Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use
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Government Code 65915 requires that municipalities allow increased building density, and grant concessions and waivers of permit requirements, in exchange for an applicant’s agreement to dedicate a specified number of dwelling units to low-income or very low-income households. Neman proposed a Los Angeles mixed-use development, with retail space on the ground floor and 54 residential units above, including five very low-income units and five moderate-income units. The application included a Financial Feasibility Analysis, calculating the cost per unit as $1,106,847 without requested incentives, and $487,857 with incentives. At the City Planning Commission (CPC) hearing, a city planner stated that as a result of A.B. 2501, “financial pro formas, or financial analyses can no longer be considered as part of the density-bonus application.” The CPC approved the project including the requested density bonus plus increased floor area and maximum height, and two waivers (transitional height and rear yard setback requirements). Neighboring owners sued.The court of appeal upheld the approvals. Neither the statute nor the implementing ordinance requires the applicant to provide financial documentation to prove that the requested concessions will render the development “economically feasible.” CPC was required to grant the incentives unless it made a finding that they did not result in cost reductions. It did not make such a finding. It was not required to make an affirmative finding that the incentives would result in cost reductions. View "Schreiber v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Muskan Food sought a writ of mandate challenging the City's approval of a conditional use permit for the development of a neighborhood shopping center across the street from Muskan Food's gas station and convenience store. The superior court denied the petition after concluding that the City did not misinterpret a city ordinance and substantial evidence supported the City's decision to approve the conditional use permit.The Court of Appeal affirmed, concluding that Muskan Food did not exhaust the administrative appeal process set forth in the City's municipal code and this failure bars its lawsuit. The court interpreted the word "petition" broadly and concluded that it encompasses oral requests made to the mayor or councilmember. The court also concluded that the subjective intent of the person seeking to exhaust the administrative procedures is not the appropriate test. Rather, the communication should be given an objectively reasonable interpretation. In this case, Muskan Food, which has the burden of proving it exhausted the administrative remedies, has not established that it fulfilled the Municipal Code's petition requirement by orally requesting the councilmember appeal the planning commission's decision approving the conditional use permit. Furthermore, after applying the objectively reasonable standard to an e-mail Muskan Foods' president sent to the mayor, the court concluded that it does not constitute a "petition" for purposes of Municipal Code section 15-5017-A(2). View "Muskan Food & Fuel, Inc. v. City of Fresno" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Placer County, California (the County) approved a project to develop a resort on about 94 acres near Lake Tahoe. Sierra Watch challenged the County’s approval in two lawsuits, both of which were appealed. In this case, Sierra Watch challenged the County’s environmental review for the project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In particular, Sierra Watch contended the County: (1) failed to sufficiently consider Lake Tahoe in its analysis; (2) insufficiently evaluated the project’s impacts on fire evacuation plans for the region; (3) inadequately evaluated and mitigated the project’s noise impacts; (4) failed to allow for sufficient public review of the project’s climate change impacts; (5) failed to consider appropriate mitigation for the project’s climate change impacts; (6) overlooked feasible mitigation options for the project’s traffic impacts; and (7) wrongly relied on deferred mitigation to address the project’s impacts on regional transit. The trial court rejected all Sierra Watch’s arguments. But because the Court of Appeal found some of Sierra Watch’s claims had merit, judgment was reversed. View "Sierra Watch v. County of Placer" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Placer County, California (the County) approved a project to develop a resort on about 94 acres near Lake Tahoe. Sierra Watch challenged the County’s approval in two lawsuits, both of which were appealed. In one of its suits, it alleged the County’s environmental review for the project was inadequate. In another, it alleged the County approved the project in violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act (Gov. Code. sec. 54950 et seq.). This appeal centered on Sierra Watch’s Brown Act allegations and involved two of the act’s requirements: (1) section 54957.5 of the Brown Act; and (2) section 54954.2 of the Brown Act. Because the trial court found differently on both of these issues, the Court of Appeal reversed in part. But although the Court found the County’s conduct violated the Brown Act, the Court rejected Sierra Watch’s request that the Court vacate the County’s approvals. View "Sierra Watch v. County of Placer" on Justia Law

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After the City of San Mateo denied an application to build a ten-unit apartment building, petitioners sought a writ of administrative mandamus seeking to compel the project's approval. The trial court denied the petition, ruling that the project did not satisfy the City's design guidelines for multifamily homes and that, to the extent the Housing Accountability Act (HAA), Government Code section 65589.5, required the City to ignore its own guidelines, it was an unconstitutional infringement on the City's right to home rule and an unconstitutional delegation of municipal powers.The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that the design guideline the City invoked as part of its reason for rejecting this housing development is not "objective" for purposes of the HAA, and so cannot support the City's decision to reject the project. Furthermore, because the HAA checks municipal authority only as necessary to further the statewide interest in new housing development, the HAA does not infringe on the City's right to home rule. The court rejected the City's remaining constitutional arguments. The trial court shall issue a writ of mandate directing the City to (1) vacate its February 5, 2018 action upholding the Planning Commission's decision to deny the application, and (2) reconsider the challenge to the Planning Commission's decision. View "California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund v. City of San Mateo" on Justia Law

