Appeals court throws out Woodland’s approval of shopping center

Published: Friday, Feb. 28, 2014 - 11:16 pm
Last Modified: Friday, Feb. 28, 2014 - 11:53 pm

A state appellate court ruled Friday that the city of Woodland’s plans to head off urban decay from proposed expansion of a regional shopping mall are woefully inadequate under the California Environmental Quality Act and that the city has to start over if it wants to make the project fly.

Four of the city’s five mitigation measures in the project’s final environmental impact report “are too speculative, vague and noncommittal to comply” with the act, a three-justice panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal declared in a 49-page order.

The justices also found the city “did not properly assess the merits of the mixed-use alternative” to the project – called Gateway II – and that the impact report is flawed in its failure to consider energy impacts created by increased traffic, the construction itself and the mall’s operation generally.

The opinion reverses Yolo Superior Court Judge Daniel Maguire, who found the city approval of the project was warranted and threw out the legal challenge by the California Clean Energy Committee. The justices ordered the lower-court judge to grant the committee’s petition to block construction, and they told Maguire to make sure the city rescinds its certification of the environmental impact report and approval of the project.

“After which, the city of Woodland shall exercise its independent judgment as to how to proceed,” the panel said.

The opinion was authored by Associate Justice Andrea Lynn Hoch, with the concurrences of acting Presiding Justice Ronald B. Robie and Associate Justice Elena J. Duarte.

Representatives for the city and the committee said there would be no comment from either entity. Paul Petrovich, whose company is developing a 234-acre site on agriculture land in east Woodland, did not return a call seeking comment.

Gateway II would expand the existing Gateway center next to Interstate 5, home to Costco, Target and Best Buy. The expansion would sit on 61 acres with 340,000 square feet of retail space, including big-box sites and 22 acres for auto dealerships.

The 49-acre first phase of the project, opened five years ago, has become a regional attraction. But it has drawn criticism from some who say it hinders redevelopment of the city’s struggling downtown.

The environmental impact report’s heavy reliance on a requirement that Gateway II comply with the city’s building code “does not, by itself, constitute an adequate assessment of mitigation measures that can be taken to address the energy impacts,” the appellate panel said. The building code “does not address construction and operational energy impacts for a project intended to transform agricultural land into a regional shopping center.”

According to the panel’s opinion, the city acknowledges it did not study the construction or operational energy impacts of three hotels, a 20,000-square-foot restaurant, three fast-food restaurants, an auto mall and 100,000 square feet of office space.

“Although the city characterized the omission as non-prejudicial, the failure to study the energy impacts resulting from a large part of the planned construction is not inconsequential,” Hoch wrote for the panel. “Thus, we reject the city’s assertion it would have approved the project regardless of what a proper energy-impacts analysis would have been.”

Hoch pointed out that the impact report does not indicate any investigation into renewable energy options that might be available or appropriate for the project. To which, she noted, the city responded that it is not required to incorporate renewable energy features.

Not so, the opinion says.

“CEQA is violated when an EIR contains no discussion of a potentially significant environmental consideration,” Hoch wrote.

Call The Bee’s Denny Walsh, (916) 321-1189.

Read more articles by Denny Walsh

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