Save Our Uniquely Rural v. County of San BernardinoAnnotate this Case
Respondent and real party in interest Al-Nur Islamic Center was a nonprofit religious organization which intended to erect an Islamic community center and mosque in a residential neighborhood in an unincorporated area of San Bernardino County. Plaintiff-appellant Save Our Uniquely Rural Community Environment (SOURCE) was an organization of individuals who opposed Al-Nur’s plans based on the negative environmental impact the opponents believed the project would have on the neighborhood. Following a study of the environmental impact of the proposed project, the San Bernardino County Planning Commission adopted a mitigated negative declaration (MND) and issued a conditional use permit (CUP) for the project. SOURCE appealed to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors. After hearing testimony, the board of supervisors denied the appeal. SOURCE then filed a combined petition for writ of mandate and complaint for injunctive relief. The court granted the petition and overturned the approval of the MND and CUP on grounds of the county’s failure to properly analyze the project’s impacts on the environment in the area of wastewater disposal. It ordered the county to prepare an analysis in compliance with CEQA of the project’s impacts in that respect. SOURCE then filed a motion for attorney fees. Al-Nur opposed the motion on the grounds that because of SOURCE’s limited success, the petition failed to convey a public benefit justifying an award of attorney fees, that SOURCE had failed to demonstrate it was entitled to fees based on the current rates in Los Angeles rather than in San Bernardino County, that SOURCE had failed to demonstrate the number of hours it expended was reasonable and necessary, that it sought excessive fees for some of the work performed, and that a portion of the hours claimed were for activities related to the administrative proceedings and not to the litigation. The trial court granted the motion, finding that SOURCE conferred a public benefit sufficient to warrant an award of attorney fees. However, at the hearing on the motion, the court stated that the amount requested was "outrageous." SOURCE appealed the eventual award of fees it received, arguing the trial court abused its discretion when it awarded $19,176, despite SOURCE’s request for $231,098. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded that SOURCE did not meet its burden of demonstrating an abuse of discretion, and affirmed the award.