The Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency was correct to require a supplemental environmental impact report (SEIR) for a billboard proposed within a redevelopment project area, the Second District Court of Appeal has ruled.
In 1999, Eller Media Company filed an application to build two billboards within the Hollywood redevelopment project area. Staff members at the CRA conducted an initial study under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and determined that a proposed sign on Sunset Boulevard might have significant adverse impacts on historic resources and community aesthetics. The staff also determined that the billboard was a change to the 1986 project area plan. Additionally, the staff found that a billboard proposed on North Cahuenga Boulevard might have adverse impacts that could be mitigated.
Eller appealed these determinations to the CRA Board of Commissioners, which upheld the staff's conclusions. Eller then filed a lawsuit. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David Yaffe ruled for the city.
On appeal, Eller presented four arguments: Substantial evidence did not support CRA's determination that the signs did not conform to the redevelopment plan; the CRA abused it discretion in requiring Eller to prepare a SEIR for the Sunset sign; the initial study did not conform to CEQA Guidelines and required Eller to comply with nonexistent standards; and CRA was not the lead agency under CEQA. A unanimous three-judge panel of the Second District rejected all four contentions.
Eller argued that the CRA could not determine that the proposed signs failed to conform to the redevelopment plan because the CRA had never adopted sign and billboard standards that the plan called for. This failure allowed the agency to apply subjective criteria, Eller contended.
The court, however, found that "CRA was duty bound to determine of Eller's proposed billboards conformed with the plan. The performance of this duty was not dependent on CRA's exercise of its permissive power to adopt specific standards relating to signs and billboards in the project area. In the absence of such standards, CRA nevertheless was required to consult with the existing provisions of the plan to determine if Eller's proposed billboards did or did not conform to the plan. Eller has made no showing that CRA's factual determinations in this case were the product of unbridled discretion and ad hoc standards. … CRA correctly evaluated Eller's proposal in light of the entire plan." (The CRA later adopted standards that prohibited all billboards and pole signs in the Hollywood project area.)
As for the abuse of discretion contention, the court found that CRA followed CEQA and the CEQA Guidelines.
"An EIR for a redevelopment project is known as a program EIR," Presiding Justice Vaino Spencer explained. "A program EIR is designed to analyze environmental impacts of a series of related actions that can be characterized as one large project. That CEQA contains provisions for subsequent and supplemental EIRs reflects the Legislature's recognition that the need for environmental review may arise after the certification of a final EIR and the adoption of the redevelopment plan to which it relates."
"Eller's proposal to construct a billboard at the Sunset site, which was submitted 13 years after the final EIR was certified and the plan was adopted, is an individual, site-specific development project within the project area whose specific impacts could not possibly have been identified at the time the final EIR was certified. Accordingly, CRA correctly determined that this proposed construction was ‘new information' that was not known and could not have been known at the time the final EIR was certified as complete," Spencer continued.
The court found that Eller's argument regarding the nonexistent standards "has appeal." However, Eller suggested no remedy, and the plan did contain general provisions against which CRA could measure the proposed signs, the court ruled.
Finally, the court held that CRA, which has ultimate authority over building permits in the project area, clearly was the lead agency — not the City of Los Angeles, as Eller contended.
Eller Media Co. v. Community Redevelopment Agency, No. B156300, 03 C.D.O.S. 3467, 2003 DJDAR 4343. Filed March 28, 2003. Ordered published April 23, 2003.
For Eller: Richard Hamlin, (310) 216-2165.
For CRA: Kathryn Reimann, (831) 647-1430.