Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use
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Appellant, North Murrieta Community, LLC (North Murrieta), was the master developer of a large development project in the City of Murrieta (the City) called the Golden City Project. North Murrieta sought to take advantage of certain statutory land use planning tools that enabled builders to lock in place regulations, conditions, and fees municipalities could enforce against them while a project proceeds. In July 1999, North Murrieta obtained approval for a vesting tentative map on part of the Golden City Project property. In March 2001, four months before the map would expire, North Murrieta and the City entered a development agreement covering the entire Golden City Project property. The agreement extended the term of the vesting tentative map for 15 years and also locked in place regulations and fees the City could enforce against the developer on the entire project for the same period. The development agreement explicitly allowed the City to impose new fees on North Murrieta to mitigate the effects of development, provided the new fees were generally applicable and designed to address effects not fully mitigated by fees or exactions in place when the parties entered the development agreement. The City subsequently passed the Western Riverside County Transportation Uniform Mitigation Fee Program Ordinance (the TUMF ordinance), which was designed for just that purpose. In 2017, the City charged the new mitigation fees to a subsequent purchaser and developer of a subset of the affected properties. The builder made $541,497 in TUMF payments from July to October 2017, and the City transferred the bulk of those funds to respondent, Western Riverside Council of Governments (WRCOG). Both the developer and North Murrieta protested the fees. North Murrieta asked the trial court to order return of the TUMF payments and requested declarations that the City couldn’t impose the new mitigation fees under the extended vesting tentative map until it expired in 2019 and can’t impose those fees under the development agreement until it expires in 2021. The trial court held the development agreement established the parties’ rights and permitted the City to impose the new fees under the TUMF ordinance. North Murrieta appealed. The Court of Appeal affirmed, agreeing with the trial court. Though the vesting tentative map limited the fees the City could collect to those in place when the City approved the map, North Murrieta agreed to modify those rights by entering the development agreement with the City. The development agreement was a contract, which the trial court correctly enforced. View "North Murrieta Community, LLC v. City of Murrieta" on Justia Law

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The Insalacos own property atop of a slope. At the bottom of the slope is Wilkie Creek. Hope Lutheran Church owns property on the other side of the creek. After a landslide made their house uninhabitable, the Insalacos sued the Church and adjoining landowners, including the Du/Wongs. They alleged that water runoff from the Church caused the creek to rise, which caused their backyard to flood. The flooding saturated the soil in their backyard, which caused the landslide. The Du/Wongs filed a cross-complaint, alleging tort causes of action related to the landslide and seeking indemnification. The court granted the Church summary judgment. The court of appeal reversed The trial court erred in denying a timely motion by the Insalacos for a continuance to take additional discovery (a site inspection) and oppose the summary judgment motion. They presented a detailed declaration from their attorney explaining the particular facts essential to opposing the motion that may exist but could not then be presented. As to the Du/Wongs, concededly material facts were disputed. The Church placed at issue how much rain fell on the date of the incident, whether there are “two ways in which water flow in a creek could destabilize a slope,” and whether the channel of Wilkie Creek is stable and shows no evidence of recent erosion. View "Insalaco v. Hope Lutheran Church of West Contra Costa County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs SLPR, L.L.C. (SLPR), Ann Goodfellow, trustee of the survivor's trust of the Goodfellow Family Trust (Goodfellow), and Jerry Cannon and Michael Morris, trustees of the Sewall Family Trust (Sewall) (together Plaintiffs) appealed a judgment entered in favor of defendant State of California (State) in their action against State and the San Diego Unified Port District (Port) (together Defendants) arising out of damage to their bayside properties in the City of Coronado (City) allegedly caused by dredging of the San Diego Bay (Bay). The United States Navy dredged an area of the Bay within the Naval Air Station North Island Turning Basin in 1998 and 2002 and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (Army) dredged the central navigation channel of the Bay from 2004 to 2005. In a previous decision relating to this matter, the Court of Appeal concluded, inter alia, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on Plaintiffs' quiet title action because there were triable issues of material fact on the meaning of a facially ambiguous 1931 judgment in favor of City and against J.D. and A.B. Spreckels Investment Company (Spreckels), owner of real property along the Bay's shoreline and Plaintiffs' predecessor-in-interest, and other defendants regarding whether that judgment fixed the bayside boundaries of Plaintiffs' properties or whether it located only the current position of the mean high tide line (MHTL) at that time and retained the ambulatory MHTL as the legal boundaries of their properties. On remand, Plaintiffs filed a third amended complaint, alleging causes of action for quiet title, inverse condemnation related to the quiet title cause of action (by SLPR and Arendsee), inverse condemnation (by Plaintiffs), nuisance, and removal of lateral support. The trial court sustained State's demurrer to the third, fourth, and fifth causes of action. The court subsequently conducted a bench trial on the first and second causes of action and, after admitting and considering extrinsic evidence regarding the meaning of the Spreckels judgment, found that the judgment had fixed the boundaries between Plaintiffs' properties and the public tidelands. The court then entered judgment in favor of State and against Plaintiffs. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court. View "SLPR, L.L.C. v. San Diego Unified Port District" on Justia Law

