Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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San Diegans for Open Government (SDOG) appealed judgment against it in a lawsuit challenging an amended and restated lease that the City of San Diego (City) entered into with Symphony Asset Pool XVI, LLC (Symphony) to lease City-owned land containing an oceanfront amusement park in San Diego's Mission Beach neighborhood, and potentially extending the term of a prior lease of the premises for a significant additional period. Specifically, SDOG argued: (1) the City's approval of the amended and restated lease violated a proposition to limit commercial development on the premises; (2) the City improperly concluded that its decision to enter into the amended and restated lease was exempt from the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act because it concerned an existing facility; and (3) the City violated section 99 of its charter (as it existed at the time) by failing to publish notice in the official City newspaper and pass an ordinance prior to entering into the amended and restated lease. Finding no merit to any of these arguments, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "San Diegans for Open Govt. v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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Loren Prout filed an inverse condemnation action alleging Department of Transportation (Caltrans) violated the Fifth Amendment in 2010 by physically occupying without compensation a long, narrow strip of Prout’s land fronting California Highway 12, to make highway improvements. The land taken was a 1.31-acre strip, 20 feet wide and about 6,095 feet long. Caltrans cross-complained for breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and specific performance, alleging Prout agreed to dedicate the strip by deed for highway purposes 20 years earlier when he obtained an encroachment permit for a subdivision he was developing. Prout’s subdivision map stated the strip of land fronting Highway 12, shown by hash marks on the map, was “IN THE PROCESS OF BEING DEEDED TO CALTRANS FOR HIGHWAY PURPOSES.” No deed was ever signed or recorded. After a bench trial on the bifurcated issue of liability, the trial court found Caltrans validly accepted the offer of dedication by physically occupying the strip for its highway improvements, and the court awarded specific performance on Caltrans’s cross-complaint and ordered Prout to execute a deed. On appeal, Prout claims the evidence is insufficient to support the trial court’s finding that he agreed to dedicate the entire strip of land, as opposed to just a small area needed to connect the subdivision’s private road to the state highway. The Court of Appeal concluded Prout’s challenge was barred by his failure to file a timely petition for writ of mandamus, and his inverse condemnation claim failed because substantial evidence supported the trial court’s finding that Prout made an offer to dedicate the entire strip of land in 1990 and did not revoke the offer before Caltrans accepted it by physically using the strip to make highway improvements in 2010-2011. View "Prout v. Dept. of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, opposed the development of an eight-unit multifamily residential building in a high-density residential district, challenged a resolution granting demolition and design review permits. They claimed the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA; Govt. Code, 21000) because the city council failed to consider aspects of the project other than design review and that the city abused its discretion under CEQA by approving the demolition permit and design review without requiring an environmental impact report (EIR) based on its determination that the proposed project met the requirements for a Class 32 (infill) categorical exemption under CEQA Guidelines. The court of appeal affirmed. The city council properly limited the scope of its review as required by the ordinance, did not abdicate its duty to act, and did not delegate its ultimate duty to the planning commission. St. Helena's Municipal Code did not require the city council to consider the environmental consequences of a multi-family project in an HR district Because of that lack of any discretion to address environmental effects, it was unnecessary to rely on the Class 32 exemption. View "McCorkle Eastside Neighborhood Group v. St. Helena" on Justia Law

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After defendants erected a wall across the Stockdale Estates segment of a pedestrian path, a group of current and former Amberton residents asked the superior court to enjoin defendants from impeding public use of the path. Plaintiffs argued that a common law dedication of the Stockdale Estates segment was both implied in fact and implied in law. The superior court issued a permanent injunction and then granted plaintiffs attorneys' fees. During the pendency of the appeal, the California Supreme Court decided Scher v. Burke, (2017) 3 Cal.5th 136, 147, which held that Civil Code section 1009, subdivision (b), prohibits reliance on post-1972 public use to support a claim of implied dedication. Although the parties agreed that Scher abrogated the superior court's finding of an implied-in-law dedication, plaintiffs argued that the judgment must be upheld. The Court of Appeal reversed both the judgment and the postjudgment order awarding fees, holding that section 1009, subdivision (b), generally prohibits implied-in-fact dedications of private noncoastal property and the superior court's order awarding plaintiffs attorneys' fees pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5 must be reversed. View "Mikkelsen v. Hansen" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the City in an action alleging that the City engaged in a pattern and practice of illegally exempting certain development projects in Venice from permitting requirements in the Venice Land Use Plan (LUP) and in the California Coastal Act. The court held that the Venice Sign-Off (VSO) process was ministerial and did not trigger due process protections; the director of planning was not required to review VSO projects for compliance with the LUP; additions to existing structures were eligible for exemptions under the Coastal Act; and Venice Coalition was not entitled to injunctive relief. View "Venice Coalition to Preserve Unique Community Character v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Georgetown was a "quaint unincorporated Gold Rush-era hamlet" in rural El Dorado County (the County, including defendant Board of Supervisors). Developer SimonCRE Abbie, LLC and its principals wanted to erect a Dollar General chain discount store on three vacant Main Street lots. Local residents acting through plaintiff Georgetown Preservation Society (Society) objected, claiming this would impair the look of their town. After the real parties slightly modified the project, the County adopted a mitigated negative declaration, finding there was no basis to require an environmental impact report (EIR). In response to the Society’s mandamus petition, the trial court duly applied Pocket Protectors v. City of Sacramento, 124 Cal.App.4th 903 (2004), and found the Society’s evidence supported a fair argument that the project may have a significant aesthetic effect on the environment, but rejected the Society’s claims about traffic impacts and pedestrian safety, and declined to address the Society’s claim the project was inconsistent with planning and zoning norms. Accordingly, the court issued a writ of mandate compelling the County to require an EIR. On appeal, the County and real parties, supported by the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties (which together filed one amicus curiae brief), contended the trial court erred in finding an EIR was needed. They principally relied on the fact that the County applied its Historic Design Guide principles and found the project met aesthetic standards. The Court of Appeal disagreed with this proposed method of bypassing CEQA and instead reinforced Pocket Protectors, holding that the Society’s evidence of aesthetic impacts was sufficient to trigger the need for an EIR. "A planning or zoning decision may be entitled to greater deference than a mitigated negative declaration, but such a determination is no more than it purports to be and is not a CEQA determination." View "Georgetown Preservation Society v. County of El Dorado" on Justia Law

