Photo of Bryan W. Wenter, AICP

Bryan W. Wenter, AICP, is a shareholder in Miller Starr Regalia’s Walnut Creek office and a member of the firm’s Land Use Practice Group. His areas of expertise include general plans and specific plans, planned development zoning, vested rights, subdivision maps, development impact fees and exactions, conditional use permits, variances, initiatives and referenda, RLUIPA, CEQA, Ralph M. Brown Act, and Public Records Act. He previously served as City Attorney and Assistant City Attorney for the City of Walnut Creek.

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

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

Attorneys are undoubtedly familiar with the adage that “bad facts make bad law.”  When an agency makes a general plan consistency determination, bad facts can also result in a court concluding that the deference typically owed to the agency’s exercise of its land use discretion has exceeded its limits.

On December 15, 2016, in a case keenly followed by land use practitioners throughout California, the state Supreme Court rejected the City of Orange’s determination that a 39-unit residential development project in the Santa Ana Mountains is consistent with its current 2010 General Plan even though the plan designates the property as open space because a resolution from a 1973 specific plan purports to allow residential development on the property.  Orange Citizens for Parks and Recreation v. Superior Court of Orange County, __ Cal.4th __ (2016) (Case No. S212800).  The case is replete with facts that gave the Court reason to conclude the City abused its discretion because “no reasonable person could interpret that plan to include the 1973 resolution.”

Continue Reading California Supreme Court Overturns City’s General Plan Consistency Determination, Holding that 1973 Resolution is Not Part of its Current 2010 General Plan

On November 29, 2016, the Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District rejected a challenge to the sufficiency of the San Francisco’s environmental analysis and upheld the City’s approval of an arena to house the Golden State Warriors basketball team, as well as other events, and the construction of adjacent facilities, in the Mission Bay South redevelopment plan area of San Francisco.  Mission Bay Alliance v. Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure, __ Cal.App.5th __ (2016) (Case No. A148865).  My partner, Art Coon, wrote about the CEQA issues in a post here.

Continue Reading Court Upholds Golden State Warriors’ Mission Bay Event Center and Mixed-Use Development Project

On November 10, 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Justice released a “Joint Statement” providing updated guidance on the application of the federal Fair Housing Act to state and local land use laws and practices.

The FHA prohibits a broad range of practices that discriminate against individuals on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, and disability.  Among other things, the FHA applies to local government entities and prohibits them from making zoning or land use decisions or implementing land use policies that exclude or otherwise discriminate against protected persons, including individuals with disabilities. The FHA does not pre-empt local zoning laws, however, which are is traditionally reserved to state and local governments, except to the extent such laws may conflict with requirements imposed by the FHA or other federal laws.

Continue Reading HUD and DOJ Release Updated Joint Statement on “State and Local Land Use Laws and Practices and the Application of the Fair Housing Act”