Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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Cal-Am, an investor-owned utility that supplies water to much of the Monterey Peninsula, was subject to a state order to cease its decades-long overuse of certain water sources. Cal-Am sought to comply by drawing seawater and brackish water from coastal aquifers for desalination. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), acting under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA, Pub. Resources Code, 21050), certified a final environmental impact report (EIR), and granted Cal-Am a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity. The City denied Cal-Am coastal development permits to install the intake wells. Cal-Am appealed to the California Coastal Commission.The County approved a permit to construct the desalination plant in unincorporated Monterey County. Marina Coast Water District challenged that approval, arguing that the County violated CEQA by failing to prepare a subsequent or supplemental EIR and adopting an unsupported statement of overriding considerations, and violated its own general plan by approving a project that lacked a long-term sustainable water supply. The trial court ruled that the County was not required to prepare another EIR and did not violate its own general plan, but unlawfully relied on the water-related benefits of the desalination plant in its statement of overriding considerations without addressing the uncertainty introduced by the City’s denial of the coastal development permit. The court of appeal reversed; the County’s statement of overriding considerations was supported by substantial evidence and any remaining deficiency in the statement was not prejudicial. View "Marina Coast Water District v. County of Monterey" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) sought extraordinary writ relief for the second time arising out of the parties’ ongoing efforts to clarify the standard of proof to be applied at trial on South San Joaquin Irrigation District’s (the District) right to take part of PG&E’s electric distribution system under the Eminent Domain Law. PG&E emphasized that it did not challenge the validity of the resolution of necessity adopted by the District. PG&E did challenge the District’s right to take its property on grounds that conflicted with various findings the District made in its resolution. Because these challenges were authorized by statute, PG&E could succeed at trial by essentially disproving one of these findings by a preponderance of the evidence. Further, the Court of Appeal agreed with PG&E that the superior court’s September 6, 2017 and November 28, 2022 orders erred in concluding that PG&E also needed to demonstrate the District abused its discretion in adopting its resolution of necessity. Therefore, the Court of Appeal issued a peremptory writ of mandate compelling the superior court to vacate its September 6, 2017 and November 28, 2022 orders, and enter a new order. View "Pacific Gas and Electric Co. v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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UCSF's 107-acre Parnassus Heights campus currently accommodates two hospitals, various medical clinics, four professional schools, a graduate program, and space for research, student housing, parking, and other support uses. In 2014, UCSF prepared a long-range development plan for its multiple sites around San Francisco, to accommodate most of UCSF’s growth at the Mission Bay campus. There were concerns that the Parnassus campus was overwhelming its neighborhood. In 2020, UCSF undertook a new plan for the Parnassus campus with multiple new buildings and infrastructure resulting in a 50 percent net increase in building space over 30 years.An environmental impact report (EIR) was prepared for the Plan's initial phase (California Environmental Quality Act, Pub. Resources Code 21000, identifying as significant, unavoidable adverse impacts: wind hazards, increased air pollutants, the demolition of historically significant structures, and increased ambient noise levels during construction.The court of appeal affirmed the rejection of challenges to the EIR. The EIR considers a reasonable range of alternatives and need not consider in detail an alternative that placed some anticipated development off campus. The EIR improperly declines to analyze the impact on public transit, but the error is not prejudicial. The aesthetic effects of an “employment center project on an infill site within a transit priority area” are deemed not significant. The EIR is not required to adopt a mitigation measure preserving certain historically significant buildings and its mitigation measure for wind impacts is adequate. View "Yerba Buena Neighborhood Consortium, LLC v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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Appellant Tanner Altizer suffered serious injuries when he ran into a suspended cable fence while riding his off-road motorcycle on an unpaved area in an unoccupied area of the desert. The owner of the property, respondent Coachella Valley Conservation Commission (the Commission), placed the cable fence around its property to stop illegal dumping and off-road vehicles in order to protect the sensitive habitat. Altizer sued the Commission, alleging that the cable fence created a dangerous condition on public property. The trial court granted summary judgment for the Commission, and Altizer appealed. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the Commission was entitled to hazardous recreational activity immunity under Government Code section 831.71 and affirmed. View "Altizer v. Coachella Valley Conservation Com." on Justia Law

