By Claudia Gutierrez

In Golden Gate Land Holdings, LLC v. East Bay Regional Park District, the California Court of Appeals considered whether an Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) must be prepared where the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) and eminent domain law intersect. Golden Gate Land Holdings, LLC, the owner of the property in question, argued that the East Bay Regional Park District, tasked by the California Legislature to complete the Eastshore State Park (“Eastshore Park”), had to complete environmental review prior to taking any action, including adoption of the resolution of necessity for the condemnation of a portion of Golden Gate’s property. The court sided with the District holding that commencement of the eminent domain proceedings prior to completion of the EIR did not violate CEQA.

Completion of Eastshore Park consisted, in part, of the continuation of the San Francisco Bay Trail. Building such trail would provide safer access for the public. In order to do so, the District had to acquire approximately eight acres of land along the shoreline (the “Property”) owned by Golden Gate. The District adopted a resolution of necessity to condemn the Property and found that the project was categorically exempt from CEQA. Golden Gate sued, arguing that the District should have prepared an EIR. The trial court agreed that the District had not complied with CEQA and that an EIR was indeed required, but it did not vacate the District’s resolution of necessity. The court instead ordered the District to vacate only its CEQA exemption finding, allowing the District to leave its resolution of necessity in place and proceed with the condemnation action. Pursuant to the trial court’s order, the District was not allowed to actually acquire the Property without first completing the EIR.

On appeal, the court held that the entire “project” consisted of acquiring and developing the Property for public park purposes. However, the project consisted of three different project activities: (1) commencement of eminent domain proceedings, (2) actual acquisition of the Property and (3) construction of the improvements. The court held that the first activity could be severed from the remainder of the project under Public Resources Code Section 21168.9 [1] as there was no evidence that continuing the eminent domain proceedings would prejudice the District’s CEQA analysis, provided that the District did not commit to a particular trail alignment by acquiring the Property prior to completing the CEQA process. Thus, while the District failed to comply with CEQA with regard to future elements of the project, the adoption of the resolution of necessity alone did not require compliance with CEQA.

[1] § 21168.9 gives the reviewing court authority to tailor CEQA enforcement orders to fit the circumstances of specific cases.