December 2019

By Tina Richards

A lawsuit challenging the Orange City Council’s approval of a 128-unit housing project in East Orange, and its certification of the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR), was filed by the Orange Park Association, Nov. 21.

The lawsuit, filed against the City of Orange under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), asks the court to vacate and set aside the city’s Oct. 22 approvals of the Milan Capital housing project and the EIR. It also asks the court to direct the city to comply with the requirements of CEQA.

The primary purpose of CEQA is to ensure that the public is given a complete understanding of the impacts a proposed project will have on its surroundings. Those impacts include air and water quality, noise, traffic, public safety, sensitive or endangered species. While this EIR concludes there will be “significant impacts” on air quality and traffic, it provides no detailed analysis or mitigation plan. The report fails to give the public a reasonable expectation of what the project entails, and defers specific mitigation and remediation plans until a later, undetermined date.  

Say it again, Sam
The lawsuit raises the same project flaws and inadequacies brought to the city’s attention when the Draft EIR was released in February 2018, and repeated when the recirculated document followed in November. Comments and questions raised by such agencies as the Department of Toxic Substances, Fish and Wildlife, OC Waste and Recycling, and several hundred residents, were, the complaint says, never fully addressed.   

“It is disappointing that Milan’s intransigence forced OPA to file a CEQA lawsuit,” Don Bradley, president of the Orange Park Association, said.  “OPA and many of our neighbors told Milan and the city numerous times about the legal defects in the project plans, including a 38-page road map last December that outlined exactly how Milan could have remedied the CEQA problems.  Nothing changed, so here we are.  Now it is up to the court to require Milan to do what it could have done voluntarily many months ago.”

Among those defects, for example, the EIR failed to provide a project description that is “stable, consistent, complete and accurate.” The site has been used for mining, gravel operations, materials recycling and fuel storage, but the EIR offers no consistent or accurate information regarding potentially hazardous materials or how they will be cleaned up.  

We’ll get back to you
It fails to describe the restoration of the Santiago Creek corridor, and omits such details as the creek’s ultimate alignment, width, edge treatment and provisions for habitat. Nor does it include a plan for the long-term management of the creek, open space and trails.

The legal challenge notes that the EIR does not fully assess the risk of wildfires, include adequate evacuation plans, or analyze and mitigate storm water and flooding impacts, either on the site or downstream.

Further, the EIR’s discussion of transportation impacts contains discrepancies and inconsistencies. It underestimates the number of truck trips required to prepare the site, and downplays the impacts on roadway safety and traffic congestion. 

The earth is moving
The CEQA requirement that an EIR must address the cumulative impacts other planned projects in the area would present was ignored when Chandler Sand & Gravel made known its intentions to fill in a massive depression on a 14-acre property just down the road from the development site. Chandler’s estimated 1,240,000 cubic yards of fill dirt, hauled in by 30 trucks a day, for four and one-half years, should have triggered a revised cumulative analysis of traffic, noise, drainage, flooding and wildlife impacts, but it didn’t. 

And, in approving the project, the city overlooked inconsistencies with the policies stated in the General Plan, the Orange Park Acres Plan, the East Orange Plan and the Santiago Greenbelt Plan. None of those long-recognized land-use plans envisioned tract housing on the former sand and gravel mine, adjacent to a landfill in a dam inundation zone.

In summary, the lawsuit alleges the EIR’s “findings do not provide the reasoning or an analytic route from facts to conclusions.”  The city “prejudicially abused its discretion and failed to proceed in a manner required by law.”

Citizens file lawsuit against City of Orange

challenging development approvals