American humorist Will Rogers once quipped, “The minute you read something that you can’t understand, you can almost be sure it was drawn up by a lawyer.”  There are, of course, many other similarly amusing criticisms of legal writing.  According to former Yale Law School professor Fred Rodell, for example, “There are two things wrong with almost all legal writing.  One is its style. The other is its content.”

To the extent such assessments ever ring true, they are especially unfortunate when given life in the form of a poorly-written published court opinion addressing important legal issues.  The Fourth District Court of Appeal’s October 31, 2017 opinion in The Kennedy Commission v. City of Huntington Beach, __ Cal.App.5th __ (2017) serves as a prime recent example.  The saving grace is that the Court reached the right legal conclusion.

Continue Reading Huntington Beach Specific Plan Exempt From General Plan Consistency Requirement

The threshold procedural requirements for litigating decisions made by California municipalities are critically important, and failure to meet such requirements generally leads to harsh results.  These issues were on full display in Los Globos Corporation v. City of Los Angeles, __ Cal.App.5th __ (2017), a recent decision of the Second District Court of Appeal, published on November 20, 2017, which highlights the importance of exhausting administrative remedies within the generally short statutes of limitation provided in state and local law.

The case arose out of a dispute over several issues regarding the operation of the Los Globos nightclub, including whether the club was required to have a permit to operate a “dance hall” and whether the club had a valid certificate of occupancy for dancing on the first floor of its two-story building.  City inspectors eventually confiscated the club’s occupancy load cards and certificate of occupancy, without a public hearing.  Under relevant provisions of the Los Angeles Municipal Code, the club had 15 days to appeal the “revocation, suspension, or denial” to a board of building and safety commissioners. Continue Reading Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies Dooms Nightclub’s Challenge to City Inspectors’ Administrative Reduction of Allowable Occupancy

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.

Continue Reading <i>Murr</i> Epilogue: Wisconsin Lawmakers Pass “Homeowners Bill of Rights,” Effectively Reversing Flawed U.S. Supreme Court Decision

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).

Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Again Declines to Consider Important Property Rights Issue Regarding the Unconstitutional Conditions Doctrine

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.

Continue Reading Court Rejects Regulatory Takings and Pre-Condemnation Misconduct Claims Based on Airport Land Use Commission’s Reclassification of Property Within Different Safety Zone

Although the federal Controlled Substances Act prohibits the use, possession, manufacture, and sale of marijuana for all purposes, numerous states have loosened their own marijuana laws.  For example, California’s Proposition 215 (the “Compassionate Use Act of 1996”) and its legislatively-adopted “Medical Marijuana Program” have removed certain state law obstacles from the ability of qualified patients to obtain and use marijuana for legitimate “medical” purposes.  Among other things, these laws exempt the “collective[ ] or cooperative[ ] cultiva[tion]” of medical marijuana by qualified patients and their designated caregivers from prosecution or abatement under specified state criminal and nuisance laws that would otherwise prohibit such activities.

An ongoing torrent of cases have tested the scope of those state laws in the land use context.  The resulting decisions have consistently underscored our long-held understanding that land use regulation in California has historically been a function of local government.

Continue Reading Affirming Local Control of Land Use Regulation, Court Holds That <i>Ex Post Facto</i> Laws do Not Apply to Ordinances Regulating Marijuana Dispensaries

The use and abuse of the California Environmental Quality Act and the elections laws by special interests such as business competitors and labor unions is a pervasive and problematic feature of the California development process.  Although the state legislature has done little or nothing to correct this unfortunate and well-documented reality—and in fact the legislature is sometimes complicit in it, as my partner, Art Coon, and I recently wrote about here—the courts have been more willing to reject such abuses.  The First District Court of Appeal did just that in San Bruno Committee for Economic Justice v. City of San Bruno, __ Cal.App.5th __ (Sept. 20, 2017), rebuffing the efforts of a phony special interest group and a hotel and restaurant workers’ union to use the referendum process to thwart a private hotel development that would not employ union workers.

Continue Reading Court Rejects Labor Union’s Referendum Petition to Thwart City’s Sale of Land to Private Hotel Developer Whose Project Would Not Employ Union Workers

Since 1907, the Subdivision Map Act has “grandfathered” older subdivisions and the parcels they created if they were properly recorded under any law (including a local ordinance), regulating the design and improvement of subdivisions in effect at the time the map was recorded.  Over the years numerous cases have addressed these so-called “antiquated” subdivisions when landowners have sought affirmatively either to confirm the status of parcels or to obtain relief for land subdivided under older maps that predate the current version of the Map Act.

In Save Laurel Way v. City of Redwood City, __ Cal.App.5th __ (Aug. 29, 2017), the First District Court of Appeal addressed a challenge to the first phase of a two-phase development project on parcels created in a 1926 subdivision when the project area was in the jurisdiction of the County of San Mateo.  In the first phase, the City approved a development permit to construct elements such as a cul-de-sac for a fire truck turnaround, a fire hydrant, new streetlights, pedestrian pathways, an open space land dedication, and other civic improvements.  The second phase would involve additional permits and conditions for construction of residences on each lot.

Continue Reading Court of Appeal Rules That Subdivision Map Act Does Not Require City to Determine Legal Status of Lots Created by Older Map Before Approving Development Permit to Allow Construction of Infrastructure Improvements

Since California voters approved Proposition 13 in 1978 to limit property taxes, raising taxes to fund infrastructure, facilities, and services has required a vote at a general election.  In subsequent years, Propositions 62, 218, and 26 added a range of additional limitations on taxation and other forms of public finance.  Collectively, those measures have had myriad effects on the ways cities and counties accomplish the public’s business, including the “fiscalization of land use” and the creation of complicated alternative public finance techniques.

On August 28, 2017, a divided California Supreme Court issued an important new decision authored by Justice Cuéllar—California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland, __ Cal.5th __ (Case No. S234148)—that addresses whether constitutional measures such as Proposition 218, which limit the ability of “local governments” to impose, extend, or increase general taxes, also restrict the constitutional right of voters to impose taxes via ballot initiative.

Continue Reading California Supreme Court Decision Makes it Far Easier to Raise Taxes

In 2011, Pasadena was hit by a powerful storm carrying hurricane force winds that injured more than 5,000 City-owned trees, 2,000 of which were uprooted.  During the course of the storm, an approximately 110 foot tall Canary Island pine tree located on City property fell on a private residence, causing severe property damage.

The homeowners’ insurer paid more than $700,000 in insurance benefits.  As subrogee under the homeowners’ insurance policy, the insurer sued the City for inverse condemnation, under the California Constitution, on the theory that the City owned the tree and maintained and cared for it as part of the City’s tree protection regulations.  The trial court agreed and found the City liable in inverse condemnation on the grounds that the tree that fell was a public improvement maintained for a public purpose, the damage to the residence was proximately caused by the improvements, and the City is strictly liable for the property damage.  The court awarded the insurer approximately $800,000 in damages and $330,000 in costs.

On August 24, 2017, in Mercury Casualty Company v. City of Pasadena, __ Cal.App.5th __ (Case No. B266959 & B268452), the Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District reversed the trial court judgment and cost order.

Continue Reading The Takings Tree?