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In 2011, San Jose acquired the Willow Glen Railroad Trestle, constructed in 1922, planning to demolish the Trestle and replace it with a new steel truss pedestrian bridge. The city approved the project, adopted a mitigated negative declaration (MND) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code 21000), and found that the Trestle was not a historical resource. The Trestle was not listed in the California Register of Historical Resources. Had it been listed, the city would have been statutorily mandated to consider it a historical resource. In 2017, the California State Historical Resources Commission approved the listing of the Trestle. In 2018, the city submitted to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) a “Notification of Lake or Streambed Alteration” for the project. The city's 2014 Streambed Alteration Agreement (SAA) had expired. CDFW signed the final SAA, finding that the project would not have any significant impacts on fish or wildlife “with the measures specified in the 2014 MND and the [SAA].” The Conservancy unsuccessfully sought judicial intervention. The court of appeal affirmed. The city’s actions in obtaining the 2018 SAA did not require supplemental environmental review; the approval of the MND in 2014 included approval of the SAA and obtaining the new SAA did not involve any “new discretionary approval.” View "Willow Glen Trestle Conservancy v. City of San Jose" on Justia Law

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This case concerns the management of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Delta). In 2009, the California Legislature found and declared the “Delta watershed and California’s water infrastructure are in crisis and existing Delta policies are not sustainable,” and that “[r]esolving the crisis requires fundamental reorganization of the state’s management of Delta watershed resources.” It enacted the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Reform Act of 2009. As part of the Act, the Legislature created the Delta Stewardship Council (Council) as an independent agency of the state and charged it with adopting and implementing a legally enforceable “Delta Plan,” a comprehensive, long-term management plan. Following the preparation of a program-level environmental impact report (PEIR) pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the Council adopted the Delta Plan in May 2013, which included a set of recommendations and regulatory policies to achieve the Plan's goals. Thereafter, seven lawsuits were filed by various groups challenging the validity of the Delta Plan, the Delta Plan regulations, and the PEIR for the Delta Plan. After the lawsuits were coordinated into one proceeding, the trial court issued written rulings in May and July 2016 collectively rejecting the legal challenges predicated on violations of the Delta Reform Act and the APA, with a few exceptions. In April 2018, while appeals were pending, the Council adopted amendments and certified the PEIR for the Delta Plan Amendments. In the "merits" case, the issue before the Court of Appeal was the validity of the trial court’s rulings on legal challenges to the Delta Plan and Delta Plan regulations. In the "fee" case, the issue presented was the validity of the trial court’s attorney fee order. The Court agreed with the Council that the trial court erred in finding that it violated the Act by failing to adopt performance measure targets to achieve certain objectives of the Act. The Court also agreed with the Council that the remaining issues raised in its appeal regarding the statutory violations found by the trial court were mooted by the adoption of the Delta Plan Amendments. The Court found no error in the fee award. In light of the mootness determination, the Court reversed and remanded judgments entered in the four cases appealed by the Council in the "merits" case with directions the superior court dismiss the portions that were moot. In all other respects, the Court affirmed judgment entered in each of the six coordinated cases in the merits case. View "Delta Stewardship Council Cases" on Justia Law

