Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Sweeney bought the 39-acre Point Buckler Site, located in Suisun Marsh in the San Francisco Bay's Grizzly Bay, which apparently was previously operated as a managed wetland for duck hunting. Sweeney undertook unpermitted construction and development, including restoring an exterior levee and opening a private recreational area for kiteboarding. The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) inspected the Site, noting the unauthorized work and multiple violations; the levee construction work had removed tidal flow to the Site’s interior and dried out tidal marsh areas. BCDC concluded the Site never functioned as a managed wetland and had long reverted to a tidal marsh. Sweeney was directed to stop work and informed that a marsh development permit was required to develop the Site; BCDC indicated that any work that could not be retroactively approved would need to be removed.The Regional Water Quality Control Board commenced separate proceedings, citing violations of the federal Clean Water Act and the California Water Code. BCDC staff observed that additional work had been performed since the earlier inspection. The Board issued a cleanup and abatement order (CAO), imposed administrative civil liabilities and required payment of approximately $2.8 million in penalties. The superior court set aside those orders.The court of appeal reversed. In issuing the CAO, the Board did not violate the requirements of Water Code section 13627; the CAO satisfied the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act criteria for enforcement actions and did not conflict with the Suisun Marsh Preservation Act. The court rejected arguments that the definition of waste cannot include earthen material, that the activities did not constitute “discharges,” and that any discharges were not into “waters of the state.” View "Sweeney v. California Regional Water Quality Control Board" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-respondent City of Norco (City) filed a receivership action to abate what it described as “nearly 20 life-safety hazards” on a property belonging to defendant-appellant Ronald Mugar. During the litigation, Mugar abated the substandard conditions on the property, and the matter was dismissed. Mugar appealed the trial court's order declaring the City as the prevailing party, and awarding it attorney fees pursuant to Health & Safety Code section 17980.7(c)(11). Mugar contended: (1) his due process rights were violated because the City was represented by a private law firm with an inappropriate financial interest in the litigation, and without adequate supervision by neutral government attorneys; (2) the award of attorney fees unconstitutionally burdened his First Amendment right to petition by penalizing him for asserting defenses in the action; and (3) the City should not be considered the prevailing party. The City argued Mugar forfeited his constitutional arguments, and it contested the merits of Mugar’s claims. After review, the Court of Appeal disagreed with the City that Mugar forfeited his constitutional arguments. On the merits, however, the Court rejected each of Mugar’s contentions and affirmed the judgment. View "City of Norco v. Mugar" on Justia Law

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Beginning in 2005, petitioner San Joaquin Regional Transit District (District) began discussing with real parties in interest DSS-2731 Myrtle LLC and Sardee Industries, Inc. (collectively, "Sardee") the possible acquisition through negotiated purchase or eminent domain of a two-acre parcel in Stockton on which Sardee operated a manufacturing facility. Correspondence regarding appraisal of the property and Sardee’s rights in eminent domain took place in 2008, but efforts to negotiate a purchase ultimately failed, leading to the filing of an eminent domain complaint in 2010. In April 2011 a stipulated order of possession gave legal possession of the parcel to District with a right of Sardee to occupy a portion of the property as it explored options for a new facility, to wind down its operations and move elsewhere. Sardee undertook to move its Stockton operations to its facility in Lisle, Illinois, which it upgraded to handle ongoing work from its Stockton plant. Under the stipulated order Sardee could occupy the property without charge until March 2012 and until June 30, 2012, by payment of rent. By March 2012 most of its equipment and operations had been relocated; in April 2012 the District abandoned its condemnation action. Following dismissal of the action, Sardee sought damages under Code of Civil Procedure section 1268.620, which permitted an award of damages “after the defendant moves from property in compliance with an order or agreement for possession or in reasonable contemplation of its taking.” District argued the costs involved in closing down Sardee’s Stockton facility and moving all but the items remaining for shipment in March could not be recovered. The trial court disagreed with this all-or-nothing interpretation of the statutory language and concluded Sardee should have been permitted to present its damage claim to a jury, whereupon District filed its petition for writ of mandate, prohibition or other appropriate relief, and sought a stay of the damages trial. The Court of Appeal concurred with the trial court that sufficient evidence supported