A property owner applied for a demolition permit under existing ordinances allowing for the removal of improvements on his property. The local government agency granted the property owner a demolition permit without conducting an environmental impact report (EIR) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). A citizen’s group sought to stop the demolition of the improvements, claiming the demolition permit was improperly issued since an EIR was not first prepared. The agency claimed the demolition permit was properly issued without an EIR since the issuance of the demolition permit did not involve a discretionary decision by the agency staff, only application of the detailed ordinance. A California court of appeals held the government agency’s issuance of a demolition permit to the property owner to remove the improvements without preparing an EIR was proper since the issuance of a demolition permit is a ministerial activity requiring no discretionary judgment by the agency, thus making an EIR unnecessary under CEQA. [Friends of the Juana Briones House v. City of Palo Alto(2010) 190 CA4th 286]

Editor’s note — The primary issue in this case is whether the issuance of the demolition permit was considered “discretionary” or “ministerial.” The act of issuing a demolition can be either, depending on the circumstances. If an agency must use personal judgment or “discretion” in determining whether a demolition permit is to be granted, then an EIR must be conducted beforehand. If an agency need only apply existing statute to determine if a demolition permit is to be granted — such as in this case — then no EIR is required.