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The Sacramento City Council acted in a quasi-judicial capacity as adjudicators after an eight-to-three vote by the Sacramento Planning and Design Commission granting a conditional use permit for a gas station in the shopping center zone of a local residential development. The real parties in interest appealed the decision to the City Council. In such matters, council members must be neutral and unbiased. The developers sued, claiming that one City Council member was neither, and entered deliberations on the issue with his mind already made up. The trial court agreed and, upon review of the record, so did the Court of Appeal. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the order granting the petition for writ of mandate and ordering the city to rescind the decision on the appeal, and to hold a new hearing on the appeal at which the councilmember would be recused from participating. View "Petrovich Development Co., LLC v. City of Sacramento" on Justia Law

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Appellant Heather Robinson Tanaka’s great-grandfather purchased a subdivided parcel that had been part of a larger riparian tract but was no longer contiguous to water. Riparian rights can persist in land sold under such circumstances, though the grantee cannot acquire riparian rights any greater than those held by the grantor. The question presented for the Court of Appeal's review was whether the parties intended the grantee to receive riparian rights in such a transfer. "The clearest expression of intent is when a deed expressly conveys the riparian rights to the noncontiguous parcel, in which case the parcel retains its riparian status. However, where the deed is ambiguous, extrinsic evidence is admissible on the question." Here, the trial court, after considering the language of the deed at issue and extrinsic evidence, concluded the conveyance to Tanaka’s great-grandfather did not convey riparian rights. As a consequence, Tanaka had no rights to divert water from Middle River onto her small, approximately 106-acre parcel that has been used for farmland for 130 years. The Court of Appeal disagreed with the trial court’s conclusion and reversed. View "Modesto Irrigation Dist. v. Tanaka" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment denying El Rovia's first amended petition for administrative mandamus. At issue is the City's 2015 rent control Ordinance No. 2860, which at least for some purposes states that in the calculation of rents, the base year is the "2012 calendar" year. El Rovia argued that 2015, not 2012, is the lawful base year for the determination of base rent adjustments and that the ALJ's contrary decision was not supported by substantial evidence. The court found no error in the City's selection of 2012 as the base year, and there was no error in using comparable 2012 rental rates to determine base year rent. The court also held that substantial evidence supported the base rent determination of $525. View "El Rovia Mobile Home Park, LLC v. City of El Monte" on Justia Law

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Sonia and Hector Ruiz's (together Ruiz) home flooded because their privately owned underground storm drain pipe rusted out after 50 years of use. They sued the County of San Diego (County) for inverse condemnation, and after a bench trial the court entered judgment in their favor (essentially the cost of replacing their metal pipe (the Ruiz pipe)) with a reinforced concrete pipe. The primary issue on appeal was whether a privately owned storm drain pipe located on private property, for which a public entity had rejected an offer of dedication, nevertheless became a public improvement because "public water" drained through it. After review of the trial court record, the Court of Appeal agreed with the County that under settled law, the answer is no. The County also contended the trial court's alternative basis for imposing liability, that the County acted unreasonably in discharging water through a public drainage system that connects to the Ruiz pipe, also failed. "Even viewing the evidence most favorably to Ruiz, the evidence is insufficient to sustain the judgment on this theory." Accordingly, judgment was reversed with directions to enter judgment for the County. View "Ruiz v. County of San Diego" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and the Coalition filed a petition for writ of mandate, seeking a peremptory writ directing the City to set aside various land use approvals, as well as determinations and documents approved under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The trial court sustained the demurrers of real parties and the Coalition without leave to amend and dismissed the Coalition's petition. The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that the Coalition's CEQA claims are time-barred because they were filed more than 30 days after the City filed a facially valid Notice of Determination. To the extent the Coalition argues on appeal that the agency lacked authority to make any determinations under CEQA or lacked authority to approve the project, while such claims could have been considered as part of a timely action, the court held that they are also time-barred. View "Coalition for an Equitable Westlake/MacArthur Park v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law