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Press Release: Berkeley Hillside Preservation Wins CEQA Appeal Berkeley

From Susan Brandt-Hawley, attorney for appellants
Thursday February 16, 2012 - 03:26:00 PM

On February 15th, the First District Court of Appeal reversed the Alameda County Superior Court and ruled that the City of Berkeley’s approval of the 10,000 square foot Kapor residence and 10-car garage proposed for a steep lot in the Berkeley Hills was unlawful. The Court agreed with Berkeley Hillside Preservation that the project is not exempt from environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act.  

Wide community opposition arose when the City failed to require any environmental study. The precedent-setting published appellate opinion clarifies the standard of review and holds that CEQA exemptions cannot be used when there is expert opinion or other substantial evidence that a project may have significant environmental impacts. Here, renowned geotechnical expert Dr. Lawrence Karp provided expert evidence of unstudied “massive grading” and potential for seismic lurching of hillside fills.  

The appellate court ruled that the Kapor house, which one appellate Justice characterized as “humongous” at the appellate argument, is not a typical single-family residence that merits exemption from CEQA. The Court ordered that a peremptory writ issue to order the City of Berkeley “to set aside the approval of use permits and its finding of a categorical exemption, and to order the preparation of an EIR” before further consideration of the project’s four required use permits. 

The Court said that “because there was substantial evidence in the record to support a fair argument that the proposed construction will have a significant effect on the environment, the application of a categorical exemption was inappropriate here, and the trial court erred in denying [the] petition for a writ of mandate.” “We are grateful for this comprehensive ruling and look forward to an EIR process that will take an objective look at the project, its environmental impacts, and feasible mitigation measures and alternatives, “ said appellant Susan Nunes Fadley.