Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use
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El Dorado County voters adopted Measure E in June 2016. Measure E’s stated purpose was to end the practice of “paper roads.” Prior to Measure E, if a project requiring discretionary approval would increase traffic beyond certain thresholds, the project could be approved so long as the developer contributed its proportional share of traffic impact fees to cover the cost of future road improvements, and so long as the necessary traffic-mitigating improvements were included in the County’s 10- or 20-year (depending on the project type) Capital Improvement Program. Measure E sought to end the practice of developments going forward, while traffic-mitigating road improvements remained on paper. Soon after Measure E passed, plaintiff-appellant Alliance For Responsible Planning petitioned for a writ of mandate as well as declaratory and injunctive relief, seeking to have Measure E declared invalid. Alliance argued, among other things, that Measure E violated the unconstitutional conditions doctrine. Defendants Sue Taylor et al. (Taylor) appealed a judgment granting in part Alliance’s petition for a writ of mandate. On appeal, Taylor contended the trial court erred in: (1) prematurely considering the facial challenge; (2) granting Alliance’s petition as to certain policies implemented by Measure E; and (3) granting Alliance’s petition as to Measure E’s eighth implementation statement. Finding no reversible error in the trial court’s decision, the Court of Appeal affirmed judgment. View "Alliance For Responsible Planning v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit challenging the City's new enforcement policy of short-term vacation rentals (STVRs). The trial court granted plaintiff's petition for a writ of mandate enjoining the City's enforcement of the STVR ban in the coastal zone unless it obtains a coastal development permit (CDP) or a Local Coastal Program (LCP) amendment approved by the California Coastal Commission or a waiver of such requirement.The Court of Appeal affirmed, concluding that the California Coastal Act of 1976 required the Commission's approval of a CDP, LCP amendment, or amendment waiver before the STVR ban could be imposed. Because there was no such approval, the trial court did not err by concluding that the STVR ban constituted a "development" under the Act. The court explained that the City cannot act unilaterally, particularly when it not only allowed the operation of STVRs for years but also benefitted from the payment of transient occupancy taxes. The court agreed with the trial court that the City cannot credibly contend that it did not produce a change because it deliberately acted to create a change in coastal zone usage and access. Finally, in regard to the City's argument that the Coastal Act exempts abatement of nuisances allegedly caused by STVRs, the City waived that issue by informing the trial court it was not "making the nuisance argument." Nor is the court persuaded that the political question and separation of powers doctrines apply. View "Kracke v. City of Santa Barbara" on Justia Law

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SSE has long opposed the expansion of Syar’s aggregate operation. Syar filed an application for expansion in May 2008. After more than seven years of environmental review and numerous hearings, the County Planning Commission, in October 2015, certified the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and approved a modified project and a permit for an expansion half the size originally sought and subject to more than 100 pages of conditions and mitigation measures. The County Board of Supervisions conducted nearly a year of additional environmental review and hearings, and in a 109-page decision, rejected SSE’s appeals, certified the EIR, and approved a further modified project and permit.The court of appeal affirmed the trial court’s rejection of SSE’s petition for review. The court rejected multiple challenges to the EIR, noting that the ultimate inquiry under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is whether the EIR includes enough detail “to enable those who did not participate in its preparation to understand and to consider meaningfully the issues raised by the proposed project. The court found that consistency with the general plan was discussed at length throughout the project review process. View "Stop Syar Expansion v. County of Napa" on Justia Law

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Developers submitted an application for a Berkeley mixed-use development with 135 apartments over 33,000 square feet of retail space and parking, pursuant to Government Code section 65913.4, which provides for streamlined, ministerial approval of affordable housing projects meeting specified requirements. The site is the location of the West Berkeley Shellmound, “believed to have been one of the first of its kind at the Bay’s edge, built ca 3,700 B.C.,” part of a City of Berkeley Landmark. Shellmounds were “sacred burial sites for the average deceased mound-dweller,” slowly constructed over thousands of years from daily debris and artifacts. The city denied the application.The court of appeal ruled in favor of the developers. There is no evidence that the project “would require the demolition of a historic structure that was placed on a . . . historic register.” Remnants and artifacts could be disturbed, but that is not the issue under section 65913.4(a)(7)(C). With regard to tribal cultural resources, the project’s draft environmental impact report concluded impacts on the Shellmound would be reduced to “a less-than-significant level” by agreed-upon mitigation measures. Given the Legislature’s history of attempting to address the state’s housing crisis and frustration with local governments’ interference with that goal, and the highly subjective nature of historical preservation, the intrusion of section 65913.4 into local authority is not broader than necessary to achieve the legislation's purpose. View "Ruegg & Ellsworth v. City of Berkeley" on Justia Law

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In order to fund construction of an underground parking garage and other improvements in Balboa Park, the City of San Diego entered into a “lease revenue bond” transaction. This type of transaction was approved by the California Supreme Court in Rider v. City of San Diego, 18 Cal.4th 1035 (1998) and by the Court of Appeal court in San Diegans for Open Government v. City of San Diego, 242 Cal.App.4th 416 (2015) (SanDOG). After these cases, San Diego voters approved several amendments to the San Diego City Charter regarding bond issuance. Plaintiff San Diegans for Open Government (SanDOG) challenged the Balboa Park lease revenue bond transaction based on these amendments. In SanDOG’s view, one newly-amended provision restricted the ability of the City to use the Financing Authority to issue bonds without voter approval. The trial court disagreed, and the Court of Appeal affirmed the court’s judgment on this issue. "The provision in question reflects a limitation on City-issued bonds; it does not cover bonds issued by the Financing Authority. Moreover, even if the provision were not limited to City-issued bonds, it would not cover the lease revenue bonds contemplated here. The additional challenge asserted by SanDOG (regarding a cooperation agreement) was moot; accordingly, that portion of the judgment was reversed and remanded for the trial court to dismiss the challenge as moot. View "San Diegans for Open Gov. v. Pub. Facilities Financing etc." on Justia Law

