News and Articles

July 2, 2012

Increased Demand for Fire Protection and Other Public Services Is an Economic Effect Rather than an Environmental Impact Under CEQA.

Increased Demand for Fire Protection and Other Public Services Is an Economic Effect Rather than an Environmental Impact Under CEQA.

City of Hayward et al. v. California State University [First District Court of Appeal Nos. A131412 and A132424, filed 5/30/12; part pub. order 6/28/12]

By Andrea A. Matarazzo

The City of Hayward and two local community groups (“Petitioners”) challenged the Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) for the California State University East Bay campus master development plan, arguing that the EIR failed to adequately analyze impacts on fire protection and public safety, traffic and parking, air quality, and parklands.  The Court of Appeal rejected all of Petitioners’ arguments save one, and concluded that the EIR was adequate in all respects except that its analysis of potential environmental impacts to parkland was not supported by substantial evidence.

In the published portion of its opinion, the appellate court made its most noteworthy holding with regard to the master plan’s anticipated impacts on public services.  Petitioners claimed that the university had violated CEQA because it did not adopt mitigation to fund additional public services – specifically, fire and emergency medical services – that would be needed as a result of the proposed campus expansion.  The master plan’s increase in campus population was projected to increase the need for city services including eleven additional fire fighters, a new fire station, and additional equipment to maintain response times and service levels.  The trial court agreed with Petitioners and found that the EIR was flawed because it did not treat the campus expansion’s effect on adequacy of fire protection services as an environmental impact, and instead focused only on the potential physical effects of building a new fire station.  The appellate court rejected Petitioners’ argument, however, and reversed the trial court on this ground.

The Court of Appeal was not persuaded by Petitioners’ claim that the risk of injury from “dangerously long” response times is an environmental impact for purposes of CEQA.  The court reasoned that providing fire and emergency medical services is the city’s legal responsibility, and although the proposed project would increase demand for those services, such an effect was economic, not environmental.  In the court’s view, “there is no authority supporting the city’s view that CEQA shifts financial responsibility for providing fire and emergency response services to the sponsor of a development project.”  The court’s holding is significant in its distinction between physical environmental effects, which require mitigation under CEQA, and social or economic effects, which do not.

Authored by:

Andrea A. Matarazzo

Andrea’s practice focuses on land use law and related environmental issues in California and the western United States.  She assists developers, business owners, and public agencies in all aspects of project permitting and entitlements, environmental compliance, and litigation, particularly in connection with environmental review under CEQA and NEPA.  Her practice includes planning and zoning law, endangered species regulations, air quality, water supply and water quality mandates, wetlands, and other regulatory requirements.

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