Who is responsible for the housing crisis in San Francisco, and what can government do to solve it?  As property values have climbed in San Francisco and surrounding areas, that problem has increasingly vexed elected officials and the courts.  The First District of the Court of Appeal is the most recent to weigh in, with a decision invalidating a local pro-tenant ordinance.  But first, some background.

The Ellis Act is a state statute that prohibits a city or county from “compelling the owner of any residential real property to offer, or to continue to offer, accommodations in the property for rent or lease . . . .”  (Gov. Code, § 7060, subd. (d)(a).)  In short, the Ellis Act allows a landlord to withdraw a rental unit from the market.  In 2014, San Francisco Supervisor David Campos sponsored an ordinance requiring landlords to pay a relocation benefit to tenants being displaced due to the landlord’s “repossession” of the rental unit under the Ellis Act.  The payment required was 24 times the difference between the unit’s current rental rate and the “fair market value” of the unit, as calculated by a prescribed schedule.  In theory, the displaced tenant was to be compensated for two years’ worth of the differential between what the tenant was paying and what the tenant would pay as fair market rent.  Tenants were entitled to the payment regardless of needs or assets, and there was no requirement that the payment actually be spent on expenses of relocation.

Continue Reading Landlords Win San Francisco Legal Battle

Last September we wrote about 616 Croft Ave., LLC v. City of West Hollywood, an opinion from the Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District upholding a nearly $555,000 in-lieu fee on an 11-unit residential infill project because the fee was “related to the cost of constructing affordable housing units within the City.”  Among other things, we noted that the case “underscores the ongoing need for the United States Supreme Court to finally address whether the heightened scrutiny of the Nollan, Dolan, and Koontz Fifth Amendment takings cases applies to legislatively imposed permit conditions.”

On December 21, 2016, the California Supreme Court denied a petition to review 616 Croft Ave., LLC.  A petition for writ of certiorari was filed on March 15, 2017 (Case No. 16-1137), giving SCOTUS its opportunity to consider the case.

Continue Reading New Cert Petition Asks SCOTUS if Legislatively Mandated Permit Conditions are Subject to Heightened Scrutiny

Vampire Weekend may not “give a f— about an Oxford comma,” but I certainly do.  And so, too, does the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which opened a recent opinion, in a class action lawsuit about overtime pay for a dairy company’s delivery drivers, with these words:

“For want of a comma, we have this case.”

Also known as the serial comma, the Oxford comma is the comma after the second-to-last item in a list of three or more things.  It is, in other words, the comma that precedes the words “and” or “or.”

Continue Reading The Case of the Missing $10M Oxford Comma

On March 2, 2017, in what is easily the sunniest day in this long, wet winter, the Supreme Court of California issued a landmark ruling regarding the California Public Records Act (Cal. Govt. Code § 6250 et seq.), holding that communications related to the conduct of public business do not cease to be public records merely because they were sent or received using a personal account.  City of San Jose v. Superior Court (Smith), __ Cal.4th __ (2016) (Case No. S218066).  The Court’s cogent opinion ensures broad access to public records in all forms and in all locations, including emails and text messages located on private accounts, devices, and servers.

Continue Reading California Supreme Court Holds that Communications Related to Public Business do not Cease to be Public Records Just Because They Were Sent or Received Using a Personal Account or Device

On February 28, 2017, just six days after oral argument in Wilson v. County of Napa, __ Cal.App.5th __ (2016) (Case No. A149153), the Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District affirmed a trial court decision in favor of the County of Napa, whose registrar of voters refused to place a land use initiative on the ballot because the initiative petition failed to include the “full text” of the measure.  My partner, Art Coon, successfully represented the County in the action.

Continue Reading Court of Appeal Clarifies Meaning of “Full Text” Requirement for Ballot Initiatives

Boundary disputes are one of the most actively litigated areas of real property law.  One common category of such disputes involves the trimming of a neighbor’s tree, either to remove branches that have grown over a property line or to maintain or improve views.  While California law generally provides no right to an unobstructed view, an issue we previously addressed here, an adjoining landowner may reasonably trim the branches of a neighbor’s tree to the property line.  Adjoining landowners may not, however, enter a neighbor’s property to abate the encroachment, and the potential cost of doing so just increased substantially.

