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In a recently published decision by the Second District, the California Court of Appeal in Covina Residents for Responsible Development v. City of Covina (B279590, certified for publication March 22, 2018) affirmed California’s goal of encouraging transit-oriented development. Amanda Monchamp and Joey Meldrum (representing the project developer, City Ventures) worked with the City of Covina to defend its approval of a 68-unit, mixed-use, infill project located a quarter-mile from a Metrolink commuter rail station. Each unit in the project is designed with rooftop solar energy to power the home and a 220-volt outlet intended for use as an electric vehicle charging station. The entire challenge to this sustainable development project rested on allegations of a lack of parking.

The court affirmed that this is exactly the type of project that the state Legislature had in mind when it enacted Senate Bill 743 (effective January 1, 2014) to further its strategy of encouraging transit-oriented, infill development consistent with the goal of reducing greenhouse gases. Through SB 743, the Legislature added section 21099 to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which provides that “[a]esthetic and parking impacts of a residential, mixed-use residential, or employment center project on an infill site within a transit priority area shall not be considered significant impacts on the environment.” The Court’s lengthy discussion of the project’s compliance with each of the section 21099 criteria is the first published application of this statutory exemption to CEQA.

Also of note in this case is the timing of approval. The project’s Mitigated Negative Declaration was prepared and circulated prior to the effective date of SB 743 and the City did not even rely on section 21099 in March 2014 when it adopted the MND or approved the project. But because the project itself was approved after SB 743 became effective, the court held that “[t]here is little doubt section 21099 applies to the City Ventures project” (Slip Opinion, p. 17).

The Court relied on San Franciscans Upholding the Downtown Plan v. City & County of San Francisco (2002) 102 Cal.App.4th 656 and found that while secondary parking impacts caused by traffic congestion resulting from a lack of parking (e.g., air quality, noise, safety, or any other impact associated with transportation) must be addressed, parking impacts, in and of themselves, are exempted from CEQA review for urban, infill projects near transit hubs.