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CA Appeals Court Opinion in Bernardi vs County of Monterey

CA Appeals Court Opinion in Bernardi vs County of Monterey

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Published by Mark Dierolf
Unpublished opinion of the California sixth district court of appeals in Bernardi vs County of Monterey. Case number H031648.
Unpublished opinion of the California sixth district court of appeals in Bernardi vs County of Monterey. Case number H031648.

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Published by: Mark Dierolf on Aug 10, 2013
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02/09/2014

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Filed 9/30/08 Bernardi v. County of Monterey CA6
NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS
California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publicationor ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.
IN THE COURT OF APPEAL OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIASIXTH APPELLATE DISTRICTPATRICIA BERNARDI, et al.,Plaintiffs and Respondents,v.COUNTY OF MONTEREY,Defendant and Appellant.H031648(Monterey CountySuper. Ct. No. M73763
I. INTRODUCTION
Respondent Patricia Bernardi and the Open Monterey Project (collectively,Bernardi) filed a petition to enforce the California Public Records Act (CPRA) (Gov.Code, § 6250 et seq.),
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in which they sought public records from appellant County of Monterey (the County) relating to a pending subdivision proposal known as theSeptember Ranch project. After more than a year of litigation, the trial court adopted therecommendations of the special master and ordered the County to produce some of therecords that the County had previously refused to produce. Thereafter, Bernardi filed amotion for an order awarding attorney fees pursuant to section 6259, subdivision (d), theattorney fees provision of the CPRA. The trial court granted the motion and, in its order of March 29, 2007, awarded Bernardi total attorney fees of $244,287.50.
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All further statutory references are to the Government Code unless otherwiseindicated.
 
On appeal, the County argues that the trial court abused its discretion in awardingan unreasonable amount of attorney fees to Bernardi. According to the County, theattorney fees award is excessive because it is not commensurate with Bernardi’s partialsuccess in obtaining public records. For the reasons stated below, we conclude that thetrial court did not abuse its discretion and therefore we will affirm the order awardingattorney fees.
II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUNDA.
The September Ranch Project 
Since Bernardi’s CPRA petition sought public records relating to the September Ranch project, we will begin with a brief overview of that project and related litigation.In 1998, the County Board of Supervisors certified the environmental impactreport (EIR) for a subdivision proposal known as the September Ranch project. Thecertification of the EIR was challenged by the Save Our Peninsula Committee and theSierra Club in petitions for administrative mandamus filed in the superior court. Thecourt entered judgment in favor of the petitioners after determining that the EIR was notlegally adequate under CEQA,
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and ordered the County Board of Supervisors to vacatecertification of the EIR and to prepare and circulate an EIR that was legally adequatewith respect to specified water and traffic issues.The judgment was appealed by the September Ranch Partners, who were the project applicants. This court concluded in
Save Our Peninsula Committee v. MontereyCounty Bd. of Supervisors
(2001) 87 Cal.App.4th 99 that the EIR was adequate withrespect to traffic issues but inadequate in its treatment of several critical water issues.
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 For that reason, we reversed the judgment in part and affirmed it in part, and directed the
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California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Public Resources Codesection 21000 et seq.
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Our summary of the pertinent factual and procedural background includes someinformation that we have taken from our prior decision in
Save Our Peninsula Committeev. Monterey County Bd. of Supervisors, supra,
87 Cal.App.4th 99.2
 
superior court to issue a new writ of mandate vacating the certification of the EIR for theSeptember Ranch project. We further directed the superior court to order the CountyBoard of Supervisors not to take any action to approve the September Ranch projectwithout regard to the water issues discussed in the opinion. In so ruling, we observed thatan atmosphere of public concern existed with respect to the water shortage in the CarmelValley location of the September Ranch project.
B.
The CPRA Petition
On March 24, 2005, Bernardi filed a verified petition to enforce the CPRA in thetrial court. Bernardi sought inspection of all County records relating to the September Ranch project, which she described as “one of the most controversial and important[subdivision] proposals made in the past 20 years for Carmel Valley.” Bernardi claimedthat the County’s 1998 approval of the September Ranch project “was based insubstantial part upon ghostwritten and forged documents . . . .” She further claimed that“[o]ther improper and controversial aspects of the project included unauthorized contacts by the developer with the County’s [EIR] consultant and misrepresentations about keyenvironmental factors, including historic water use on the property.”The petition also detailed Bernardi’s prior CPRA requests, in which she sought toinspect all County records relating to the September Ranch project that the County had“used or received” on or after April 15, 2001. Bernardi made her first request onJanuary 3, 2005. The County produced records for inspection on January 10, 2005, butinformed Bernardi that some documents were being withheld due to claims of privilege.On January 11, 2005, the County provided a list of 40 documents that had been withheld.After the parties communicated regarding the withheld documents, the County producedadditional documents between January 24, 2005 and early February 2005.However, the parties continued to dispute some of Bernardi’s public recordsrequests regarding the September Ranch project. On March 14, 2005, Bernardi sent aletter to the County demanding compliance and setting a deadline of March 21, 2005.3

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