the court’s finding that Sardee had moved from the property, supporting application of section 1268.620. The District's petition was denied. View "San Joaquin Regional Transit Dist. v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Generally, the California Coastal Act required a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) for any development in the coastal zone. This case involved a CDP issued by the Coastal Commission in 2015 for the reinforcement of an existing seawall, which had been installed years earlier at the base of a 1950’s era Laguna Beach home. Significantly, a condition of the CDP provided it would expire and the seawall would have to be removed if the home were “redeveloped in a manner that constitutes new development.” The homeowners reinforced the seawall, but they also remodeled the home without consulting the California Coastal Commission. The Coastal Commission found that the homeowners had violated the CDP by redeveloping the residence in a manner that constitutes new development. The Commission issued a cease and desist order requiring the removal of the seawall and further imposed a $1 million administrative penalty for the violation. The homeowners challenged those orders in court by filing a petition for writ of mandate. The trial court denied the petition for writ of mandate as to the cease and desist order (affirming the Coastal Commission’s ruling); the court granted the petition as to the penalty (reversing the Commission’s ruling). The homeowners filed an appeal as to the cease and desist order. The Commission filed a cross-appeal as to the penalty. The City of Laguna Beach (the City) filed an amicus brief in support of the homeowners. The Court of Appeal found no abuse of discretion as to Coastal Commission’s penalty order. The homeowners have shown no basis for this court to absolve them of the properly imposed $1 million administrative penalty. The Court therefore affirmed the trial court’s ruling as to the cease and desist order and reversed the court’s ruling as to the administrative penalty. View "11 Lagunita, LLC v. California Coastal Commission" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff County of Monterey (County) appealed when the trial court denied its petition for writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief. The County was the successor agency for its former redevelopment agency ("RDA"), and challenged decisions by the Department of Finance (Department) relating to a development known as the East Garrison Project, which was part of the Fort Ord Redevelopment Project located on a closed military base in Monterey. The County claimed the trial court erroneously determined that a written agreement entered into between its former RDA and a private developer (real party in interest, UCP East Garrison, LLC) was not an enforceable obligation within the meaning of the dissolution law because the former RDA did not have the authority to approve the agreement on the date the governor signed the 2011 dissolution legislation. The County further contended the trial court erred in determining the County failed to show the Department abused its discretion in disapproving two separate requests for funding related to administration of the East Garrison Project. The County claimed these administrative costs were expended to complete an enforceable obligation within the meaning of the dissolution law, and therefore the Department should have approved its requests for payment of such costs. Finally, the County argued the Department’s application of the dissolution law improperly impaired UCP’s contractual rights. The Court of Appeal rejected each of the County's contentions and affirmed judgment. View "County of Monterey v. Bosler" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff AMCAL Chico, LLC (AMCAL) constructed a dormitory complex that would house unmarried university students within the boundaries of defendant Chico Unified School District (the District). The District imposed school impact fees on the complex, and AMCAL filed suit seeking a refund of the fees. The trial court granted the District’s motion for summary judgment. AMCAL appealed, arguing the fees had to be refunded because: (1) the District failed to comply with Government Code section 66001; (2) the fee was an invalid special tax; and (3) the fee was an improper taking. The Court of Appeal determined the imposed fee was reasonable and complied with the Mitigation Fee Act. Therefore, the fee was not an invalid tax, nor was it a taking. View "AMCAL Chico LLC v. Chico Unified School Dist." on Justia Law

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Before the 1972 effective date of Civil Code section 1009(b), the California Supreme Court held that an implied by law dedication is established when “the public has used the land ‘for a period of more than five years with full knowledge of the owner, without asking or receiving permission to do so and without objection being made by anyone.’” Since the 1920s, Martha has owned 110 acres of undeveloped land on the Tiburon peninsula, which has views of Angel Island, San Francisco, and the Golden Gate Bridge. In 2017, TRUST filed suit to quiet title, in favor of the public, to recreational easements over trails on the property, arguing that, nearly 50 years ago, the public’s use of trails on Martha’s property established a recreational easement under the doctrine of implied dedication.The court of appeal affirmed judgment in favor of Martha. Substantial evidence supports a finding that Martha’s attempts to deter trespassers showed it did not acquiesce to public dedication. There was “a running battle between some users, who took down signs and fences”, and owners, who repaired them, indicating both that the users did not believe that they had a right to use the property and that the owner made bona fide efforts to deter them. View "Tiburon/Belvedere Residents United to Support the Trails v. Martha Co." on Justia Law

