Citizens win Vista Mar lawsuit
In a 32-page ruling, San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Nancy Fineman ruled that the citizens “provided substantial evidence of a fair argument that the project may have a significant effect on the environment” and that “The City prejudicially abused its discretion in failing to conduct an EIR.”
Pacifica citizens sued the City of Pacifica because the City Council did not disclose the environmental impacts of the proposed Vista Mar project. The law required the City Council to prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project.
The victory for the plaintiffs, Coalition of Pacificans for an Updated Plan (CPUP)* and Kristin Cramer, comes after a string of Pacifica’s development decisions that ignored public input, expert opinion, and basic environmental standards. After numerous experts testified that the Vista Mar project would result in potentially significant adverse environmental impacts, the City Council disregarded their testimony and approved the project. The court instead found the City’s approval violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirement that where there is expert opinion of potentially significant impacts, an EIR must be prepared before deciding whether to approve the proposed project.
The proposed project is on a steep, sloping lot with dense vegetation on Monterey, near Hickey. The judge noted that the project will remove 7 heritage trees and 50 other trees, and will destroy 96 feet of the ephemeral drainage and 0.26 acres of arroyo willow riparian habitat. The judge’s ruling also noted that the Planning Commission denied an earlier application because of landslides on the property.
Numerous experts wrote to the City that the project would result in potentially significant adverse environmental impacts. These experts commented:
– Dr. Paul E. Rosenfeld and Matt Hagemann, P.G., air quality experts, concluded that the Project could result in a potentially significant adverse health risk impact. They submitted evidence to the City estimating that the excess cancer risk from this Project will be approximately 20 times higher than the Bay Area Air Quality Management District’s CEQA significance threshold;
– Christine Boles (registered architect), Terry Watt (American Institute of Certified Planners member), and Jared Ikeda (retired land use planner/architect) concluded that the project would result in potentially significant aesthetic/visual impacts because the project is “incompatible with the neighborhood”; and the project site would be “scraped of virtually all trees and other vegetation, deep graded and recontoured, drainage and jurisdictional waters/wetlands filled”;
– Dr. Shawn Smallwood, who has a Ph.D. in Ecology from UC Davis, concluded the project would cause significant impacts from loss of bird nests and fledglings, habitat loss, interference with wildlife movement, and habitat fragmentation.
The City argued that the experts were not credible, but the judge ruled that they were and that as a result, an EIR must be prepared. For example, the City’s attorney claimed that Christine Boles’ report as a licensed architect was “biased” and her opinions were inaccurate. Judge Fineman disregarded the City’s argument because there was no basis for it in the record of City proceedings before project approval.