Should CEQA Require Local Governments to Analyze the Impacts of Development Displaced by Restrictive Land Use Planning?

Lefcoe, George
November 2006
Ecology Law Quarterly;2006, Vol. 33 Issue 4, p1015
Academic Journal
In order to prevent the avoidable environmental degradation that often accompanies new development, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires state and local decision makers to consider the potential environmental impacts of their discretionary approvals, even when they are voting on entitlements for purely private development projects. Virtually any proposed development in most California cities can add to local traffic congestion and air pollution, and for this reason, can be rejected under CEQA. Because of California's staggering population growth, projects rejected at one location are likely to find their way to another site. Does CEQA demand that before voting to approve, reject, or reduce the density of a project, a local government entity consider the environmental impacts at the site where the displaced development is likely to arise? Two recently decided appellate court cases reached opposite answers to this question. After examining Muzzy Ranch Co. v. Solano County Airport Land Use Commission and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. City of Turlock, this Article concludes that local governments should evaluate the environmental consequences of a project at both the proposed project location and at the likely displaced location (if the project is denied). Regrettably, this added requirement joins an already extensive list of topics covered in California's environmental review process, and could provide yet another basis for courts to set aside local government decisions. Yet, local government officials disregarding the consequences of displaced development risk reducing the density or rejecting a proposed development that is more environmentally benign than the likely alternatives.


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