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Quail's 47,480-square-foot unincorporated Sonoma County property contained two houses, garages, and several outbuildings. In 2013, a building with hazardous and unpermitted electrical wiring, hazardous decking and stairs, unpermitted kitchens and plumbing, broken windows, and lacking power, was destroyed in a fire. Two outbuildings, unlawfully being used as dwellings, were also damaged. One report stated: “The [p]roperty . . . exists as a makeshift, illegal mobile home park and junkyard.” After many unsuccessful attempts to compel Quail to abate the conditions, the county obtained the appointment of a receiver under Health and Safety Code section 17980.7 and Code of Civil Procedure section 564 to oversee abatement work. The banks challenged a superior court order authorizing the receiver to finance its rehabilitation efforts through a loan secured by a “super-priority” lien on the property and a subsequent order authorizing the sale of the property free and clear of U.S. Bank’s lien.The court of appeal affirmed in part. Trial courts enjoy broad discretion in matters subject to a receivership, including the power to issue a receiver’s certificate with priority over pre-existing liens when warranted. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in subordinating U.S. Bank’s lien and confirming the sale of the property free and clear of liens so that the receiver could remediate the nuisance conditions promptly and effectively, but prioritizing the county’s enforcement fees and costs on equal footing with the receiver had no basis in the statutes. View "County of Sonoma v. U.S. Bank N.A." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Parkford Owners for a Better Community (Parkford), appealed a judgment entered in favor of defendants, Placer County and Placer County Community Development Resource Agency (collectively, the County), and real parties in interest, Silversword Properties, LLC (Silversword), K.H. Moss Company, and Moss Equity (collectively, Moss). Silversword owned property upon which Moss operated a commercial self-storage facility (Treelake Storage). Parkford’s lawsuit challenged the County’s issuance of a building permit for construction of an expansion of Treelake Storage, claiming the County failed to comply with both the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the Planning and Zoning Law. The trial court concluded: (1) the County’s issuance of the building permit was ministerial rather than discretionary, and therefore CEQA did not apply; and (2) Parkford’s challenge under the Planning and Zoning Law was barred by the statute of limitations. Real parties in interest, joined by the County, argued the trial court correctly decided each of these issues, and in the alternative, urged the Court of Appeal to affirm the judgment because Parkford’s challenge to the building permit became moot prior to the entry of judgment, when construction on the expansion project was completed. The Court concluded Parkford’s claims were moot and dismissed the appeal. View "Parkford Owners for a Better Community v. County of Placer" on Justia Law

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The City of Brentwood (Brentwood) sought reimbursement for construction costs incurred in five redevelopment projects. In City of Brentwood v. Campbell, 237 Cal.App.4th 488 (2015), the Court of Appeal rejected Brentwood’s contention that a statutory exception to the redevelopment dissolution statutes allowed the city to retain funds previously reimbursed under five public improvement agreements (PIA’s) between Brentwood and its former redevelopment agency (RDA). Here, Brentwood sought payment for expenses as yet unreimbursed, contending that the PIA’s were “enforceable obligations” under Health & Safety Code section 34191.4 (b)(1), a 2015 amendment to the dissolution statutes. Brentwood contended that third party construction contracts for the five projects - all but a small fraction of which preceded execution of the PIA’s - were “under” the PIA’s within the meaning of section 34191.4 (b)(2)(C)(i). The trial court ruled that “[i]n order for the contracts to have been ‘under’ the PIAs and on behalf of the RDA, the PIAs needed to already exist.” Similarly, Brentwood contended that the PIA’s ratified and incorporated the prior cooperation agreement and findings resolutions that predated third party construction contracts. The Court of Appeal determined no agreement or resolution prior to the PIA’s committed the RDA to reimburse Brentwood for the construction costs of the five redevelopment projects. "Ratification cannot import the terms of the PIA’s into the cooperation agreement and findings resolutions." The Court therefore affirmed denial of reimbursement. View "City of Brentwood v. Department of Finance" on Justia Law