Takings cases involving transportation agencies such as Caltrans typically involve physical occupations of land under the law of eminent domain.  In a twist on such physical occupation, in a case originally filed on December 12, 2018, and published January 11, 2019, the Third District Court of Appeal held, in Prout v. Department of Transportation, 31 Cal.App.5th 200 (2019), that Caltrans’ physical occupation, without compensation, of a strip of land fronting State Highway 12 in the County of Calaveras to make highway improvements was a valid acceptance of an offer of dedication that did not amount to a taking under the law of inverse condemnation.

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On October 17, 2018, in Beach and Bluff Conservancy v. City of Solana Beach, __ Cal.App.5th __ (2018) (Case No. D072304), the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled against a coastal property owner’s group in its facial challenge to amendments to the City of Solana Beach’s Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan.  The amendments adopted policies encouraging greater public access and restricting the use of seawalls and other shoreline protection devices.

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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 July 23, 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 1689).  Sponsored by Wisconsin Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. and California Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the Act intends to address Kelo v. City of New London, the controversial 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that affirmed the right of a city to use the power of eminent domain to take and transfer property from one private party to another for the “public purpose” of economic development.

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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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Early last summer the U.S. Supreme Court released its long-awaited, and deeply flawed decision in Murr v. Wisconsin, __ U.S. __ (2017).  We wrote about this unfortunate new takings case here and in “Missed Opportunity In Takings Decision,” Daily Journal (July 13, 2017).

The short story is that the Murr family bought two adjacent parcels at separate times in the early 1960s near the St. Croix River in Wisconsin, a designated wild and scenic river.  They built a small, 950-square foot cabin on one of the parcels and kept the other parcel vacant as an investment.  The Murr children later acquired both parcels and sought to sell the vacant parcel in the 1990s to finance improvements to the rustic, 57-year old, cabin.  But a Wisconsin statute and county zoning ordinance, enacted in the 1970s, prevented the Murrs from selling or developing the vacant parcel because it was smaller than the minimum size deemed suitable for development even though it has a half acre of developable land, meets all environmental regulations and setbacks, and is surrounded by development on similarly sized parcels.  Because the parcel was still undeveloped, now held in common ownership, and deemed substandard, it was treated as “merged” with the developed parcel.


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The United States Supreme Court has had numerous opportunities in recent years to address an important and unsettled issue under the Takings Clause: whether heightened scrutiny under Nollan, Dolan, and Koontz applies in cases where an alleged taking arises from a legislatively imposed condition rather than an administrative one.  The Court’s most recent denial of certiorari in such a case occurred on October 30, 2017, in 616 Croft Ave., LLC v. City of West Hollywood (Case No. 16-1137).

616 Croft Ave. concerned the City of West Hollywood’s imposition of a $540,000 “in-lieu” affordable housing fee, under the City’s inclusionary housing ordinance, in connection with the development of an 11-unit condominium project.  The case addressed the California Supreme Court’s denial of a petition to review a Second District Court of Appeal decision that upheld the legality of the fee pursuant to the state Supreme Court’s decision in California Building Industry Association v. City of San Jose, 61 Cal. 4th 435 (2015).


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In Dryden Oaks, LLC v. San Diego County Regional Airport Authority, __ Cal.App.5th __ (October 19, 2017), the Fourth District Court of Appeal published a previously unpublished opinion addressing both regulatory takings and pre-condemnation damages claims.  The case arose out of a complicated set of facts involving two properties near McClellan Palomar Airport in Carlsbad.

In short, in 2002 the City approved permits for both lots despite the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority’s determination the projects were incompatible with the airport.  The developer completed construction of a commercial building on one of the lots in 2005, but the second permit expired in 2012 without commencement of any construction.  The developer filed an application to restart the process for the second lot, but by that time the Authority had adopted an Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan that designated the property within a higher risk safety zone.  Thus, despite its earlier decision to override the Authority’s objections under the predecessor plan to the ALUCP, the City now refused to do so.


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