Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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The City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Board of Commissioners (collectively, Los Angeles) appealed a trial court judgment granting the petition of Mono County and the Sierra Club (collectively, Mono County) for a writ of mandate directing Los Angeles to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) before curtailing or reducing deliveries of irrigation water to certain lands Los Angeles leased to agricultural operators in Mono County. The trial court ruled that Los Angeles implemented a project in 2018 without complying with CEQA when: (1) it proposed new leases to the lessees that would not provide or allow water to be used for irrigation; and (2) while claiming it would study the environmental effects of the new leases, it nonetheless implemented that policy of reducing water for irrigation by allocating less water than usual under the prior leases that were still in effect. Los Angeles did not dispute that it was required to engage in CEQA analysis before implementing the new proposed leases, and it noted it issued a notice that it was undertaking environmental review of those new leases. But it argued that its 2018 water allocation was not part of that project and instead part of an earlier project, and the limitations period for challenging the earlier project has run. The Court of Appeal agreed with Los Angeles, the trial court's judgment was reversed. View "County of Mono v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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After concluding that the project was not subject to the Housing Accountability Act (HAA) (Gov. Code 65589.5), the county denied the plaintiffs’ application o build a nearly 4,000-square-foot single-family home on a hillside lot in San Anselmo finding that the home was outsized compared to the surrounding neighborhood. Plaintiffs claim that their planned home qualified as a “housing development project” under the HAA and that the county improperly rejected it based on subjective criteria.The court of appeal affirmed the denial. The county lawfully rejected the plaintiffs’ application; the HAA does not apply to a project to build an individual single-family home. The court rejected the plaintiffs’ equitable-estoppel claims. There was sufficient evidence for the county to deny the project on the basis of the project’s outsized character. View "Reznitskiy v. County of Marin" on Justia Law

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In 2017, Bakewell submitted applications regarding its proposed development of "Campus Town," on approximately 122 acres of the former Fort Ord military base. The City of Seaside certified an environmental impact report under the California Environmental Quality Act, Public Resources Code section 21000, and approved the project. After holding a public hearing, the Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA) determined that the project was consistent with the Fort Ord Reuse Plan. A nonprofit organization filed a petition for a writ of mandate, alleging that the Campus Town EIR violated CEQA and that FORA’s failure to provide the Committee with notices of the consistency hearing for the project violated the Committee’s right to due process. Bakewell argued that the CEQA causes of action were time-barred and the due process cause of action was moot.The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of all claims. Under Emergency rule 9(b) the last day for the Committee to file its petition asserting CEQA causes of action was August 4, 2020; it was not filed until September 1, 2020. there is currently no requirement that development projects proposed for the former Fort Ord military base be consistent with the Fort Ord Reuse Plan, so the due process claim is moot. View "Committee for Sound Water & Land Development v. City of Seaside" on Justia Law

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Martha owns the largest undeveloped parcel of property in the vicinity of Tiburon, 110 acres on top of a mountain, overlooking much of the town and commanding a stunning view of San Francisco Bay. For decades, Martha has sought approval from the County of Marin to develop the property. Local opposition has been intense, including federal court litigation, starting in 1975 and resulting in stipulated judgments in 1976 and 2007. The county twice publicly agreed to approve Martha building no fewer than 43 units on the property. In 2017, the county certified an environmental impact report and conditionally approved Martha’s master plan for 43 single-family residences. The county believed its actions were compelled by the stipulated judgments.The town and residents sued, claiming that the county effectively agreed it would not follow or enforce state law, specifically, the California Environmental Quality Act, to prevent the development of an anticipated project. The court of appeal upheld the approvals. Governmental powers are indefeasible and inalienable; they cannot be surrendered, suspended, contracted away, waived, or otherwise divested. Government cannot bind the hands of its successors. In this case, the county did not abdicate its authority or otherwise undertake not to comply with CEQA. “With its eyes wide open,” the county complied with a binding, final judgment; that judgment in no way anticipated or legitimated ignoring CEQA. View "Tiburon Open Space Committee v. County of Marin" on Justia Law

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Crystal Geyser Water Company bought a closed water bottling facility and sought to revive it. Both the County and the City ultimately granted the necessary permits. This appeal concerned one of two lawsuits challenging these approvals, brought pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In one suit, Appellants We Advocate Thorough Environmental Review and Winnehem Wintu Tribe alleged that the County’s environmental review for the bottling facility was inadequate under CEQA. In another, they alleged that the City’s decision to issue the wastewater permit for the bottling plant was also improper under CEQA. In this case, the County served as the lead agency and considered the potential environmental impacts of permitting the bottling facility before it or any other public agency issued a permit for the facility. But in Appellants’ view, the County’s analysis was inadequate. Appellants alleged the County: (1) provided a misleading description of the project; (2) defined the project’s objectives in an impermissibly narrow manner; (3) improperly evaluated the project’s impacts to aesthetics, air quality, climate change, noise, and hydrology; and (4) approved the project even though it would result in violations of the County’s and the City’s general plans. The trial court rejected all Appellants’ arguments. But the Court of Appeal found two contentions had merit: (1) the County defined the project’s objectives in an overly narrow manner; and (2) the process for evaluating the project’s impacts to climate change was flawed. Relevant to this point, the County initially informed the public that the bottling project would result in greenhouse gas emissions of one amount, but, after the period for public comments had ended, the County disclosed that the project would actually result in emissions nearly double what it initially estimated. Under the circumstances of this case, the appellate court found the County should have allowed the public further opportunity to comment on the project after this late disclosure. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "We Advocate Through etc. v. County of Siskiyou" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Lafferty sought to develop 76 homes on a 31.7-acre Garaventa Hills site in Livermore. A 2012 draft environmental impact report recognized that any alterations to existing drainage patterns may affect the quantity, timing, and quality of precipitation needed to maintain a functioning ecosystem. There was considerable opposition to Lafferty’s proposal. Lafferty reduced the number of residential units to 47, eliminated a vehicular bridge over Altamont Creek, and preserved a large rock outcropping. The final environmental impact report (FEIR) was released in 2014. The planning commission recommended that the city reject Lafferty’s second proposal. The city council declined to certify the FEIR. In 2017, Lafferty proposed a smaller-scale project with 44 new residences. According to the reissued FEIR (RFEIR), the project would result in the permanent removal of 31.78 acres of grasslands with an additional 1.18 acres being temporarily disturbed for construction; various mitigation measures were proposed, including the acquisition of an 85-acre compensatory mitigation site. The city certified the RFEIR and approved the Project.Opponents filed suit under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code 2100). The court of appeal reversed and remanded. Opponents raised a challenge to the adequacy of the RFEIR’s analysis of the “no project” alternative that is both preserved for appeal and meritorious. View "Save the Hill Group v. City of Livermore" on Justia Law

