Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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In a dispute between plaintiffs Jason Riddick, Elizabeth Riddick, and Renee Sperling, and the City of Malibu in the Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District, the court affirmed the lower court's decision. The plaintiffs sought to construct an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) attached to their existing single-family residence and applied for a permit. However, the City of Malibu denied the application, asserting that a coastal development permit (CDP) was required. The plaintiffs argued that their project was exempt from the CDP requirement under a local ordinance. The Superior Court agreed with the plaintiffs and ordered the City to process the proposed ADU as exempt from the CDP requirements. The City appealed this decision.The appellate court affirmed the lower court's decision, finding that the local ordinance did indeed exempt improvements directly attached to existing single-family residences, including ADUs, from the CDP requirement. Moreover, the court decided that the City's interpretation of the ordinance was not entitled to deference and rejected the City's contention that the ordinance language was internally inconsistent or at odds with other provisions of the statutory scheme. In a cross-appeal, the plaintiffs contended that they were entitled to a permit within 60 days of their completed application, but the court held that this issue was not properly before it on the cross-appeal because it arose from matters occurring after the final ruling. Their cross-appeal was therefore limited to the judgment, which the court affirmed in its entirety. View "Riddick v. City of Malibu" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division One, addressed an appeal from Hilltop Group, Inc., and ADJ Holdings, LLC (Hilltop Group), regarding a dispute with the County of San Diego (County), over the proposed North County Environmental Resources Project (NCER Project), a recycling facility. The Hilltop Group applied to develop the NCER Project on a parcel of land that was designated for industrial use by the County as part of its General Plan Update (GPU) in 2011. However, the project faced significant opposition from community members, homeowners associations, and the nearby City of Escondido due to concerns over potential environmental impacts.The County staff initially required Hilltop Group to conduct environmental studies. Based on these studies, the County concluded that the NCER Project qualified for a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exemption under section 21083.3, meaning that no further environmental review would be needed. However, this decision was appealed to the Board of Supervisors, who voted to grant the appeals and require further environmental review. The Hilltop Group challenged this decision in court, arguing that the NCER Project did not have any significant and peculiar environmental effects that were not already evaluated by the program Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the GPU.The Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Hilltop Group, finding that the Board of Supervisors did not proceed in a manner required by law when they denied the exemption and failed to limit further environmental review to those effects enumerated in Guidelines section 15183, subdivision (b)(1) through (4). The court concluded that the Board of Supervisors' findings of peculiar environmental effects in the areas of aesthetics, noise, traffic, air quality, and GHG emissions were not supported by substantial evidence in the record. Therefore, the court held that the Board of Supervisors' decision denying the CEQA exemption and requiring the preparation of an EIR constituted a prejudicial abuse of discretion. The court reversed the trial court's judgment and directed it to enter a new judgment granting the petition and issuing a peremptory writ of mandate directing the County to set aside its decision granting the administrative appeals and requiring the preparation of an EIR. View "Hilltop Group, Inc. v. County of San Diego" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute between a group of plaintiffs (Jason and Elizabeth Riddick, and Renee Sperling) and the City of Malibu, the Malibu City Council, and the Malibu Planning Department (collectively referred to as the City). The plaintiffs sought to add an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) to their residence but their permit application was denied by the City. The plaintiffs petitioned the trial court for relief and obtained an order directing the City to process the proposed ADU as exempt from coastal development permit (CDP) requirements. The City appealed this decision, arguing that the trial court misinterpreted the City ordinance governing exemptions from the state’s CDP requirement. The plaintiffs cross-appealed, arguing that they established a right to a permit under state ADU standards as a matter of law, and therefore the court should have ordered the permit to be issued immediately.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division Five held that the City's interpretation of the ordinance was not entitled to deference. The court interpreted the ordinance's language to include ADUs directly attached to existing residences in the class of improvements exempt from the CDP requirement. As such, the court affirmed the trial court's decision requiring the City to process the plaintiffs' permit application under state ADU standards. The court also affirmed the trial court's rejection of the plaintiffs' argument that they were automatically entitled to a permit. View "Riddick v City of Malibu" on Justia Law

