An appellate court has thrown out the Town of Mammoth Lakes' redevelopment plan and the plan's EIR. The Third District Court of Appeal held that there was no substantial evidence that the 1,139-acre redevelopment project area was blighted or even predominately urbanized.
The court also ruled there was no evidence that current conditions prevented economic development. As for the EIR, the court ruled that the town's program EIR was inadequate and the town should have thoroughly analyzed all 72 projects in the redevelopment plan. In mid-1997, the Town Council certified the EIR and adopted the redevelopment plan, which covered three areas comprising nearly half of the town. A group called Friends of Mammoth filed lawsuits challenging the validity of both the plan and the EIR. Mono County Superior Court Judge Edward Denton ruled for the town, but the unanimous three-judge appellate panel overturned Denton. In a lengthy opinion, Justice George Nicholson repeatedly noted that the town made assertions about blight and poor economic conditions but provided no proof. Nicholson said Mammoth Lakes improperly calculated the amount of land that is "predominately urbanized."
Redevelopment law (Health & Safety Code ï¿½33030) requires 80% of a project area to be predominately urbanized. The town counted all portions of partially developed parcels as urbanized, such as all 76 acres of community college site even though only 2 acres are developed. Nicholson said a 1992 amendment to redevelopment law specifically used the word "land" rather than "parcel" or "property." "The facts of this case exemplify the misuse of redevelopment power the Legislature sought to curb. The Town sought to include in the Project Area undeveloped and obviously non-blighted land which is planned and approved for extensive private development," Nicholson wrote. Furthermore, the town provided inadequate evidence that the area suffers from physical conditions that cause blight or that there are factors that "prevent or substantially hinder" economic viability. "[T]he Town Council could not determine from the evidence that the flat rate of tax revenues was caused by defective design or construction, inadequate lot sizes or substandard site design," the court ruled. Regarding the EIR, the town argued that the document functioned as a first-tier EIR and individual projects would receive additional review in the future. But the court ruled that the California Environmental Quality Act would prohibit future analysis of the individual projects.
Because the redevelopment plan was so detailed ï¿½ to the point of, for example, specifying the size and location of parking lots ï¿½ the 72 projects would be "deemed approved" upon plan adoption. "[B]ecause each project is deemed approved for purposes of CEQA, the significant impacts to the environment likely to be caused by each individual project must be analyzed in the redevelopment plan EIR at least to the same extent each project is detailed in the redevelopment plan and its accompanying Final Report," Nicholson wrote.
The Cases: Friends of Mammoth v. Town of Mammoth Lakes, Nos. C029659 and C03104, 00 C.D.O.S. 6141, filed July 21, 2000. The Lawyers: For Friends: Murray Kane, Kane, Ballmer & Berkman, (213) 617-0480. For the town: Peter Tracy, town attorney, (760) 872-1101.