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In 1996, Schmier converted Berkley apartment units into condominiums. Berkeley ordinances then required that he record Affordable Housing Fee liens based on a formula. Schmier's lien agreements that provided, “Execution of this document shall not prejudice the right of the undersigned to challenge the validity of the Affordable Housing Fee. In the event that the Affordable Housing Fee is ... rescinded … this lien shall be void.” Schmier alleged that in 2008, Berkeley rescinded that ordinance. The new section includes a different formula. In 2019, Schmier advised Berkeley of the sale of the property. Berkeley requested an affordable housing fee of $147,202.66, calculated under the rescinded ordinance. Under the current ordinance, the fee would have been less than half of what was requested.The court of appeal reversed the dismissal of the suit, as barred by a 90-day statute of limitations (Subdivision Map Act, Gov. Code, 66499.37). Schmier did not challenge the requirement that he execute a lien agreement, nor did he challenge the adoption of the former ordinance, its alleged recission, or adoption of a new section; Schmier’s complaint is not subject to the Map Act’s limitations period. Even assuming the 90-day period applied, it could not have begun to run until Berkeley rejected Schmier’s assertion that the lien agreement was no longer operative when the city rescinded the former ordinance. The language of the lien agreements is ambiguous, rendering both asserted constructions arguably reasonable. View "Schmier v. City of Berkeley" on Justia Law

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The California Coastal Act of 1976 (Pub. Resources Code 30000) requires a coastal development permit (CDP) for any “development” resulting in a change in the intensity of use of, or access to, land or water in a coastal zone. In December 2018, Los Angeles adopted the Home-Sharing Ordinance, imposing restrictions on short-term vacation rentals, with mechanisms to enforce those restrictions. Objectors sought to enjoin enforcement of the Ordinance in the Venice coastal zone until the city obtains a CDP, claiming the Ordinance constituted a “development” requiring a CDP.The trial court denied relief, finding the petition time-barred by the 90-day statute of limitations in Government Code section 65009, and that the Ordinance does not create a change in intensity of use and, therefore, is not a “development” requiring a CDP. The court of appeal affirmed, agreeing that the 90-day statute of limitations applies, rather than the three-year statute of limitations in Code of Civil Procedure section 338(a). The court did not address whether the Ordinance constitutes a “development” subject to the CDP requirements of the Coastal Act. View "Coastal Act Protectors v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Appellant Save the El Dorado Canal sought reversal of a judgment entered after the trial court denied its petition for writ of mandate. The petition challenged certification of an environmental impact report (EIR) and approval of a project under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The challenged project, the Upper Main Ditch piping project, was approved by the El Dorado Irrigation District and the El Dorado Irrigation District Board of Directors (collectively, respondents). On appeal, appellant contended respondents’ approval of the challenged project violated CEQA because: (1) the EIR failed to provide an adequate project description because it omitted “a crucial fact about the ditch the District proposes to ‘abandon,’ ” i.e., “the Main Ditch system is the only drainage system” for the watershed; and (2) the EIR failed to adequately analyze the impacts of abandonment to hydrology, biological resources, and risks associated with wildfires. The Court of Appeal affirmed, finding respondents did not abuse their discretion in approving the Blair Road alternative. The draft and final EIR’s adequately apprised respondents and the public about both the nature of the watershed and the fact that the District would no longer maintain the abandoned portion of the Upper Main Ditch. These environmental documents also adequately analyzed the Blair Road alternative’s impacts to hydrology, biological resources, and risks associated with wildfires. View "Save the El Dorado Canal v. El Dorado Irrigation Dist." on Justia Law

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Bankers Hill 150 and Bankers Hill/Park West Community Association (collectively, the Association) appealed after a trial court denied their petition for writ of mandate challenging a decision by the City of San Diego (City) to approve a development application for the 6th & Olive Project (the Project), a 20-story mixed-use building with a total of 204 dwelling units in the Bankers Hill neighborhood near downtown San Diego. Generally, the Association believed the Project was inconsistent with the neighborhood because it is too dense, too tall, and too close to the street. The Association contends the City abused its discretion in approving the Project because it was inconsistent with development standards and policies set forth in the City’s General Plan and the Uptown Community Plan, which governed development in the Project’s neighborhood. The Court of Appeal found the Project qualified for the benefits of the Density Bonus Law, and the evidence did not support any of the limited exceptions to its application. Because the City was obligated to waive those standards if they conflicted with the Project’s design, the Association’s claim that the Project conflicted with certain development standards did not establish a basis for denying the Project. Regardless, the Court concluded the City did not abuse its discretion in finding the Project to be consistent with the City’s land use plans. View "Bankers Hill 150 v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law