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In the case of Planning and Conservation League et al., v. Department of Water Resources heard in the California Court of Appeal, Third Appellate District, the court considered whether the Department of Water Resources’ (department) approval of amendments to long-term contracts with local government agencies that receive water through the State Water Project violated various laws. The amendments extended the contracts to 2085 and expanded the facilities listed as eligible for revenue bond financing. Several conservation groups and public agencies challenged the amendments, arguing they violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Reform Act (Delta Reform Act), and the public trust doctrine. However, the court held that the department did not violate CEQA, the Delta Reform Act, or the public trust doctrine, and therefore affirmed the trial court's judgment in favor of the department. The court found that the department used the correct baseline for its environmental impact report (EIR), properly segmented the amendments from related projects, and adequately considered the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of the amendments. The court also held that the department adequately described the project and considered a reasonable range of alternatives, and that recirculation of the EIR was not required. The court rejected arguments that the amendments violated the Delta Reform Act or the public trust doctrine, finding that they did not impact "water that is imbued with the public trust." The court concluded that the department acted within its authority in approving and executing the amendments. View "Planning and Conservation League v. Dept. of Water Resources" on Justia Law

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A dispute arose under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA; Water Code 10720) regarding which local groundwater sustainability agency is authorized to manage the groundwater in a portion of the 180/400 Foot Aquifer Subbasin of the Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin called the CEMEX area. The City of Marina challenged the groundwater sustainability plan of the Salinas Valley Basin Groundwater Sustainability Agency (SVBGSA) as adopted by Monterey County and posted by the Department of Water Resources as the operative groundwater sustainability plan for most of the Subbasin. The County sought a declaration that the formation of the City’s groundwater sustainability agency was void.The court of appeal affirmed the trial court, agreeing with the Department that under section 10724 the County could step in as the presumptive groundwater management agency for the CEMEX area when the City and SVBGSA failed to reach an agreement to allow prompt designation of a groundwater sustainability agency; the Department properly posted the County’s notice of the formation of a groundwater sustainability agency for the CEMEX area on its website and properly identified the County’s groundwater sustainability agency as the exclusive groundwater sustainability agency for the area. View "City of Marina v. County of Monterey" on Justia Law

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The Housing Crisis Act of 2019 (the Act) is among the measures that the California Legislature has adopted to address the state’s housing shortage. Subdivision (b)(1)(A) of section 66300 prohibits affected cities from (1) enacting any policy that changes the zoning of parcels to “a less intensive use” or (2) “reducing the intensity of land use” within a zoning district to below what was allowed under zoning ordinances in effect on January 1, 2018. Defendants the City of Culver City and the City Council of the City of Culver City (City Council) (collectively, the City) adopted Ordinance No. 2020-010, changing development standards in its single-family residential, or R-1, zone. The Ordinance reduced the allowable floor area ratio (FAR) for primary residences from .60 to .45, decreasing the square footage of a house that could be built on a lot. Plaintiffs Yes In My Back Yard (collectively, YIMBY) filed a petition for writ of mandate seeking an order declaring the Ordinance void. The trial court determined the Ordinance violated section 66300 because the FAR reduction impermissibly reduced the intensity of land use.   The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court explained that there is no published authority addressing the proper interpretation of section 66300, and thus, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in considering the novelty of the questions presented. In calculating the lodestar amount, the court accepted the hourly rates of YIMBY’s counsel, noting that “[the City] ma[d]e no argument to the contrary.” There is no showing that the trial court applied the multiplier to punish the City. View "Yes In My Back Yard v. City of Culver City" on Justia Law

