Appeals court sides with Sacramento in McKinley Village CEQA case

By Karen Kidd | Jan 8, 2019

SACRAMENTO – The city of Sacramento has proven that the drive around a controversial residential development project on its north side will become no worse than it is now as construction continues, a state appeals court said in a recent ruling.

In its 17-page opinion issued Dec. 27, the California 3rd District Court of Appeal three-judge panel affirmed a lower court's finding that Sacramento had done enough to prove traffic around the McKinley Village project will not be dramatically impacted.

"We find the city provided sufficient explanation and substantial evidence to support its selection of the threshold of significance for traffic impacts," the opinion said. "Thus, substantial evidence supports its determination that there are no significant traffic impacts at the challenged intersections."

The decision is unpublished, which means it is not to be cited or used as precedent in future cases.

Justice Elena J. Duarte wrote the opinion in which Justice William J. Murray Jr. and Justice Vance W. Raye concurred.

Encore McKinley Village LLC has partially constructed the 328-home, football-shaped project north of East Sacramento and close to downtown, one of largest infill projects in the city's history that officially opened in September 2016, according to the background portion of the opinion.

The residential group East Sacramento Partnership for a Livable City (ESPLC) challenged the city's support for the project, arguing the initial environmental impact report (EIR) didn't adequately analyze the project built on a former landfill and close to existing heavy residential traffic.

The case has seen considerable litigation, including a stop in February 2017 at the California Supreme Court. The high court then declined to depublish its previous ruling that the EIR violated the California Environmental Control Act (CEQA) in the report's finding that the area's traffic would not be significant impacted by the project.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled in the case the previous year.

"We found there was evidence that the project caused significant traffic impacts at certain intersections in the core area and remanded for issuance of a writ of mandate to set aside certification of the final EIR and to take necessary actions to bring the EIR into compliance with CEQA," the opinion said.

Sacramento County Superior Court later issued the writ of mandate and the city revised the EIR to provide additional explanation and evidence about expected traffic impacts before again approving the project and certifying the revised EIR. The Superior Court found the city in compliance and discharged the writ and denied an ESPLC motion to reconsider.

ESPLC appealed, claiming the Superior Court had been wrong to discharge the writ and to deny its motion. As part of its appeal, ESPLC argued the city and Encore ignored evidence that the project's traffic impacts are significant, pointing to Sacramento's master EIR for 2030 that called traffic increases were "significant and unavoidable."

Encore countered that ESPLC's argument based on the 2030 Sacramento master had not been raised before and asked the appeal court to strike the argument.

"We agree with Encore and grant the motion to strike as to this argument and decline to consider it," the opinion said, noting the court does not "ordinarily" consider new issues and that ESPLC provided no reason why it could not have raised the argument sooner.

"Accordingly, we deny ESPLC's request to file a supplemental brief," the opinion said. "Moreover, we find no binding admission as to the significance of the traffic impacts."

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