wright and Thomas Boze. Ceres had private counsel: Edward Grutzmacher of the firm of Meyers, Nave, and Michael L. Lyons. Details here.