Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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The Park and Malibu Bay petitioned the trial court to have Measure R, an initiative designed to limit large developments and chain establishments, declared invalid. The trial court granted the petition and defendants appealed. The Court of Appeal held that Measure R exceeds the initiative power because it invalidly annuls or delays executive or administrative conduct. The court also held that Measure R's conditional use permit (CUP) is illegal because it conditions the CUP on the character of the permittee or applicant rather than on the use of the land. The court declined to sever the invalid portions of Measure R and affirmed the judgment. View "The Park at Cross Creek v. City of Malibu" on Justia Law

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Grist Creek owns property in Mendocino County on which it has aggregate and asphalt processing operations. The County Air Quality Management District approved a permit to construct a “Crumb Rubber Heating and Blending Unit” for the production of rubberized asphalt, on the property. The District Hearing Board’s four members who considered an appeal split evenly on their vote; the Board stated no further action would be taken, leaving the permit in place. Oponents filed a petition for writ of administrative mandate, claiming that Grist Creek should have conducted an environmental review and that the District and Hearing Board violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA, Pub. Resources Code, 21000) and District regulations by failing to require one. The trial court dismissed the action against the Board with leave to amend, finding the tie vote was not a decision, so there was nothing to review. The court of appeals reversed. The Board’s tie vote, in this context, resulted in the denial of the administrative appeal, subject to judicial review. View "Grist Creek Aggregates, LLC v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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The vacant Morgan Hill parcel was designated, in the general plan, as “Industrial” until the city amended the plan to change its designation to “Commercial.” Its zoning was “ML-Light Industrial” before the amendment. Later, the city council changed the parcel’s zoning to “CG-General Commercial,” which would permit a hotel. The Coalition submitted a referendum petition challenging the rezoning to prevent the development of a hotel. The city adopted a certificate of sufficiency as to the referendum, but later “discontinue[d] processing,” believing that the referendum would enact zoning inconsistent with its general plan. The city recognized that it could, alternatively, change the parcel’s zoning to “Highway Commercial” and be consistent with the plan’s designation. Months later, the city called for a special election to submit the referendum to the voters but also authorized the filing of an action to have it removed from the ballot. The court ordered the referendum removed from the ballot and the rezoning certified as effective. The court of appeals reversed, holding that a referendum petition challenging an ordinance that attempts to make the zoning for a parcel consistent with the parcel’s general plan designation is not invalid if the legislative body remains free to select another consistent zoning should the referendum result in the rejection of the legislative body’s first choice of consistent zoning. View "City of Morgan Hill v. Bushey" on Justia Law

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Since 1972, Mendocino County has approved aggregate and asphalt production on the site; it approved a 2002 permit after review under the California Environmental Protection Act (CEQA). In 2009, the County proceeded under CEQA, prepared an environmental impact report, and updated its General Plan, changing the site’s designation from Rangeland to Industrial, then rezoned 61 parcels, including the site, to conform to updated use designations. Grist Creek acquired the site and wanted to resume aggregate and asphalt production; there had been little production due to market conditions and equipment had been removed. Due to environmental impacts, Grist initially pursued only an aggregate and concrete operation. The Planning Department undertook CEQA review; the County adopted a conditional negative declaration. Later, Grist Creek proposed asphalt production. The County Board of Supervisors declared that proposal was neither a new nor a changed, industrial use. The Planning Department issued a “Notice of Exemption” for “[r]esumption of . . . aggregate processing plant,” The air pollution control officer issued an Authority to Construct without further environmental review. The court dismissed a CEQA suit against the Air Quality Management District. The court of appeal reversed; CEQA claims are allowed against air quality management districts, but the suit does not challenge any land use designations or authorizations. The District (a separate governmental agency) only assessed the proposal’s impact on air quality and issued an “Authority to Construct.” Even under CEQA, this is an administrative proceeding; the only possible relief is invalidation of the Authority to Construct. View "Friends of Outlet Creek v. Mendocino County" on Justia Law

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Property owners Carolyn Kutzke and Karen Kapp applied to the City of San Diego (City) for a vesting tentative parcel map and related permits to allow them to subdivide two adjacent lots totaling 1.45 acres (property) into four lots, retain an existing residence on one lot, and build a new residence on each of the remaining lots (project). The local community planning board recommended denial of the project; however, the planning commission approved it and certified a mitigated negative declaration for it. A citizen appealed the planning commission's decision to the City council. The City council granted the appeal and reversed the planning commission's decision, finding the project's mitigated negative declaration was inadequate, particularly as to the project's potential impacts on geology, land use, and public safety; the project was inconsistent with the applicable community plan; and requested deviations from applicable development regulations were inappropriate for the project's location and would not result in a more desirable project. The owners petitioned the Court of Appeal for mandamus relief from the superior court order reversing the City’s decision. The Court of Appeal reversed the superior court, finding substantial evidence to support the City’s findings. View "Kutzke v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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Substantively, in three somewhat interconnected claims, Joe and Yvette Hardesty (collectively, Hardesty) attacked State Mining and Geology Board (Board) findings, contending the trial court misunderstood the legal force of his 19th century federal mining patents. He asserted he had a vested right to surface mine after the passage of SMARA without the need to prove he was surface mining on SMARA’s operative date of January 1, 1976. He argued the Board and trial court misapplied the law of nonconforming uses in finding Hardesty had no vested right, and separately misapplied the law in finding that his predecessors abandoned any right to mine. These contentions turned on legal disputes about the SMARA grandfather clause and the force of federal mining patents. Procedurally, Hardesty alleged the Board’s findings did not “bridge the gap” between the raw evidence and the administrative findings. Hardesty also challenged the fairness of the administrative process itself, alleging that purported ex parte communications by the Board’s executive director, Stephen Testa, tainted the proceedings. The Court of Appeal reviewed the facts, and found they undermined Hardesty’s claims: the fact that mines were worked on the property years ago does not necessarily mean any surface or other mining existed when SMARA took effect, such that any right to surface mine was grandfathered. However, the Court agreed with the trial court’s conclusions that, on this record, neither of these procedural claims proved persuasive. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the judgment denying the mandamus petition. View "Hardesty v. State Mining & Geology Board" on Justia Law

