SAN FRANCISCO — A California appeals court recently ruled that a neighborhood group can sue an air quality management district under the California Environmental Protection Act (CEQA) in its efforts to prevent asphalt production at an aggregate operation site.

On March 23, the California First District Court of Appeal reversed a Mendocino County Superior Court decision. The superior court dismissed a CEQA claim filed by Friends of Outlet Creek against the Mendocino County Air Quality Management District and Grist Creek Aggregates LLC.

The appeals court reversed the decision on the grounds that there is established precedent, which allows CEQA claims against air quality management districts, according to court records.

However, the court further stated that this ruling does not allow Friends of Outlet Creek to challenge any of the county’s land use designations or authorizations pertaining to this site, according to court records.

The only relief the group, which aims to protect Outlet Creek and its habitat, can obtain through the lawsuit against the air quality district is the “invalidation of the authority to construct,” the court held.

According to court records, the group had believed it could obtain an injunction against the use of the site for aggregate and asphalt production, but the court found that the group couldn't because the district only had a limited role in assessing air quality impacts and approving the construction for Grist’s proposed asphalt production. To challenge the county’s land use actions or designations, the court said the group would need to seek recourse against the governmental body.

As a result, the group cannot “challenge the adequacy of the county’s prior CEQA reviews, for example, by asserting the county should have prepared a full [environmental impact review], rather than a mitigated negative declaration in connection with any prior use designations or approvals,” the court said.

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