In Sustainability of Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Legal Defense Fund v. County of Solano Department of Resource Management, (— Cal.Rptr.3d —, Cal.App. 1 Dist., Oct. 29, 2008), a California Court of Appeal considered whether a county agency that had approved a permit for a landfill expansion was required to hold a hearing when a member of the public requested a hearing on the permit. The court ruled Public Resources Code Section 44307 requires the agency to hold the hearing.
In 2006, Potrero Hills Landfill, Inc., (“Potrero”) applied to the Solano County (“County”) Department of Resource Management (“Department”) for a permit to expand its landfill operation in the county. The Department approved the application and forwarded it to the California Integrated Waste Management Board to either concur with or object to the permit.
Sustainability of Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Defense Fund (“SPRAWLDEF”) requested the County hold a hearing on the permit, alleging the Department failed to act in accordance with the law because it had failed to address various environmental concerns regarding the expansion. The Department rejected the request claiming that under Section 44307, only the applicant, and not members of the general public, could request a hearing on the permit. SPRAWLDEF filed suit seeking to void the permit and to establish that the Department’s failure to hold the hearing was improper. The court ruled Section 44307 did not require the Department to hold the hearing and denied SPRAWLDEF’s petition. SPRAWLDEF appealed.
The court first rejected the Department’s claim that because Potrero was not named in SPRAWLDEF’s suit, proceeding with the case in its absence would prejudice Potrero’s interest and violate its right of due process. The court cited the distinction between “adjudicational” and “ministerial” government actions and concluded that since the dispute in this case was over the Department’s “ministerial” function, Potrero’s rights were not violated by the suit.
The court then reviewed the language of Section 44307. The first sentence requires an agency to hold a hearing on whether conditions imposed on a solid waste permit are excessive “if requested to do so, by the person subject to the action.” The second sentence requires a hearing upon a petition “from any person requesting the enforcement agency to review an alleged failure of the agency to act as required by law or regulation.”
While the first sentence does limit requests for hearings over conditions of approval of a solid waste permit to the applicant; the second grants members of the general public to also request a hearing, but only under a certain, specific condition; the agency’s alleged failure to “act as required by law or regulation.” Further, the court added, the Legislature’s use of the words “any person” in the second sentence indicate its intent to strengthen the public’s ability to ensure that standards of solid waste handling are met.
SPRAWLDEF’s challenge fell squarely within the purview of the second sentence. It was, therefore, legally entitled by Section 44307 to an administrative hearing to air its concerns, the court said. The order denying SPRAWLDEF’s petition was reversed and the case remanded to the trial court with instructions to require the Department to hold the requested hearing.
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