When a city council wants to engage in land use planning, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires a study (which can take months) before the city council can do anything. Ah, but not so when citizens themselves propose a land use initiative: there, an abbreviated environmental impact study will suffice. It must be completed in 30 days, if at all.
This issue arose after Walmart wanted to open a new 27,000 square foot "Supercenter" in Sonora (Tuolumne County). But before it could, the city had to conduct a full CEQA study. In response, Sonora resident James Grinnell began a voter initiative (authored by Walmart, according to the Sonora Union-Democrat) that ultimately garnered the requisite number of votes. After the city council adopted the ordinance without submitting it to an election, a local small business group sued to stop it on the grounds that the city had to conduct a full environmental review first.
Last week, the California Supreme Court, unanimously overruling an appellate court decision, ruled that the city does not have to conduct a full CEQA analysis when the initiative comes from voters, as opposed to the legislature.