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The Antelope Valley Groundwater Cases (AVGC) proceeding litigated whether the water supply from natural and imported sources was inadequate to meet the competing annual demands of water producers, thereby creating an overdraft condition. One of the competing parties, Appellant Tapia, individually and as trustee of a trust, claimed that he owned land overlying the aquifer. Settlement discussions ultimately produced an agreement among the vast majority of parties in which they settled their competing groundwater rights claims and agreed to support the contours of a proposed plan designed to bring the Antelope Valley Adjudication Area (AVAA) basin into hydrological balance. Tapia was not among the settling parties. Accordingly, before considering whether to approve the Physical Solution for the AVAA basin, the trial court conducted a separate trial on Tapia's unsettled claims and defenses.The Court of Appeal concluded that the Physical Solution's allocation of the "native safe yield" (NSY) does not violate California's water priorities; the allocations to correlative rights holders accord with California law; the Physical Solution's allocation of the NSY does not violate California's principles promoting the reasonable and beneficial use of water; and substantial evidence supports the judgment as to Tapia, and the Physical Solution is consistent with California law governing water priorities and the constitutional reasonable and beneficial use requirement. View "Los Angeles County Waterworks District No. 40 v. Tapia" on Justia Law

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Over 20 years ago, numerous parties alleged in the Antelope Valley Groundwater Cases (AVGC) that, without a comprehensive adjudication of all competing parties' rights to produce water from and a physical solution for the aquifer, the continuing overdraft of the basin would negatively impact the health of the aquifer. In this case, the trial court was required to find a physical solution that balanced the needs of thousands of existing users, all of whom competed for the scarce water that replenished the aquifer underlying the Antelope Valley Adjudication Area (AVAA), and to craft its provisions to protect the long-term health of the aquifer and the region's residents. The trial court determined that severely reduced water usage was required of existing users, and that severely curtailed access was required for future users. On appeal, the Willis Class challenged the judgment approving the Physical Solution, a proposed plan designed to bring the AVAA basin into hydrological balance.The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment and concluded that the Physical Solution adequately balanced the competing interests of the parties within the parameters of governing California law and was not inconsistent with the terms of the Settlement. Thus, the court did not abuse its discretion when it equitably apportioned the available groundwater and placed limits and conditions on future pumping. Furthermore, the court rejected Willis's claims that the limits placed on Willis's post-Settlement participation in the litigation amounted to a denial of due process. The court explained that Willis was afforded an adequate notice and opportunity to present its contentions as part of the lengthy process of crafting the final Physical Solution. View "Willis v. Los Angeles County Waterworks District No. 40" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal concluded that substantial evidence supported the Commission's decision to issue the cease and desist order requiring plaintiffs to remove structures that were built over a public accessway over the easement area. The court also concluded that the Commission did not violate plaintiffs' due process rights by imposing a $4,185,000 penalty, even though its staff recommended a smaller penalty, because the Commission had previously advised plaintiffs it could impose a penalty of up to $11,250 per day and the Commission staff specifically advised plaintiffs that the Commission could impose a penalty of up to $8,370,000. Accordingly, the court reversed the trial court's judgment remanding the matter to the Commission. The court also concluded that plaintiffs failed to show that Public Resources Code section 30821 is unconstitutional, either on its face or as applied to them. Furthermore, the penalty does not violate the constitutional prohibition on excessive fines. Therefore, the court reversed the superior court's judgment and affirmed the Commission's order. View "Lent v. California Coastal Commission" on Justia Law

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Before seeking damages for a governmental taking of property through inverse condemnation, the property owner must generally submit more than one proposal to the permitting authority seeking zoning variances or reducing environmental impacts to the extent necessary to allow at least some economically beneficial or productive use of the property. In this case, the Court of Appeal held that multiple applications are not required where the permit denial makes clear that no development of the property would be allowed under any circumstance.The court affirmed the trial court's judgment and fee award in this inverse condemnation action. In this case, the trustee submitted plans to build an ocean-front residential property, but the planning commission rejected the development permit. The court concluded that substantial evidence established that the city would not permit any development below the 127-foot elevation, and that the limited area above that elevation was unbuildable. Therefore, submission of an additional application would have been futile. Furthermore, substantial evidence establishes that it would have been futile to submit modified plans because the agency's decision was certain to be adverse. Finally, the court rejected the city's contention that the trustee failed to litigate his writ petition to conclusion because he did not argue the Public Resources Code section 30010 claim in those proceedings. View "Felkay v. City of Santa Barbara" on Justia Law

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The Willow property, south of the Apartments, contains a duplex, a concrete parking area, and a large undeveloped area in the rear. In 1964 the then-owners of both properties obtained a variance from Burlingame that allowed four off-site parking spaces for the Apartments to be located on the Willow property. They never expanded the Apartments as planned. The variance became void. The properties changed hands several times, remaining jointly owned. In 2005, both properties were acquired by Shiheiber, who allowed tenants of the Apartments to use the Willow property for access, parking, storage of garbage, and recreational purposes. In 2011, the properties ceased to be under common ownership. The Bank took title to the Apartments; Husain took title to Willow, aware that the Bank claimed a prescriptive easement. Tenants in the Apartments continued to use the Willow property.Husain sued the Bank to quiet title. The Bank cross-complained for a prescriptive easement. The trial court entered judgment for the Bank. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting an argument that the use of the Willow property was permissive. The Bank never requested or received permission to use the Willow property, and simply used the property in a manner that was open, notorious, continuous, and hostile for more than five years. View "Husain v. California Pacific Bank" on Justia Law