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By a stipulated decree issued in 1920, the Tehama County Superior Court adjudicated water rights in Mill Creek. It declared the natural flow of the water up to a total rate of 203 cfs had been appropriated by the parties appearing before it for use upon their and other persons’ lands. The decree entitled these original owners of the water rights and their successors to continue diverting from Mill Creek a total of 203 cfs of water, and it allotted them shares in the amount of water each could divert. It entitled the owners to use or dispose of their share of water in any manner, at any place, or for any purpose, or in accordance with whatever agreement the owners may make with any other person or entity. As part of the decree, the court also appointed a water master of Mill Creek to implement its order. The decree gave the water master exclusive authority to divert and apportion the water during the irrigation season according to the decree’s terms, measure the diversions, and control and superintend the diversions and the gates and ditches used to divert the water. The owner of an appropriative right to water in Mill Creek sought declaratory relief to determine whether, under the judicial decree that established the right, it could: (1) use water appropriated to it on a year around basis and not only during the irrigation season; (2) use or transfer its water outside of the creek’s watershed; and (3) make these changes in the use and location of use without obtaining prior approval of the creek’s water master or the superior court. The trial court declared the decree did not give the owner these rights. The Court of Appeal agreed with the Orange Grove Irrigation District that the trial court’s holding was incorrect: the court created a condition that did not exist in the decree, and it did so based on a misunderstanding of the extent of control the decree granted to Los Molinos Mutual Water Company and of the operation of Water Code section 1706. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded the trial court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "Orange Cove Irrigation Dist. v. Los Molinos Mutual Water Co." on Justia Law

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In 1998, the State Lands Commission granted Hanson’s predecessor 10-year leases, authorizing commercial sand mining from sovereign lands, owned by the state subject to the public trust, and managed by the Commission, under the Central San Francisco Bay, Suisun Bay, and the western Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. In 2006, Hanson requested extensions of several leases, but they expired before the Commission made its decision. The Commission granted four new 10-year leases covering essentially the same parcels in the San Francisco Bay. In 2012, opponents sought a writ of mandate to compel the Commission to set aside its approval of the project. In 2015, a different panel of the court of appeal found that the Commission’s environmental review of the project complied with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code 21000), but that the Commission violated the public trust doctrine by approving the project without considering whether the sand mining leases were a proper use of public trust lands. The Commission reapproved the project; the court discharged a writ of mandate. The court of appeal affirmed. While the Commission erred by concluding that private commercial sand mining constitutes a public trust use of sovereign lands, there is substantial evidence that the project will not impair the public trust. View "San Francisco Baykeeper, Inc. v. State Lands Commission" on Justia Law

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The Alliance challenged the approval of a project comprising a fuel station, convenience store, and quick serve restaurant on The Alameda and the adoption of a mitigated negative declaration for the project. The Alliance sought to compel the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code 21000). In March 2016, the trial court issued a “Peremptory Writ of Mandate of Interlocutory Remand for Reconsideration of Potential Noise Impacts,” requiring the city to set aside the resolutions, reconsider the significance of potential noise impacts, and take further action consistent with CEQA. The Alliance did not appeal from that decision but appealed from the December 2016 “Final Judgment on Petition for Writ of Mandamus,” which determined that the city’s supplemental return complied with the peremptory writ and with CEQA. The court of appeal affirmed, concluding that the March 2016 decision was the final judgment and the December 2016 decision was a post-judgment order. The court rejected claims that the city was required to prepare an EIR because there was substantial evidence in the record supporting a fair argument that the proposed project may have significant, unmitigated traffic and noise impacts and that the project violated the municipal code governing “formula retail businesses.” View "Alliance of Concerned Citizens Organized for Responsible Development v. City of San Juan Bautista" on Justia Law

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Proposition L was enacted to prohibit the construction of additional billboards within the city limits of Pomona. Plaintiffs filed a petition for a writ of mandate and complaint for declaratory relief, alleging that the city council's adoption of the July 2014 "amendment" to a billboard advertising agreement was in fact a new agreement for new billboards enacted in violation of Prop. L. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of the petition. The court held that plaintiffs had public interest standing to pursue this action, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion by finding that Regency was not indispensable to the litigation. On the merits, the court held that the trial court correctly concluded that Pomona violated its duty to comply with Prop. L by entering into a contract that directly violated its terms. In the alternative, Pomona's exercise of its discretion in such a way as to ignore Prop. L constituted an abuse of that discretion that the court properly could have found arbitrary, capricious, or lacking in evidentiary support. Finally, the court rejected Pomona's argument that the July 2014 agreement was a new contract; affirmed the trial court's award of attorney's fees; and denied sanctions. View "Citizens for Amending Proposition L v. City of Pomona" on Justia Law