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Snowball West Investments, LP applied to build a housing project consisting of 215 homes in the Sunland/Tujunga area of the City of Los Angeles. The current zoning for the site is RA and A1; the project must be rezoned to RD5 and R1 for the project to move forward. The City denied Snowball’s zone change request, stating that more information was needed before building homes in a high wildfire hazard area. Snowball petitioned for a writ of mandate, which was denied. Snowball appealed. Snowball argues that under the rezoning exemption in the Housing Accountability Act (HAA), Government Code section 65589.5, subdivision (j)(4)1 (section 65589.5(j)(4)), its project is exempt from the need for a zone change.   The Second Appellate District affirmed the superior court’s denial of Snowball’s writ petition. The court explained that the current RA and A1 zoning is consistent with the community plan through the language of that plan. Because the rezoning exemption in section 65589.5(j)(4) only applies when “the zoning for the project site is inconsistent” with the applicable plan, the rezoning exemption in section 65589.5(j)(4) does not apply here, and Snowball’s project was not exempt from zone change requirements.  Further, the court wrote that the HAA does not apply, and the City’s findings were sufficient under the LAMC and supported by substantial evidence. View "Snowball West Investments v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Defendant City of Orange (the City) appealed an order denying an anti-SLAPP motion. The underlying lawsuit alleged a violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act (Brown Act). Plaintiff Mary’s Kitchen provided homeless services in the City of Orange. Prior to the filing of this lawsuit, the city manager for the City terminated Mary’s Kitchen’s license, citing safety concerns. Subsequently, the city council held an executive (i.e., closed) session to discuss potential unspecified litigation. Afterward, the city attorney exited the meeting and declared that the council had “unanimously confirmed” the termination of Mary’s Kitchen’s license. The Brown Act required that any contemplated action or topic of discussion be posted in an agenda at least 72 hours prior to the meeting; the meeting agenda pertinent here did not mention anything about Mary’s Kitchen’s license. Plaintiffs Mary’s Kitchen and Gloria Suess (chief executive officer and president of Mary’s Kitchen) filed a verified complaint/petition for writ of mandate against the City. The City filed an anti-SLAPP motion, arguing that because the agenda described the meeting as discussing legal matters, the complaint/petition arose out of protected activity. The City took the position that no action was taken at the meeting, and that the unanimous approval described in the minutes simply reflected inaction—i.e., that the city council chose to do nothing to override the city manager’s decision to terminate the license. The court denied the motion, concluding the complaint targeted the City’s failure to provide adequate notice of the confirmation of the license termination rather than anything that was said at the meeting. To this the Court of Appeal agreed with this assessment and further concluded that the “unanimous confirm[ation]” was evidence of an action: ratification. View "Mary's Kitchen v. City of Orange" on Justia Law

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The Historic Architecture Alliance and the Laguna Beach Historic Preservation Coalition (collectively, the Alliance) appealed the denial of their petition for mandamus relief. The action involved a decision by the City of Laguna Beach and its City Council (collectively, the City) to approve real parties in interest Ian Kirby and Cherlin Kirby’s (the Kirbys) application to renovate and build an extension on an existing single-family dwelling listed in the City’s “Historic Resources Inventory.” Because of this listing, the Kirbys’ residence was considered a presumptive historical resource under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The Alliance asserted the showing it made before the City was sufficient to support the historical resource exception, which stated: “A categorical exemption shall not be used for a project which may cause a substantial adverse change in the significance of a historical resource.” The Alliance asserted the project caused a substantial adverse change in the significance of a historical resource and preparation of an EIR or a mitigated negative declaration was required. The Court of Appeal concluded substantial evidence supported the City’s finding the project was exempt under the historical resource exemption because it was consistent with the Secretary’s Standards. The Court further concluded the fair argument standard did not apply where application of the historical resource exemption and the historical resource exception depended on the same issue—whether the project complies with the Secretary’s Standards. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed. View "Historic Architecture Alliance v. City of Laguna Beach" on Justia Law

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This case arose from the California Department of Water Resources’s (DWR) release of water from Lake Oroville down the Oroville Dam’s gated flood control spillway and emergency spillway in February 2017. The Butte County District Attorney filed suit under Fish and Game Code section 5650.11 on behalf of the State seeking civil penalties and injunctive relief against DWR. The statute authorized civil penalties against any “person” who deposited harmful materials into the waters of the state. The statute also authorized injunctive relief. The trial court granted summary judgment for DWR, finding DWR was not a “person” under section 5650.1. On appeal, the State contended the trial court erred in granting DWR’s motion because DWR was a “person” under section 5650.1. Alternatively, the State argued that, even if DWR was not a “person” under this provision, DWR did not negate the State's cause of action with respect to injunctive relief. The Court of Appeal disagreed and affirmed the judgment. View "Oroville Dam Cases" on Justia Law