Ventura Foothill Neighbors Win Appeal on Already-Built Hospital

William Fulton on
Dec 18, 2014

The Second District Court of Appeal has affirmed a lower court ruling in favor of Ventura residents who sued Ventura County over a hospital project, contesting an addendum to the environmental impact report issued 11 years after the original EIR. The court held the Ventura Foothill Neighbors' petition was not time-barred under state law and that a supplemental EIR should have been prepared instead of an addendum to the EIR. The project in question has been completed in the meantime.

The county certified an EIR in 1993 to support construction of a five-story ambulatory care center on the grounds of the Ventura County Medical Center, adjacent to a hilly residential neighborhood in Ventura. The EIR said the project would be 72 feet in height; detailed drawings released the following year showed the building would be 88.5 feet in height counting parapets.

But the county did nothing more for 11 years until 2005, when the county proposed moving the project 200 feet north and 160 feet west of the original location. The new project would be 90 feet high including parapets, but the height increase was not mentioned in the addendum's notice of declaration. Although final plans were approved in 2007, residents claim they did not know of the 90-foot height of the revamped project until one of the residents saw a 90-foot construction auger rig on the site in 2008.

The residents sued, claiming that the relocated building would be placed on a much higher grade than the original building and that they had not received adequate notice in the addendum of possible additional impacts. Judge Glen M. Reiser, Ventura County's CEQA judge, declined to issue a preliminary injunction halting construction of the project. However, he rejected the county's claim that the lawsuit was time-barred and eventually granted a peremptory writ of mandate in favor of the neighbors. The project continued in the meantime.

The Second District panel in Ventura (Division Six) affirmed Reiser's ruling. "At oral argument appellants' counsel said that even if County had doubled the height of the Clinic, once the 30-day period elapsed any challenge to its action would still be time-barred," wrote Justice Kenneth Yegan for the unanimous panel. "This is nonsense. We agree with the trial court that the 30-day statute of limitations is inapplicable because County did not provide notice to the public of the increase in the Clinic's height."

The case is Ventura Foothill Neighbors v. County of Ventura.

The author served on the Ventura City Council from 2003 to 2011.