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The County of Santa Barbara (County) appealed from the entry of a preliminary injunction prohibiting its Road Commissioner from removing unpermitted encroachments placed in the public right of way along a portion of East Mountain Drive in Montecito. The County filed a cross-complaint alleging causes of action for public nuisance and trespass against respondents. The trial court issued a preemptory writ that suspends all efforts by County to enforce the right-of-way encroachments.   The Second Appellate District concluded that the trial court erred because Respondents are not correct on the merits of their CEQA claim and will not be irreparably harmed by the removal of encroachments installed without permits in the public right of way of an existing road. The County Road Commissioner is authorized by statute and local ordinance to remove any encroachment on a public right of way. The court explained that Respondents will suffer no irreparable harm because a party suffers no grave or irreparable harm by being prohibited from violating the law. View "Anderson v. County of Santa Barbara" on Justia Law

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The Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) prepared (California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Pub. Resources Code, 21000) for Santa Rita’s West Area Specific Plan did not discuss or analyze any potential off-site impacts flowing from an assumption that contemplated new schools would never be built. The school districts contended that they would never receive sufficient funding for the new facilities, and would have to accommodate new students from Specific Plan developments at existing school sites or by other means. The Project identified locations for new schools and the EIR addressed anticipated off-site impacts of development at those sites. The City imposed developer impact fees for the Project under Education Code 17620, deemed complete mitigation under CEQA. The City maintained that information relayed by the Districts amounted to no more than speculation, not requiring further review. After the City approved the Project, the Districts filed suit.The court of appeal concluded that the Final EIR complied with CEQA and properly assumed that the contemplated new schools would be built as part of the Specific Plan and Project. The City was not required to analyze any potentially significant off-site impacts of ill-defined, generalized, and speculative alternatives to new-school construction offered by the District The Districts’ expressed concerns about a perennial lack of sufficient funding without providing more detailed information or identifying a specific alternative plan to address this possibility—for which they, not the City, would be responsible—amounted to speculation. View "Santa Rita Union School District v. City of Salinas" on Justia Law

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In the first appeal arising from Plaintiff-respondent Margaret McCann’s dispute with the City of San Diego over the City’s environmental review process of a project to convert overhead utility wires to an underground system in several neighborhoods, she alleged the City violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by failing to properly consider the environmental impact of two underground projects. The Court of Appeal concluded the City’s review process was incomplete as to one project (MND Project) because the City failed to analyze whether they were consistent with the City’s Climate Action Plan. The judgment was reversed and the case remanded for the trial court to issue a peremptory writ of mandate ordering the City of set aside three resolutions that approved the projects. After remand, the trial court also ordered it would retain jurisdiction over the matter until the City complied with the relevant provisions of the CEQA. The City rescinded the project approvals and asked the court to discharge the writ. McCann objected to the City’s return and argued the trial court should not discharge the writ because the City did not perform the relevant analysis or affirmatively indicate it abandoned the projects. The trial court sustained McCann’s objection and declined to discharge the writ. The City then appealed, arguing it fully complied with the courts’ mandates. After review, the Court of Appeal determined the City satisfied the writ, and therefore held the writ had to be discharged. View "McCann v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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The City of Los Angeles (the City) approved a project at 1719-1731 North Whitley Avenue in Hollywood (the Project) that would replace 40 apartments subject to the City’s rent stabilization ordinance (RSO) with a hotel. The City determined the Project was exempt from review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) pursuant to CEQA Guidelines relating to certain development projects. The relevant guideline addresses what is often referred to as the “infill” exemption or the “Class 32” exemption. Respondent United Neighborhoods for Los Angeles (United Neighborhoods) sought a writ of mandate in the Los Angeles Superior Court, arguing, among other things, that the in-fill exemption does not apply because the Project is not consistent with a General Plan policy concerning the preservation of affordable housing. The trial court granted the writ, effectively halting the Project until the City was to find the Project is consistent with that policy or 148-159 undertakes CEQA review. The City and real parties in interest appeal.   The Second Appellate District affirmed the order granting the petition for writ of mandate. The court explained that the City’s suggestion that the Project’s consistency with the Framework Element implies consistency “with the entirety of the General Plan” because of the Framework Element’s foundational role assumes, contrary to authority, the Framework Element stands in perfect harmony with the General Plan. However, the court explained that although it affirms the trial court, it does not suggest that the City was necessarily required to make formal findings that Housing Element policies are outweighed by competing policies favoring the Project. View "United Neighborhoods for L.A. v. City of L.A." on Justia Law

