In 2005, in Lingle v. Chevron U.S.A. Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overruled the first prong of a regulatory takings test established 25 years earlier, in Agins v. City of Tiburon.  In Agins, the Court held that a regulation effects a taking if it (1) does not “substantially advance legitimate state interests” or (2) “denies an owner economically viable use of his land.”  Writing for a unanimous Court in Lingle, then Justice Sandra Day O’Connor recognized that “the language the Court selected [in Agins] was regrettably imprecise” and “reveals nothing about the magnitude or character of the burden a particular regulation imposes upon private property rights.”

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The City of Rancho Palos Verdes is the site of the ancient Portuguese Bend and Abalone Cove landslides, both of which remain active.  In 1978, in response to movement of the Abalone Cove landslide, the City adopted an “urgency ordinance” establishing the “Landslide Moratorium Area,” which generally prohibits new residential development in the landslide area.  The moratorium area is divided into eight zones of varying stability.  The ordinance and subsequent amendments created various categories of exceptions to and exclusions from the moratorium that have been the subject of extensive litigation.

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On August 23, 2018, the California Supreme Court held, in City of Morgan Hill v. Bushey, __ Cal.4th __ (2018) (Case No. S243042), that a referendum petition to challenge a zoning ordinance amendment that would bring the ordinance into compliance with the county’s or city’s general plan is valid, even though such a referendum would temporarily leave in place zoning that does not comply with the general plan, at least if the local agency has other means to make the ordinance consistent with the plan.  The Court reasoned that such a referendum simply keeps the underlying inconsistency in place for a certain time––until the local agency can make the zoning ordinance consistent with general plan.

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On June 12, 2018, in County of Ventura v. City of Moorpark and Broad Beach Geologic Hazard Abatement District, __ Cal.App.5th __ (2018) (Case No. B282466), the Second District Court of Appeal published a decision addressing whether the California Environmental Quality Act’s broad definition of “project also applies to statutory exemptions, questions of state law preemption, the limits of a city’s contractual authority, and the abdication of a government entity’s police power.  My partner, Art Coon, wrote about the CEQA issues here.

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On March 29, 2018, in 1901 First Street Owner, LLC v. Tustin Unified School District, __ Cal.App.5th __ (2018) (Case No. G054086), the Fourth District Court of Appeal addressed an important case of first impression regarding the question whether the square footage of interior space outside individual apartment units—i.e., interior common area—should be included in the calculation of Level 1 school impact fees.  Interpreting the key provisions of the relevant school fee statutes, the Court of Appeal concluded that “assessable space” includes all interior common area.

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In the year of the 25th anniversary of Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray, about a weatherman named Phil Connors who finds himself repeatedly living the same frustrating day, a California court rejected yet another lawsuit by a medical marijuana dispensary to a city’s determination that dispensaries are not a valid local land use and, accordingly, ordering the dispensary to close.  The Sixth District Court of Appeal opinion in J. Arthur Properties, II, LLC v. City of San Jose, __ Cal.App.5th __ (2018) (Case No. H042938), filed and published on March 19, 2018, calls to mind several quotable quotes from Groundhog Day, including this gem: “Am I upsetting you, Princess?  You know, you want a prediction about the weather, you’re asking the wrong Phil.  I’ll give you a winter prediction: It’s gonna be cold, it’s gonna be gray, and it’s gonna last you for the rest of your life.”

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On March 5, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Knick v. Township of Scott (Case No. 17-647) to address the requirement, established in Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank, 473 U.S. 172, 194-96 (1985), that landowners must first unsuccessfully seek compensation in state court before bringing a Fifth Amendment takings claim in federal court.  No other category of plaintiffs desiring to vindicate their constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is subject to this onerous requirement.

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On February 21, 2018, in Save Lafayette v. City of Lafayette, __ Cal.5th __ (2018) (Case No. A149342), the First District Court of Appeal overturned the City of Lafayette’s decision to not place a referendum petition on the ballot to challenge a rezoning for a 44-unit single-family residential development because the referendum, if successful, would resurrect prior zoning that would be inconsistent with a recently amended general plan.  (Ironically, the City has also been sued by a group that prefers a larger, 315-unit apartment project instead).  According to the City, because the referendum is the power of the voters to approve or reject new laws, a successful referendum would cause the zoning to revert from “Single Family Residential” to “Administrative Professional Office,” thereby creating an inconsistency with the general plan’s residential land use designation, in violation of state law that requires zoning ordinances to be consistent with general plans.

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The law is replete with references to famous passages from literature and poetry, perhaps to follow Mark Twain’s pithy observation that “plain clarity is better than ornate obscurity.” So began Hauser v. Ventura County Board of Supervisors, __ Cal.5th __ (2018), in which the Second District Court of Appeal’s February 20, 2018 opinion started with the following:

“This case calls to mind the poem ‘The Tyger’ from Songs of Experience by William Blake, the last stanza of which reads: ‘Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright In the forests of the night, What immortal hand or eye Dare frame thy fearful symmetry!’ ”

The case involved a quixotic challenge to the Ventura County Board of Supervisor’s 4-1 decision to deny a conditional use permit (“CUP”) to keep five tigers on a 19-acre property in the unincorporated Deer Creek Canyon area of the County, near Malibu. There are 46 homes within a mile, and two children’s camps within two to three miles, of the property. The project would include three tiger enclosures, a 13,500-square-foot arena, and an eight-foot-high chain link perimeter fence encompassing more than seven acres.


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