On July 2, 2017, the California Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lynch v. California Coastal Commission, __ Cal.5th __ (Case No. S221980), holding that the owners of two coastal bluff properties in Encinitas forfeited their right to challenge the California Coastal Commission’s permit conditions by complying with all pre-issuance requirements, accepting the permit, and building the seawall.

Since 1986, the properties have been protected by a shared seawall, with wooden poles, at the base of the bluff and a midbluff erosion control structure.  A shared stairway provided the only access from the blufftop to the beach below.  In 1989, the Commission retroactively approved a coastal development permit for the seawall, midbluff structure, and stairway.  In 2009, the owners applied to the City to replace the aging seawall and midbluff structure with an integrated concrete wall and to rebuild the lower portion of the stairway.  The City approved the project, subject to the Commission’s approval of a coastal development permit.  But while the owner’s permit was pending, heavy winter storms caused the bluff below one of the owner’s homes to collapse, destroying portions of the seawall, midbluff structure, and stairway.

Continue Reading California Supreme Court Holds that Landowners Forfeited Right to Challenge Conditions of Permit to Build New Seawall by Proceeding with Construction

In The Park at Cross Creek LLC v. City of Malibu (2nd Dist. 2017), ___Cal.App.5th___ (Case No. B271620), the Court addressed the validity of a voter enacted initiative, Measure R, designed to limit large developments and chain stores.

The first component of Measure R required the Malibu City Council to prepare a specific plan for every proposed commercial or mixed use development in excess of 20,000 square feet, addressing a number of development specifics including floor area, traffic, view corridors, public facilities and the like.  Following the City Council’s approval, the plan must then be placed on the ballot for voter approval and until such approval, the City may take “no final action on any discretionary approval relating to” the development.  Moreover, once approved, all subsequent permits and approvals must be consistent with the approved development.

Continue Reading Voters May Not Usurp City’s Administrative Land Use Authority Through Initiative Process

We’ve come a long way since 1911, when the initiative and referendum processes were enshrined in the state constitution to address corruption in state government caused by special interests.  For some reason that reality reminds me of a scene in Seinfeld’s “The Subway” episode, which had Elaine standing on a New York subway car carrying a large present.  An older woman approaches Elaine and this dialogue ensues:

Woman: “I started riding these trains in the forties.  Those days a man would give up their seat for a woman. Now we’re liberated and we have to stand.”

Elaine: “It’s ironic.”

Woman: “What’s ironic?”

Elaine: “This, that we’ve come all this way, we have made all this progress, but you know we’ve lost the little things, the niceties.”

Woman: “No, I mean what does ironic mean?”

Continue Reading What’s Ironic?

On April 4, 2017, in Young v. City of Coronado, __ Cal. App. 5th __ (2017) (Case No. D070210), the Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District affirmed a trial court decision denying a challenge to the City of Coronado’s designation of a small cottage as a historic local resource.

The cottage owners sought a permit to demolish the structure, built in 1924, but the City’s Historic Resource Commission reviewed the property before issuing the permit and designated the cottage a historic resource under the Coronado Municipal Code.  Under the Code, a resource that is at least 75 years old and meets at least two of five criteria may be designated historic.  City staff identified evidence that the cottage met two of the criteria, and the Commission agreed.

Continue Reading Findings May be Legally Adequate Even if They Merely Recite the Language of the Ordinance

On May 23,2017, the Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District granted a request to publish Kutzke v. City of San Diego, __ Cal. App. 5th __ (2017) (Case No. D070288), another opinion that shows the deference courts give to local land use findings for development projects.

The case involved an application for a vesting tentative map and related permits to subdivide two adjacent lots into four lots, retain an existing home on one lot, and build new homes on the other three lots. A provision in the San Diego Municipal Code allows certain types of projects, including sustainable building projects, to deviate from applicable development regulations if certain findings are made. The project would be a sustainable building project because it would use photovoltaic panels to generate 50 percent of the homes’ electricity needs. The project would deviate from applicable development regulations regarding minimum setbacks and street frontage and maximum height for side yard retaining walls.

Continue Reading Courts Will Not Second-Guess Development Decisions When the Findings are Supported by Substantial Evidence

California provides relatively short statutes of limitations for challenges in the land use context. For example, Government Code section 65009(c)(1) provides that “no action or proceeding shall be maintained [for a wide range of development approvals] by any person unless the action or proceeding is commenced and service is made on the legislative body within 90 days after the legislative body’s decision . . . .”  Under section 65009(c)(1)(E), any challenge to a “variance, conditional use permit, or any other permit” must be made within 90 days of the decision.  And section 65009(e) provides that once the time limit has expired “all persons are barred from any further action or proceeding.”

These types of short limitations periods are intended to provide certainty for property owners and local governments regarding land use decisions and to alleviate the chilling effect on the confidence with which property owners and local governments can proceed with projects  involving potential legal challenges to land use decisions.

Continue Reading Court Rejects Late Challenge to Permits for New Lifeguard Station on San Diego’s Mission Beach

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

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