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Calif. High Court Tosses Stanford Trails Dispute

(CN) - A grassroots environmental group waited too long to challenge Stanford University's plan to build trails as part of a campus expansion project, the California Supreme Court ruled. The justices said the public has 30 days to challenge such projects, not six months, as the environmentalists had argued.

In 2000 Stanford applied for a permit to add buildings to its campus. The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved the plan, but first required the university to build public trails on campus and pay more than $12 million for trail improvements in nearby towns.

The Committee for Green Foothills accused the board of approving the trail project without performing a separate environmental review.

In December 2005 the board notified the public that the trail agreement didn't require environmental review, a determination that typically triggers a 30-day deadline for public challenges.

The committee had argued that it had six months to file suit based on its allegation that the trail agreement was an independent "project" that required a separate environmental review.

The state justices disagreed, saying the deadline can't be extended based on the nature of the claims. Environmental challenges to public projects "face unusually short statutes of limitation" to avoid unnecessary delays, Justice Carol Corrigan noted.

The committee had sued 171 days after the county posted notice.

The state high court unanimously overturned a lower court's finding that there was a "reasonable possibility" that the allegations qualified for the longer deadline.

Had the justices ruled otherwise, Corrigan wrote, parties could delay projects simply by asserting that the agency failed to conduct a proper environmental review. Project owners would have to wait six months just to avoid interruption, the ruling states.

"A bright-line rule that the filing of a [notice of determination] triggers a 30-day statute of limitations promotes certainty, allowing local governments and developers to proceed with projects without the threat of potential future litigation," Corrigan wrote.

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