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A reverse validation action was brought by petitioners Bonnie Wolstoncroft, William Unkel, and Michael Wilkes against the County of Yolo (County) to challenge the County’s plan to continue water service to 95 residences within the North Davis Meadows County Service Area (County Service Area) by replacing two aging groundwater wells with the City of Davis’s (City) water supply. Under this plan, North Davis Meadows residents would pay substantially higher water rates to pay for the project. The County considered the increased water rates to be property-related fees and noticed a Proposition 218 (as approved by voters, Gen. Elec. (Nov. 5, 1996)) hearing. More than five months after the County adopted its resolution, but before the deadline contemplated by the parties’ tolling agreement, petitioners filed their action in superior court. The trial court rejected petitioners’ argument that the increased levy constituted an assessment for which majority approval was required by Proposition 218. The trial court also rejected petitioners’ contentions that the County wrongfully rejected protest votes it claimed not to have received or received in an untimely manner. After review of petitioners' arguments on appeal, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court correctly determined that the levy constituted a property-related fee under Proposition 218. "The fact that maintaining adequate water supply requires switching water sources does not turn the fee into an assessment. Thus, the County properly employed the majority protest procedure under article XIII D, section 6." Further, the Court concluded that even if the trial court erred in denying petitioners’ motion to augment the record with declarations regarding two mailed protest votes, petitioners’ evidence would not prove timely compliance with the protest procedure. Without the protest votes for which only evidence of mailing was tendered, the protest lacked a majority. Accordingly, the trial court's judgment was affirmed. View "Wolstoncroft v. County of Yolo" on Justia Law

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Pacific Harmony Grove Development, LLC and Mission Valley Corporate Center, Ltd. (Owners) appealed the judgment entered in a condemnation case following the first phase of a bifurcated trial at which the trial court resolved certain legal issues concerning how to value the condemned property. The City of Escondido (City) sought to acquire by condemnation from Owners a 72-foot-wide strip of land (the strip) across a mostly undeveloped 17.72-acre parcel (the Property) to join two disconnected segments of Citracado Parkway. The City argued that the strip should have been valued under the doctrine from City of Porterville v. Young, 195 Cal.App.3d 1260 (1987). Owners argued the Porterville doctrine did not apply, and that the court should have instead applied the “project effect rule.” After a four-day bench trial, the court issued a comprehensive statement of decision ruling in the City’s favor on all issues. Owners appealed, contending the trial court erred by finding the Porterville doctrine applied, the project effect rule did not, and the City was not liable for precondemnation damages. After review, the Court of Appeal concurred with the City’s position and affirmed the judgment. View "City of Escondido v. Pacific Harmony Grove Development" on Justia Law

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In 2018, faced with the “impending loss of the Raiders to Las Vegas and the Golden State Warriors to San Francisco,” the Legislature sought to facilitate “a new baseball park” at the Howard Terminal site in Oakland. The Project would create many high-wage, highly skilled jobs and present “an unprecedented opportunity to invest in new and improved transit and transportation infrastructure and implement sustainability measures.”Assembly Bill 734 is special legislation applicable solely to the Project. Pursuant to Public Resources Code section 21168.6.7, the baseball park and any nonresidential construction in the Project must achieve LEED gold certification, and residential construction must achieve either LEED gold certification or “the comparable GreenPoint rating, including meeting sustainability standards for access to quality transit.” The project must also achieve greenhouse gas neutrality, reduce by 20 percent the collective vehicle trips, and offer a “comprehensive package of community benefits.” Section 21168.6.7 requires certification by the Governor that the Project meets all those criteria to qualify for expedited administrative and judicial review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Objectors argued that the Governor’s authority to certify the project expired on January 1, 2020. The trial court and court of appeal upheld the Governor’s ongoing certification authority. On February 11, 2021, the Governor certified the Howard Terminal Project for expedited CEQA review. View "Pacific Merchant Shipping Association v. Newsom" on Justia Law

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San Francisco obtained fee title to an 80-foot strip of land by grant deed in 1951 from the plaintiffs' grandparents to construct an underground pipeline for the Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System. The deed reserved to the plaintiffs’ family the right to use the surface of the property for pasturage and the right to construct roads and streets “over and across” the property “but not along in the direction of the City’s pipe line or lines.” The property has served since the 1960s as a paved parking lot for commercial uses on plaintiffs’ properties on either side of the pipeline. When a dispute arose about whether parking and related circulation was authorized under the deed versus under a revocable permit issued by San Francisco in 1967, the plaintiffs filed a quiet title action.On remand, the trial court concluded that the deed authorized plaintiffs to use the pipeline property for ornamental landscaping, automobile access, circulation, and parking. The court of appeal agreed that the deed authorizes ornamental landscaping, the three existing paved roads running across the pipeline property, and the use of the property to access auto mechanic service bays. While some degree of parking incidental to those authorized uses may be allowed, the express language of the deed does not allow the plaintiffs’ current use of the pipeline property as a parking lot. View "Pear v. City & County of San Francisco" on Justia Law

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Gary and Bella Martin appealed after the trial court granted in part and denied in part their petition for writ of administrative mandate to challenge the imposition of certain special conditions placed on the development of their property - a vacant, oceanfront lot in Encinitas - by the California Coastal Commission (Commission). The Commission also appealed the judgment. The Martins’ challenged a condition requiring them to eliminate a basement from their proposed home, while the Commission challenged the trial court’s reversal of its condition requiring the Martins to set back their home 79 feet from the bluff edge. Because the Court of Appeal agreed with its own recent decision in Lindstrom v. California Coastal Com., 40 Cal.App.5th 73 (2019) interpreting the same provisions of the Encinitas Local Coastal Program (LCP) and Municipal Code at issue here, the trial court’s invalidation of the Commission’s setback requirement was reversed. The trial court’s decision to uphold the basement prohibition was affirmed. View "Martin v. Cal. Coastal Commission" on Justia Law