On CEQA and General Plan grounds, a greenhouse gas reduction plan that would perversely lead to more automobile-dependent sprawl was soundly rejected by a court.

The transportation section is a huge contributor to global warming, and the California Air Resources Board has identified reducing automotive trips, or vehicle miles traveled (VMT) as essential to meeting state GHG goals. Climate Action Plans are the way local governments meet their obligation to be part of the solution. 

Yet instead of embracing its own “smart growth” General Plan, the County chose to facilitate the remote projects favored by the development industry, who are also major campaign contributors. The vehicle for this was a spurious “carbon offset” program. No matter how badly planned, developers could buy their way out of sprawl by purchasing unlimited “carbon credits” offsite. These credits have been widely criticized as ineffective if not illusory, and particularly in the foreign countries allowed under the CAP, unenforceable. Input from EHL and other stakeholders was ignored. If left standing, the CAP would have set a disastrous precedent for local governments across the state.  

The CAP was quickly challenged by several entities, including the Sierra Club (which had also litigated a prior iteration of the plan), EHL, and the Golden Door Spa. Given the statewide ramifications, the Attorney General of California submitted a brief against the CAP. While not considered by the trial court, it may become relevant if the case is appealed. The court ruling found striking violations of the California Environmental Quality Act as well as inconsistency with the underlying County General Plan. The ruling will not only affect the CAP but also indirectly projects approved using similar carbon offset schemes. As this version of the CAP must now be set aside, EHL offers to work with the County on an improved plan.

Environmental groups were represented by Chatten-Brown & Carstens and the Golden Door by Latham & Watkins.