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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fresno Loses Environmental Law Suits at High Rate

Developer-Friendly Interpretation of State Law by City Leads to Numerous Losses in Court

excerpted from the Fresno Bee, Sept. 28. 2008

Since the start of 2005, 10 CEQA actions against Fresno have been decided, and the city won just once. Fresno settled six cases and lost three -- the losses coming in appellate court decisions made during a 14-month period ending in May....

Fresno finds that projects are likely to produce significant effects far less often than other similar-sized cities in California, The Fresno Bee found in an analysis of CEQA records sent to the state.

In a 10-year period ending in July, Fresno required a full environmental review for nine out of 73 projects, or 12% of the time, according to the CEQA database.

By comparison, California's 20 biggest cities, except Los Angeles and San Diego, required a full environmental review for 26% of projects.
The results seem to indicate that Fresno is reluctant to require a full review, said McCoy of the Information Center for the Environment, which maintains the database....

The city erred by allowing developer DeWayne Zinkin to pay just $44,000 for the traffic the shopping center would add to Highway 41, when Caltrans estimated the fee at $307,000, the court said. Fresno's decision would leave the public "holding the financial bag," the court said...

As a result, the city failed to make a reasonable effort to offset the effects of development, a key CEQA requirement, the court said.

The city violated the other key part of CEQA by failing to inform the public about the likely effects of the shopping center, the court found.

The court said the city's reviews were "deeply flawed": Instead of comparing the project's expected effects against existing conditions, the city wrongly based its review on a comparison with a "massive hypothetical office park," creating a "misleading report." The city staff misrepresented findings to the City Council, which received them at the last minute, the court said...

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