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Plaza de Panama Committee (the Committee) appealed the denial of its motion for attorney fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5. The Committee filed the motion after it successfully appealed a judgment granting a petition for writ of mandamus filed by Save Our Heritage Organisation (SOHO), in which SOHO challenged the approval by the City of San Diego (City) of a site development permit for a revitalization project in Balboa Park (the project). This appeal presented two related issues for the Court of Appeal’s review: whether the Committee, as a project proponent, could obtain a section 1021.5 attorney fees award and, if so, whether the court could impose such an award against SOHO. After review, the Court concluded a project proponent may obtain a section 1021.5 attorney fees award if the project proponent satisfies the award's requirements. Furthermore, the Court concluded while SOHO did not dispute the Committee satisfied the award's requirements, SOHO was not the type of party against whom the court may impose such an award because SOHO did nothing to compromise public rights. The Court, therefore, affirmed the order. View "Save Our Heritage Org. v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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Until 2000, Sonoma County grape growers could plant or replant a vineyard “as a matter of right” without governmental approval. A 2000 ordinance, governing “grading, drainage improvement, and vineyard and orchard site development within the unincorporated area of the county” requires growers, other than hobbyists, to obtain an erosion-control permit from the Agricultural Commissioner before establishing or replanting a vineyard. An applicant must submit plans demonstrating compliance with certain directives and must accept certain ongoing agricultural practices. The Commissioner issued the Ohlsons a permit to establish a vineyard on land they own that was being used for grazing, finding that issuing the permit was a ministerial act, exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act, Public Resources Code 21000 (CEQA). The trial court agreed. The court of appeal affirmed. Although the ordinance may allow the Commissioner to exercise discretion when issuing erosion-control permits in some circumstances, the objectors did not show that the Commissioner improperly determined that issuing the Ohlsons’ permit was ministerial. Most of the ordinance’s provisions that potentially confer discretion did not apply to their project, and the objectors failed to show that the few that might apply conferred the ability to mitigate potential environmental impacts to any meaningful degree. View "Sierra Club v. County of Sonoma" on Justia Law

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In 2006, the City of San Diego (City) obtained a Site Development Permit (SDP) to construct a new lifeguard station on Mission Beach. The SDP stated that failure to utilize the permit within 36 months of its issuance would automatically void the permit. Over the ensuing years, the City worked to secure a permit from the California Coastal Commission (Commission) and to obtain funding for the project. Largely because of the economic downtown, the City struggled to find financing for the project and no construction occurred until 2015. At that time, the City notified nearby residents that its contractor would begin construction in March. The City issued building permits in April and its contractor began initial work on the project, then stopped before the summer moratorium on beach construction. In August 2015, before the end of the moratorium, Citizens for Beach Rights (Citizens) brought a petition for writ of mandate and claim for declaratory relief seeking to halt construction on the grounds that the SDP issued in 2006 had expired. The trial court agreed with Citizens and issued a permanent injunction, preventing further construction without a new SDP. The City appealed, arguing Citizens' claims were barred by the applicable statutes of limitations or the doctrine of laches and, even if the action was not time barred, the SDP remained valid in 2015 under the City's municipal code and policies. The City also argued Citizens improperly sought declaratory relief. After review, the Court of Appeal held Citizens' action was barred by the applicable statutes of limitations and, even if Citizens' claims had been timely pursued, the SDP remained valid when construction began. View "Citizens for Beach Rights v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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This case involved the interpretation, and application of Water Code section 51200 and articles XIII C and XIII D of the California Constitution, as approved by California voters in 1996 as Proposition 218, and the interplay between them. Defendants and cross-complainants Reclamation District No. 17 and Governing Board of Reclamation District 17 (collectively "Reclamation") maintained levees and other reclamation works within the district’s boundaries. Plaintiff and cross-defendant Manteca Unified School District (School) owned real property within Reclamation’s boundaries. School filed an action for declaratory relief, arguing section 51200 exempted it from paying assessments to Reclamation and Proposition 218 did not confer such authority. School also sought recovery of over $299,000 previously collected by Reclamation. Reclamation answered and cross-complained for declaratory relief. The trial court found the assessments levied by Reclamation were invalid under section 51200 but denied recovery of assessment payments made during the pendency of the action and concluded School’s action was not barred by the statute of limitations. Reclamation appealed, arguing section 51200 and Proposition 218 allowed assessments against school district property unless the district could show through clear and convincing evidence that the property received no special benefit. School cross-appealed, contending the trial court erred in denying recovery for assessments paid during the pendency of the case. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court erred in declining to apply the constitutional mandate of Proposition 218 to the statutory exemption from assessments provided by section 51200. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment and dismissed the cross-appeal. View "Manteca Unified Sch. Dist. v. Reclamation Dist. No. 17" on Justia Law