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. For nearly 20 years, his practice has centered on land use and local government law, with a focus on obtaining and defending land use entitlements for a wide range of complex development projects including, in-fill, mixed-use, residential, retail/commercial, and industrial. 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.

On February 10, 2020, in Fowler v. City of Lafayette, __ Cal.App.5th __ (2020), the First District Court of Appeal affirmed a trial court decision challenging the City of Lafayette’s approval of a tennis cabana on a residential property.  The petition alleged that the City violated the Ralph M. Brown Act by discussing the application in closed sessions and that the plaintiffs were therefore deprived of their right to a fair hearing.

Continue Reading Court Holds That City Violated Ralph M. Brown Act by Discussing Threatened Litigation Over Development Project in Closed Sessions, but Concludes Project is Not Null and Void Because There Was No Prejudice

The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, known as “RLUIPA,” is a federal civil rights law that protects individuals and religious assemblies and institutions from discriminatory and unduly burdensome land use regulations.  Among several key parts of the statute, RLUIPA contains an “equal terms” provision that prohibits any government entity from imposing or implementing a land use regulation in a manner that treats a religious assembly or institution on “less than equal terms” with a nonreligious assembly or institution.  The equal terms provision seeks to address the problem of a local zoning ordinance, either facially or as applied, excluding places of worship where secular assemblies are allowed.

Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Rejects “Equal Terms” RLUIPA Challenge to Riverside Zoning Ordinance

Senate Bill 330, referred to as the Housing Crisis Act of 2019, contains two major parts intended to accelerate housing production over the next five years by streamlining permitting and ensuring no net loss in housing capacity.  Governor Newsom signed SB 330 into law on October 9, 2019, and it will be in effect from January 1, 2020 until January 1, 2025 unless extended via additional legislation.

The first major part of SB 330 establishes various “good government” requirements that affect the processing of housing development projects in every California city and county.  The second part of the law limits the ability of “affected” cities and counties—a smaller but substantial subset of agencies that are designated by the U.S. Census Bureau as “urbanized areas or urban clusters”—to downzone property and regulates the ability of developers to replace existing housing with new housing.

The focus of this blog post is the powerful new, and applicant-friendly, statutory form of vested rights referred to as a “preliminary application,” contained in the first part of SB 330, over which cities and counties have no discretion.


Continue Reading Establishing Vested Rights Through SB 330’s Preliminary Application: Understanding the Key Differences Between “Deemed Complete” and “Determined to be Complete” in the “Housing Crisis Act of 2019”

In a recent opinion certified for publication on December 18, 2019, Citizens for Positive Growth & Preservation v. City of Sacramento, __ Cal.App.5th __ (2019), the Third District Court of Appeal rejected a citizens group’s challenge under California’s Planning and Zoning Law and CEQA to the City of Sacramento’s recently updated 2035 General Plan.  The group contended that a single sentence in the introductory paragraph of the City’s updated General Plan allegedly violates and conflicts with state planning laws and that the EIR for the project contained substantial supplemental changes that required recirculation.

Continue Reading Court Rejects Facial General Plan Consistency Challenge Based on Single Sentence in Sacramento’s 2035 General Plan

California cities may be justified to be skeptical when officials from Sacramento offer broad solutions to the state’s pernicious housing crisis.  But the decades-old crisis highlighted by a severe and unsustainable underproduction of new housing is real and getting worse, and the legislature is finally grappling with land use and housing policy proposals that would put meaningful guardrails on otherwise unfettered local control that has long stifled new housing supply.

Continue Reading Judicial NIMBYism? Overreaching San Mateo Trial Court Decision Takes on Legislature and Governor, Declaring Nearly 40-Year Old Housing Production Law Inapplicable to Charter Cities

In a case of first impression published on October 25, 2019,  Denham, LLC v. City of Richmond,  Cal.App.5th __ (2019) (Case No. A154759), the First District Court of Appeal agreed with a trial court that a ballot initiative to preclude development on 430 acres in Richmond’s El Sobrante Valley caused the Richmond General Plan to become impermissibly inconsistent.  But the Court reversed as to the appropriate remedy, and it ordered the trial court to issue a writ of mandate directing the City to cure the inconsistency.

Continue Reading Court Orders City to Cure Internal Inconsistency in Richmond General Plan Created by Citizen-Sponsored Ballot Initiative

The California Coastal Act governs land use planning for California’s entire coastal zone, directing the state Coastal Commission to maximize the public access to and along the coast consistent with the rights of property owners.  The Act protects public access by, among other things, precluding development from interfering with such use and protecting oceanfront land suitable for recreational use.  The Act also requires the Commission to minimize potential conflicts between the public and beachfront property owners and to resolve potential conflicts between the Coastal Act’s policies in a way that, on balance, is most protective of significant coastal resources.

Continue Reading Takings Challenge to Coastal Commission Setback Condition Fails for Not Presenting “Exact Issue” to the Agency

Senate Bill 330, known as the Housing Crisis Act of 2019 and authored by State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), passed the California legislature on Friday, September 6, 2019, with strong support from numerous organizations supportive of the production of new housing.  For a five-year period ending January 1, 2025, SB 330 would require local governments to process housing permits faster, prevent local governments from “changing the rules in the middle of the game,” and suspend certain housing limits.  Although various local agencies and groups that favor strong local land use control opposed SB 330, Governor Gavin Newsom has publicly championed substantial housing production goals and is certain to sign the bill.

Continue Reading Housing Crisis Act Passes in California Legislature, Will be Signed by Governor Newsom

According to traditional urban economic models, developers in well-functioning housing markets will choose to build apartments where land is expensive and housing demand is strong.  The theory itself is sound: high rents provide strong financial incentives to developers that should lead to an increasing supply of new multi-family housing.

Continue Reading Report Shows That Local Land Use Regulations Play a Key Role in Impeding Development of New Multi-Family Housing in California

Despite well-settled limits on California’s constitutional initiative and referendum powers, the courts continue to be faced with ballot measures that test those boundaries.  We wrote about one such case—San Bruno Committee for Economic Justice v. City of San Bruno, 15 Cal.App.5th 524 (2017)—almost two years ago when the First District Court of Appeal rejected a phony special interest group and a hotel and restaurant workers’ union attempt to use the referendum process to thwart a private hotel development that would not employ union workers.  In short, the court in that case agreed that San Bruno’s adoption of a resolution to sell city property to a hotel developer was an administrative act, and thus not a proper subject of a referendum, because it implemented prior legislative actions that established the manner in which the site would be developed.

Continue Reading Court Excuses County Counsel From Preparing Ballot Titles and Summaries for Proposed Initiatives That Intrude on Matters Reserved Expressly for Board of Supervisors