California Supreme Court: Granting License to Ignore CEQA?

Written by

The California Supreme Court recently issued a ruling in the case of Tuolumne Jobs & Small Business Alliance v. Superior Court (Wal-Mart), which raised the question does the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) apply to local voter initiatives if the government adopts the initiative without placing it on the ballot for a special election. Tuolumne Jobs & Small Business Alliance (TJSBA) filed the suit arguing that the City of Sonora, California violated CEQA went it came to approval of a Wal-Mart expansion project without conducting a CEQA review. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected TJSBA’s argument for multiple reasons, primarily pointing to the fact that if the California Legislature had originally intended for CEQA review’s to be held before adoption of initiatives, it would have stated such when it was adopted in 1970, but it did not. Justice Corrigan said in his opinion, “Because CEQA review is contrary to the statutory language and legislative history pertaining to voter initiatives, and because policy considerations do not compel a different result, such review is not required before adoption of a voter initiative.”

While clarifying existing law, this statement by the Supreme Court will add much weight to certain early strategic considerations for politically popular development projects.