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The 186-acre Bollinger Valley, in rural Moraga near St. Mary’s College, is sloped; about half of the proposed project site has grades over 20 percent, and “significant portions” have grades over 35 percent. The property is used for cattle grazing and a summer equestrian day camp. Bruzzone purchased an interest in the property in 1967. Before Moraga was incorporated as a city in 1974, the property's Contra Costa County zoning designation “allowed residential development with a density of approximately three dwelling units per acre.”In 1979, Moraga adopted its first general plan. The property was denominated “Public Open Space – Study.” Permitted uses were “[a]griculture and accessory buildings thereto.” Although originally meant to be temporary, the Study designation has remained in place. For several reasons, including safety and environmental concerns, Moraga denied applications to develop housing on the property.The trial court directed Moraga to give the property a legally compliant land-use designation but otherwise rejected Bruzzones’ claims. The court of appeal affirmed. The Study designation is legally invalid under Government Code 65302, but the lack of a legally compliant land-use designation alone did not preclude Moraga from denying the project application for unrelated reasons, none of which the Bruzzones challenge. The court also upheld the rejection of claims of inverse condemnation and equal protection and due process violations. View "Lafayette Bollinger Development v. Town of Moraga" on Justia Law

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This appeal was the second relating to a suit brought by the City of Hesperia (the City) against respondents Lake Arrowhead Community Services District and the Board of Directors of Lake Arrowhead Community Services District (jointly, the District) regarding a proposed 0.96-megawatt solar photovoltaic project (the Solar Project) that the District had been planning to develop on six acres of a 350-acre property it owned, known as the Hesperia Farms Property. The Hesperia Farms Property was located within the City’s municipal boundary and was generally subject to the City’s zoning regulations. The District first approved its Solar Project in December 2015, after determining that the project was either absolutely exempt from the City’s zoning regulations under Government Code section 53091, or qualifiedly exempt under Government Code section 53096. The City sought a writ of mandate prohibiting the District from further pursuing the Solar Project. In Hesperia I, the Court of Appeal determined the District’s Solar Project was not exempt from the City’s zoning regulations under Government Code section 53091’s absolute exemption, or under Government Code section 53096’s qualified exemption. The Court concluded, however, that Government Code section 52096’s qualified exemption did not apply to the District’s approval of the Solar Project only because the District had failed to provide substantial evidence to support its conclusion that there was no other feasible alternative to its proposed location for the Solar Project. This result left open the possibility that the District could undertake further analyses and show that there was no feasible alternative to the Solar Project’s proposed location in order to avoid application of the City’s zoning ordinances. A few months after the District made its second no-feasible-alternative determination with respect to the Solar Project, the City filed a second petition for writ of mandate and complaint challenging the Solar Project. The trial court ultimately denied the City’s second petition. When the City appealed, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court did not err in rejecting the City’s petition for writ of mandate. View "City of Hesperia v. Lake Arrowhead Community Services Dist." on Justia Law