California Case Law on Delegation of Authority

In Kleist v. City of Glendale (1976) 56 Cal.App.3d 770, a property owner filed a petition for writ of mandate alleging the city council violated CEQA when it rezoned certain property at the request of a developer. The trial court granted the petition and the appellate court affirmed. (Kleist v. City of Glendale, supra, at p. 779.) One of the issues addressed on appeal was whether the city council could delegate review, consideration and certification of an EIR to a special board created by city ordinance, prior to approval of the project by the city council. The appellate court concluded that the city council itself was required to review and consider the EIR, stating: "Delegation is inconsistent with the purpose of the review and consideration function since it insulates the members of the council from public awareness and possible reaction to the individual members' environmental and economic values. Delegation is inconsistent with the purposes of the EIR itself. ... The EIR cannot serve its informational function unless it is reviewed and considered by the governmental body which takes action having an effect upon the environment." (Ibid.) In Sundstrom v. County of Mendocino (1988) 202 Cal.App.3d 296, an owner of property located near a proposed private sewage treatment plant filed a petition for a writ of mandate that challenged the county board of supervisor's issuance of a use permit for the construction of the plant. The use permit included a condition that required the applicant to submit a hydrological study, which would be subject to review and approval by the county planning commission. (Id. at p. 306.) The use permit also required that any mitigation measures recommended by the hydrological study be incorporated into the project's plans. (Ibid.) The neighboring landowner in Sundstrom asserted various procedural and substantive violations of CEQA tainted the county's adoption of a negative declaration for the project. (Sundstrom, supra, 202 Cal.App.3d at p. 304.) The trial court denied the property owner's petition. (Id. at p. 301.) The appellate court reversed and directed the trial court to issue the requested writ of mandate. (Id. at p. 314.) Among other things, the appellate court concluded that the conditions contained in the use permit "improperly delegated the County's legal responsibility to assess environmental impact by directing the applicant himself to conduct the hydrological studies subject to the approval of the planning commission staff." (Id. at p. 307.) The county's board of supervisors could not delegate its responsibility to assess the project's environmental impacts to the staff of the planning commission. (Ibid.) In El Morro Community Assn. v. California Dept. of Parks & Recreation (2004) 122 Cal.App.4th 1341, California's Department of Parks and Recreation (Department) proposed a project that involved the conversion of a mobilehome park to a public campground and other facilities. (El Morro, supra, at p. 1346.) A homeowners group asserted that the Department had failed to proceed in the manner required by law because the EIR was not certified by the "decision maker" and, instead, was certified by a deputy director. (Id. at p. 1349.) The appellate court concluded the Department had proceeded as required by law because the deputy director was the person authorized by the Department to certify the EIR and approve the project and, therefore, the deputy director was the "'decision-making body'" under the definition contained in Guidelines section 15356. (122 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1349-1350.)