On June 12th, the California Court of Appeal, Fourth District, filed its decision in Golden Door Properties LLC v. County of San Diego, __ Cal.App. 5th __ (2020) (WL 3119041). In doing so, the Court extended the now decade-long effort of San Diego County to craft an adequate Climate Action Plan (“CAP”): as the Court itself noted, this is its third decision in that effort. The County’s greenhouse gas (“GHG”) reduction plan within the CAP, particularly the use of offsets, provided perhaps the highest and most broad-reaching issues of interest; however, the Court also addressed a number of other alleged shortfalls of the environmental impact report (“EIR”) for the CAP, including the cumulative impacts analysis, alternatives analysis, consistency with applicable plans, and the adequacy of responses to comments. Although the County prevailed on the issue of the consistency of the CAP with the County’s General Plan, and on the sufficiency of responses to comments on the EIR, Petitioners prevailed on the sufficiency of the CAP and overall sufficiency of the EIR under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”).
Substantial analysis concerned a single mitigation measure (M-GHG-1) proposed to reduce GHG emissions from General Plan amendments to net-zero. This is significant because the CAP considered—and applied only to—developments consistent with the County’s 2011 General Plan Update. Measure M-GHG-1 first required projects with increased density above the approved 2011 levels to employ “all feasible” GHG reduction measures, including VMT reductions such as promotion of alternative transportation measures. If on-site measures fail to reduce GHG emissions to CAP-approved levels, a project may then employ off-site measures, including credits from GHG reduction programs worldwide. Continue reading