A state appellate court has upheld an environmental impact report for a 96-unit condominium project in downtown Oceanside. The court rejected arguments that the environmental impact report failed to analyze a reasonable range of alternatives, did not address the project’s impact on neighboring residents and did not require adequate mitigation of biological impacts.

The proposed project is a 96-unit condominium, two-building development on 7.5 acres next to the San Luis Rey River and within Oceanside’s downtown redevelopment project area. The project site is next to Mira Mar Mobile Community, a 173-unit mobile home park. Relying on a redevelopment project area master plan, the city adopted a tiered EIR (called the final supplement EIR, or Final SEIR) and approved a tentative map for the project in May 2002.

Mira Mar residents and the mobile home park’s owner, Logan Boggs, sued, arguing that the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in a number of ways. San Diego County Superior Court Judge Michael Anello upheld the Final SEIR. The project opponents appealed, but a unanimous three-judge panel of Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld the lower court decision.

The appellate court dealt first the question of alternatives. The final SEIR contained a “no project” alternative; reduced-density alternatives of 10 and 28 single-family lots, respectively; and a 95-unit, single-structure condominium development.

The project opponents argued that the no project alternative discussion was misleading because it did not indicate that the proposed project would result in the loss of open space and coastal sage scrub habitat, and because the Final SEIR should not have speculated that future proposals for the site could have greater impacts. The court disagreed, saying that the impact of the no project alternative was “self evident” and that the impacts of the project itself were described elsewhere. As for the Final SEIR’s speculation, the court ruled, “[T]his comment merely acknowledges the reality that a disapproval of the instant project would inevitably result in the proposal of some other project.”

Project opponents contended that the reduced density alternatives were bogus because they were not feasible. But the court said their inclusion was fine. “Although the city ultimately rejected these alternatives as ‘infeasible,’ this conclusion does not imply these alternatives were improperly included for discussion,” Justice James McIntyre wrote for the court, citing CEQA Guidelines § 15126.6, subdivision (a). “Alternatives included in an EIR need only be ‘potentially feasible,’ meaning they are ‘capable of being accomplished in a successful manner within a reasonable period of time, taking into account economic, environmental, social and technological factors.’”

The opponents argued that the 95-unit condo was an inappropriate alternative because it would actually have a greater impact that the proposed project. The court agreed but said it did not matter. “While we do not condone the city’s inclusion of an alternative that does not further CEQA’s purposes, we find the error was not prejudicial,” McIntyre wrote.

Finally, opponents said the Final SEIR should have addressed alternative locations, which the study did not contain. But the court ruled, “Because the proposed project was consistent with the city’s existing plans, policies and zoning, we conclude a review of alternative sites was not necessary.”

The court then turned to the Final SEIR’s analysis of impacts. Project opponents said the proposed condominiums would block their ocean view, sunlight and ocean breezes. As proposed, buildings 22 and 35 feet away from mobile homes would tower more than 30 feet above the mobile homes. But the city determined that the impact was not significant. The city’s policy draws a distinction between public views and private views, and the project was designed to protect public views. Therefore, the court explained, the city could determine the project’s impact on the mobile home park was not significant.

As for the loss of coastal sage scrub habitat, the court noted that the Final SEIR requires the loss of 0.86 acres of habitat must be offset 3-to-1 with the creation, restoration and permanent preservation of habitat elsewhere on the site. The state Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Coastal Commission all accepted the mitigation, the court pointed out.

The court also ruled that the city’s findings were supported by substantial evidence in the record.

The Case:
Mira Mar Mobile Community v. City of Oceanside (CH Oceanside), No. D042070, 04 C.D.O.S. 5252, 2004 DJDAR 7183. Filed May 17, 2004. Ordered published June 15, 2004.
The Lawyers:
For Mira Mar: D. Wayne Brechtel, Worden, Williams, Richmond, Brechtel & Gibbs, (858) 755-6604.
For the city: Pamela Walls, assistant city attorney, (760) 435-3979.
For real party in interest CH Oceanside: Ronald Rouse and Brian Fish, Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps, (858) 720-6300.