University Off the Hook for Traffic, Fire Impacts
California State University is not required to fund mitigation measures that offset a new campus's traffic and fire safety impacts, the Sixth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
In a split decision, the court held that local agencies cannot charge the university impact fees to fund off-site road and fire safety improvements needed to serve the CSU Monterey Bay campus.
"[T]his state's constitutional and statutory framework compel the conclusion that off-site improvements in traffic facilities necessary to handle the loads put on them by a public university are not the responsibility of the university but rather of the locality," Presiding Justice Conrad Rushing wrote for the majority.
In 1998, the CSU Board of Trustees adopted a campus master plan and an environmental impact report for the Monterey Bay campus, located on 1,350 acres of the defunct Ford Ord army base. That action followed the previous year's adoption by the Ford Ord Reuse Authority (FORA) of a base reuse plan that required fair-share funding by all involved entities for traffic, fire protection, water and sewage facilities related to base reuse. In the EIR, however, CSU trustees adopted a statement of overriding considerations regarding traffic and fire safety. Those impacts could not be mitigated with the payment of fair-share fees, the trustees asserted, because state law and the state Supreme Court's decision in San Marcos Water Dist. v. San Marcos Unified School Dist. (1986) 42 Cal.3d 154, precluded the university from paying traffic and fire safety infrastructure costs. The findings of overriding consideration also stated that traffic and fire facilities were FORA's responsibility, so the university could not guarantee facilities that offset the impacts would be provided.
The reuse authority and the City of Marina sued, arguing that the EIR failed to recognize the university's responsibility for funding its fair share of infrastructure. Monterey County Superior Court Judge Richard Silver ruled against the university, finding that the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) required the university — like any developer — to contribute to a fund earmarked for the mitigation of cumulative impacts.
The university appealed, and the split panel of three Sixth District justices overturned the lower court.
The court majority cast the case not as a CEQA case, but as a dispute over fees. The university satisfied CEQA by disclosing the campus's impacts and adopting overriding findings of consideration. "The legal question is whether the university's funds are subject to use for off-campus infrastructure improvements," Justice Rushing wrote.
The court relied heavily on the San Marcos case and on Government Code § 54999. In San Marcos, the court ruled that a water district could not levy on a school district a "sewer capacity right fee" to fund capital facilities. Two years later, the Legislature partly overturned that decision by approving § 54999. That statute allows the providers of public utilities to charge capital facilities fees for "a facility for the provision of water, light, heat, communications, power, or garbage service, for flood control, drainage or sanitary purposes, or for sewage collection, treatment or disposal." Notably absent from the list were facilities related to traffic and fire safety.
Because the conflict in this case was over traffic and fire safety — the university agreed to pay its fair-share for water and sewer facilities — the court ruled that the San Marcos ruling was applicable. Thus, the local agencies could not require the university to pay its fair share for roads and fire facilities — and the university could not legally make such payments.
"Many of the communities responding to the draft EIR in the record betray a desire, on the one hand, to recognize the benefits of having the university locate on the site but, on the other hand, to obtain funding and infrastructure concessions," Rushing wrote. "Such state funding mechanisms in their statutory and constitutional context do not make such conflicting goals addressable through the CEQA environmental review process."
"The challenge here," Rushing continued, "is not that the trustees failed to identify or analyze significant environmental impacts or identify the facilities necessary to mitigate them, which would be a claim under CEQA. The dispute is rather about who will fund construction of such facilities."
The base reuse authority and the City of Marina need to convince state legislators to pay for CSUMB's traffic and fire impacts, the court concluded.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Patricia Bamattre-Manoukian said the litigation was very much a CEQA case. San Marcos was not applicable because it involved a fee to fund facility expansion, she wrote. In this case, "it is CSU's project that has created the impact on the environment and the consequent need for expanded infrastructure."
"I believe the law is clear that CEQA imposes an independent duty upon any project proponent, including a state university, to mitigate the impacts of its project," Bamattre-Manoukian wrote.
The existence of the base reuse authority did not alter the university's responsibilities under CEQA, the dissenter continued. In fact, the reuse authority's plan "provides a feasible means for CSU to mitigate the impacts of its project."
"A central purpose of FORA is to plan and implement the improvements that will be necessary to mitigate the impacts of redevelopment of the base property," Bamattre-Manoukian wrote. "This purpose would be undermined if CSU, which was envisioned by the Legislature as the principal participant in the base reuse plan, were exempt from contributing to the FORA improvement program. Under the circumstances, I believe that CSU's findings, that it was not feasible to mitigate the impacts of its project because it was FORA's responsibility to do so, were legally inadequate."
City of Marina v. Board of Trustees of the California State University, No. H023158, 03 C.D.O.S. 5233, 2003 DJDAR 6608. Filed June 17, 2003.
For Marina: Sheri Damon, Lombardo & Gilles, (831) 754-2444.
For CSU: John A. Taylor Jr., Horvitz & Levy, (818) 995-0800.