On January 31, 2017, in a case of first impression, the Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District ruled that annoyance and discomfort damages resulting from tortious injuries to timber or trees are subject to the statutory damage multiplier.  Fulle v. Kanani, __ Cal.App.5th __ (2016) (Case No. B271240).  The case involved contiguous properties, separated by a fence, in a hillside neighborhood of Encino.  The plaintiff’s property contained five mature eucalyptus trees and a black walnut tree, all of which provided her with aesthetic benefits, shade, and privacy.  The trees also partially blocked the defendant’s view of the San Fernando Valley.  Shortly after acquiring his property, the defendant hired a work crew that entered the plaintiff’s property without her permission, cut the trees to approximately half their height, and removed all of their branches.

Continue Reading Annoyance and Discomfort Damages Resulting from Injury to Trees are Subject to the Statutory Damage Multiplier

On January 24, 2017, the Court of Appeal for the Sixth Appellate District interpreted Government Code section 53094 and held that, unlike school districts, county boards of education cannot be exempted from local zoning requirements.  San Jose Unified School District v. Santa Clara County Office of Education, __ Cal.App.5th __ (2016) (Case No. H041088).

Section 53094 authorizes “the governing board of a school district” to “render a city or county zoning ordinance inapplicable to a proposed use of property by the school district,” under certain circumstances.  Through the adoption of section 53094, the legislature intended to forestall local obstruction of state-sanctioned school construction and school location.

Continue Reading County Boards of Education Cannot be Exempted from Local Zoning Requirements

When property is taken by eminent domain, the owner of a business operated on the property is entitled to compensation for any “business goodwill” lost due to the taking.  Usually, “goodwill” translates into a business’s profitability.  However, earlier this week, the California Supreme Court denied review in People ex rel. Department of Transportation v. Presidio Performing Arts Foundation, C.A., 1st; A145278 which held that a business operating at a loss before the taking may be entitled to compensation for loss of goodwill where the taking renders it even more unprofitable.

Presidio Performing Arts Foundation (“Foundation”), operated a non-profit dance theatre in a leased building located in the Presidio of San Francisco.  The California Department of Transportation (“CalTrans”) moved to acquire, under threat of eminent domain, the building occupied by the Foundation for construction of the Doyle Drive Replacement Project.  The Foundation was forced to relocate to a smaller, more expensive building in a less desirable location.

Continue Reading Has the Link Between Business Goodwill and Profits Been Severed?

On January 5, 2017, the Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District partially published Hernandez v. Town of Apple Valley, __ Cal.App.5th __ (2016) (Case No. E063721).  The published portion of the opinion addresses important issues arising in connection with alleged violations of both the Ralph M. Brown Act and California Constitution.  In particular, the case centered on an allegedly defective agenda description for a land use initiative to amend a specific plan to allow a 30-acre commercial development anchored by a Walmart Supercenter.

Continue Reading Agenda with Superficial Description Violated Brown Act but Related Land Use Initiative for a Walmart Store did not Violate California Constitution

As we have previously reported, the California Supreme Court in Property Reserve, Inc. v. Superior Court (2016) 1 Cal.5th 151, ruled that the California statutes allowing precondemnation entry by the government to test and inspect property (Code Civ. Proc., §§1245.010 et seq.) are constitutionally valid, subject to reformation to permit a landowner to obtain a jury determination of damage caused by the entry.  Having dealt with the issue of constitutionality of the precondemnation entry statutes, the Supreme Court remanded the matter to the Court of Appeal to resolve several remaining procedural issues.

The Court of Appeal’s opinion on remand, filed December 16, 2016, addresses those procedural issues and provides guidance as to how the Supreme Court’s holding will work in practice.  The opinion on remand clarifies (i) that a landowner may seek discovery in connection with a petition for precondemnation entry, and the concurring opinion by Justice Blease (who dissented from the original Court of Appeal opinion) clarifies (ii) that in the event the government proceeds with acquisition of the property, the claim for precondemnation damage may be asserted by means of a cross-complaint in the main condemnation action.

Continue Reading <i>Property Reserve</i> and Precondemnation Entries – The Epilogue