Court Orders City of Long Beach to Rescind Approval of Home Depot Next to Los Cerritos Wetlands

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Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust; University Park Estates Neighborhood Association v. City of Long Beach, Case: Case Number BS105960, Los Angeles Superior Court

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John A. Torribio has ordered the City of Long Beach to set aside its approval of a proposed Home Depot project because it violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). (Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust; University Park Estates Neighborhood Association v. City of Long Beach, Case: Case Number BS105960, Los Angeles Superior Court). In October 2006, Long Beach approved a Home Depot "design center" and associated retail development across from the Los Cerritos Wetlands in southeast Long Beach. The judge found the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) required by CEQA for the project inadequate in several respects.

Petitioners Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust and the University Park Estates Neighborhood Association challenged the approval by the City of Long Beach for the construction of the project by Studebaker LB LLC in the Coastal Zone, in an area designated for industrial development by the City in the applicable Specific Plan. Studebaker is owned by developer Tom Dean. The project would consist of a 105,000-square-foot Home Depot, along with a 6,000-square-foot restaurant and 22,000 square feet of retail space. The site is east of the Los Cerritos Wetlands and west of the San Gabriel River, and historically was wetlands.

Judge Torribio ruled the City's approval violated CEQA because the EIR prepared for the project did not adequately analyze the project's impacts. The biological resource surveys for burrowing owls and sensitive plants were flawed because they were taken at the wrong times of the year and did not cover the entire project area. The EIR did not properly analyze the off-site impacts to the Los Cerritos Wetlands and the wildlife residing in those wetlands from night lighting and noise caused by the project, nor delineate potential wetlands onsite. The EIR did not respond adequately to the comments of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and others regarding investigating and mitigating the serious air quality impacts of the project. The CEQA process was also flawed because the City did not make documentary materials referenced in the EIR available to the public. Further, the City did not have evidence to support its finding that there were no feasible mitigation measures and alternatives to reduce the impacts of the project, such as a reduction in the Project's size.

Environmental attorney Douglas P. Carstens, of Chatten-Brown & Carstens, who represented the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust and the University Park Estates Neighborhood Association, said "This judgment requires more careful examination of the future use of a unique piece of property. The proposed Home Depot would have had damaging impacts on the adjacent wetlands, making restoration and expansion of the wetlands more difficult, and adding congestion to roads that would make it harder to access the coast in Southeast Long Beach. We in California are fortunate to have an environmental law---the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)--- that requires decisionmakers such as Long Beach City Councilmembers to take environmental values into account, and prohibits approval of environmentally damaging projects when there are feasible alternatives with fewer impacts. The City will now have a chance to revisit its plans not just for this site, but for the larger southeast Long Beach area."

According to Ann Cantrell, Treasurer of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust, "The public expressed their displeasure with this idea at neighborhood meetings; with over 5,000 petitions signatures; by commenting on the Environmental Impact Report at the Planning Commission; and by appealing to the City Council. A Home Depot can be built anywhere - we only have one wetland left in East Long Beach. Although this land is zoned industrial, it does not have to be an eyesore. There are ways of both beautifying this area and making money by putting in a solar energy plant surrounded by native vegetation. Or better yet, turning it into a restored wetlands! With this ruling, those possibilities can be examined more closely."

Ann Denison, Vice president of the Land Trust, echoed that sentiment: "Through our educating the public about the value of our Los Cerritos Wetlands, thousands of residents signed petitions opposing the Home Depot - or any other development on or near enough to them to negatively impact them. Although wetlands provide vital habitat for birds and other species, they also provide flood control and are the safe nurseries for fish that go into the ocean. Wetlands are a large tourism draw. Ecotourism, especially bird watching, is the fastest growing segment of tourism. Long Beach needs the last remaining portion of wetlands in Long Beach more than we need development on and beside wetlands. We hope the Planning Department and the council members won't even consider more development on or adjacent to wetlands."

Janice Dahl, of neighboring University Park Estates Neighborhood Association, stated "This ruling is a vindication of community efforts that brought together a diverse coalition to point out a better way for the City of Long Beach to proceed. We must protect access to our coast by ensuring that proposed projects do not overburden roads with traffic and that they mitigate the impacts that they cause. Preservation of the few remaining natural areas along our coast is absolutely vital."

For additional information, contact:
Douglas P. Carstens, Chatten-Brown & Carstens, 310 314-8040 ext. 2,
dpc(at)cbcearthlaw.com, http://www.cbcearthlaw.com
Janice Dahl, 562-594-0902, StopHomeDepot(at)aol.com, http://www.upena-lb.com
Ann Cantrell, 562-596-7288, AnnGadfly(at)aol.com, http://www.lcwlandtrust.org

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