United States of America
The EIR in question was prepared for a project that proposed to develop 1,574 acres in the County of Madera (“County”) into a mix of residential, commercial, light industrial, open space, recreational and other public uses (“Project”). The Projects 5,200 dwelling units were estimated to accommodate approximately 13,850 people, including 3,200 school-aged children; thus requiring new school facilities two elementary schools and, possibly, one junior high school. Plaintiff (the local school district) argued, inter alia, that the EIR failed to comply with CEQA because it failed to analyze the Projects direct impacts on existing school facilities as well as indirect impacts on school facilities caused by the Project. The County argued that Senate Bill 50s addition of the word “considering” limited a lead agencys responsibility to identify, analyze and evaluate all school-related environmental impacts, whether directly or indirectly caused by the Project. The court rejected the school districts contention that the County violated CEQA because the EIR lacked analysis of impacts to "existing school facilities that will be forced to accommodate hundreds of students beyond current overcrowded conditions". Senate Bill 50s addition of the word “considering” "obviates the need for an EIR to contain a description and analysis of a developments impacts on school facilities". On the other hand, the court found that SB 50s substitution of the phrase "on school facilities" for "related to school facilities" narrowed the exemption. While "related to" required consideration of "both direct effects on school facilities and indirect effects on parts of the environment other than school facilities" "the prepositional phrase ‘on school facilities limits the type of impacts that are excused from discussion . . . to the adverse physical changes to the school grounds, school buildings and ‘any school-related consideration relating to a school districts ability to accommodate enrollment". Therefore, the court held, the indirect impacts on the physical environment that are caused by a Projects school facilities (other than school facilities themselves), must be considered. For example, traffic impacts caused by students driving (or bussing) to and from the facility and impacts to noise and air quality caused by the construction of school facilities must be considered in order to comply with CEQA.