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Parking Rules Are Exempt From Environmental Study, Court Rules

A city resolution restricting parking on certain residential streets to residents with parking permits was categorically exempt from environmental review, the Second District Court of Appeal has ruled. The court rejected business owners' contention that the ordinance was not exempt because of the cumulative impact of parking restrictions or because of "unusual circumstances." In November 2000, the Santa Monica City Council adopted a resolution establishing Preferential Parking Zone XX (PPZ XX) for streets in a 26-acre area. The resolution allowed only vehicles with residential parking permits to park on unmetered curbs in residential areas of the zone from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily. The City Council also declared the resolution exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act under CEQA Guideline § 15301(c), which provides exemptions for minor alterations. The Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce sued, claiming the resolution was not exempt. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David Yaffe ruled for the city, and a unanimous three-judge panel of the Second District, Division Three, upheld the decision. The appellate court first determined that the resolution qualified as an exempt "project" under Class 1 of § 15301(c). That class applies to the operation, repair or minor alteration of existing structures, facilities or topography and involving no expansion of use. The court held that the city's resolution easily met the criteria, and the court rejected the Chamber of Commerce's argument that Class 1 was not intended to apply to a regulatory scheme. "[T]he Class 1 exemption itself specifically states that it is applicable to activities involving the operation of existing public facilities — and that is exactly what the legislation here involves," Justice Walter Croskey wrote for the court. As for the Chamber of Commerce's arguments that the exemption did not apply because of cumulative impacts or unusual circumstances, the court ruled that the Chamber did not provide any factual evidence as the basis for a "fair argument." The Chamber argued that the resolution itself, and combined with other preferential parking zones, created an adverse parking effect. But the court disagreed. "The only ‘adverse parking impact' of the legislation is that it gives residents, versus commercial users, preferential parking at some unmetered spaces," Croskey wrote. "While it can be inferred from this fact that the legislation may have an adverse financial impact on some persons or businesses, it cannot be inferred from this fact that the legislation may have any environmental impact." The chamber argued that PPZ XX was "unusually large," its hours were "unusually restrictive" and that an "unusually diverse" mix of users frequent the area. But the court found nothing unusual and said the city was simply "deciding how best to allocate its limited curbside parking in an area with competing user interests." The court also ruled that it did not matter that the city had not exempted the establishment of earlier preferential parking zones. The Case: Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce v. City of Santa Monica, No. B151761, 02 C.D.O.S. 7981, 2002 DJDAR 10002. Filed August 29, 2002. The Lawyers: For the Chamber: Christopher M. Harding, Harding, Larmore, Kutcher & Kozal, (310) 451-2968. For the city: Cara Silver, city attorney's office, (310) 458-8336.
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