White Papers

The Proper Baseline for Analyzing Traffic and Related Impacts Under CEQA

Guidance in Response to the Sunnyvale Case

Categorized Under: Environment



The California Court of Appeal, Sixth District, in Sunnyvale West Neighborhood Assn. v. City of Sunnyvale City Council, recently invalidated an environmental impact report (EIR) for using an inappropriate baseline.

For the traffic and traffic-related impact analyses, the EIR in question used a baseline consisting of future, post-project approval conditions to analyze a project’s potential traffic impacts. In its holding, the Court determined that existing physical conditions at the time of the issuance of the Notice of Preparation was the appropriate baseline under California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when analyzing traffic impacts.

Putting some finality to the precedential effect of the Sunnyvale case, on April 27, 2011, the California Supreme Court denied requests to depublish the Sunnyvale decision. This white paper provides a summary of the Sunnyvale case and the Court’s ruling.

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Authored By

  • Ron Bass

    Senior FellowICF International

    Ronald Bass has participated in environmental and planning studies under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and state planning laws. He is coauthor of The CEQA DESKBOOK: A Step-by-Step Approach to the California Environmental Quality Act and The NEPA Book: A Step-By-Step Guide on How to Comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.

    A member of the editorial board of California Environmental Law Reporter, he writes articles about legislation, regulations, and court decisions. Mr. Bass has served as president of the Association of Environmental Professionals and the American Planning Association, California chapter, from which he received the Distinguished Leadership Award.

  • Jonathan Riker

    ManagerICF International

    Jonathan Riker is a licensed attorney and professional urban planner with seven years’ experience in California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) compliance and federal, state, and local land use and land development regulation. He provides oversight and in-house guidance on National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and CEQA documents.

    He is the first attorney in Los Angeles to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional status conferred by the U.S. Green Building Council. At the Los Angeles City Planning Department, he coordinated environmental review for major development projects. He also worked for an environmental consulting firm, preparing CEQA and NEPA documentation for large-scale public works projects.

  • Terry Rivasplata

    Technical DirectorICF International

    Terry Rivasplata, a Senior Environmental Planner with ICF International, specializes in preparing California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) documents for projects ranging from schools to general plans. He teaches classes on CEQA and related topics for clients and the University of California Extension.

    He was with the Governor's Office of Planning and Research from 1985 to 1998, including a stint as the chief of both the state clearinghouse and the planning unit. He participated in drafting the 1998, 1997, and 1994 amendments to the CEQA Guidelines. He is the editor of the Environmental Assessor for the Association of Environmental Professionals and was coauthor of the 1998, 1990, and 1987 editions of General Plan Guidelines.

Insight Details

Published: May 1, 2011
Authors: , , ,

Ken Bogdan


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