CEQA Bill to Protect Native American Cultural Resources Creates New Challenges and Opportunities for Project Applicants

November 10, 2014


On September 25, 2014, Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 52 ("AB 52"), which modifies the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA") to add new protections for Native American cultural resources and enhances the role of Native American tribes in the environmental review process. AB 52 is a significant amendment to CEQA that poses both challenges and opportunities for project applicants. A brief summary of the new law, which takes effect July 1, 2015, is provided below.

AB 52 Creates a New Category of Potentially-Significant Environmental Impacts

Under current CEQA law, lead agencies typically evaluate whether a project would impact historic or archaeological resources. Although impacts to Native Americans may be evaluated, AB 52 specifically mandates evaluation of whether a project will impact "tribal cultural resources" which include sites, features, places, cultural landscapes, sacred places, and objects with cultural value to tribes. If the potential for impacts to such resources exists, as with other environmental impacts, increasing levels of CEQA analysis, mitigation measures, and the consideration of alternatives is required. Input from a tribe as to what is culturally significant to that tribe will drive the analysis for a given project. These changes take effect on July 1, 2015.

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JMBM Named as a 2015 Best Law Firm in Land Use and Zoning Law for Third Year in a Row

November 5, 2014

JMBM Named as a 2015 Best Law Firm in Land Use and Zoning Law
JMBM's Land Use Group Recognized for Third Year in a Row

Best Law Firms BadgeLOS ANGELES - Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP (JMBM) is pleased to announce it is has been named a 2015 Best Law Firm by U.S. News & World Report / Best Lawyers® and is recognized with a Metropolitan First-Tier Ranking in the area of Land Use and Zoning Law. This is the third year in a row that JMBM's Land Use practice has been included in the first tier for Metropolitan Los Angeles.

"Our clients are involved in development projects that range from urban mixed use developments and master planned communities, to coastal development and industrial siting. We are also involved in both traditional and renewable energy projects, representing the land use and environmental needs of solar energy companies as well as those in the oil and gas industry," said Benjamin M. Reznik, Chair of JMBM's Government, Land Use, Environment and Energy Department and publisher of the California Land Use Blog.

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Downtown Los Angeles Real Estate is Taking Off

October 10, 2014

by Benjamin M. Reznik

Once considered an area of Los Angeles that had virtually nothing to do after 5pm, downtown Los Angeles is experiencing a development boom. Sure, part of it is due to the fact that our regional economy is on an upswing. But it's more than that - what we're now seeing is an entire section of Los Angeles undergoing an incredible transformation that's changing the minds of the most hardened skeptics.

New residential, mixed-use, office, and hotel projects make up nearly 100 active development projects in the downtown area, with 14 projects alone announced since May of 2014, according to the Downtown News. My firm and I are proud to be part of this boom firsthand. JMBM is working on behalf of a major hotel project in the area, which will also include condominiums and retail space, on the site of the current Luxe City Center across from LA Live and Staples Center.

So, what accounts for downtown Los Angeles' new-found appeal?

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New Law Allows Mining Operators to Remedy Compliance Issues and Retain AB 3098 List Status

April 9, 2014

by Kerry Shapiro

This article was first published in The Conveyor, a publication of the California Construction and Industrial Materials Association.

Mining companies are subject to myriad requirements under the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA) and implementing regulations that can trip up even the most diligent of operators from time to time. When a potential violation occurs, SMARA holds that either the lead agency or the Department of Conservation (read OMR) may initiate enforcement proceedings by issuing a notice of violation (NOV). All too often, the process results in an order to comply issued against the operator, which in turn can jeopardize the operator's AB 3098 List eligibility. Removal from the AB 3098 List forecloses an operator's ability to sell materials to State and/or local agencies, often a major component of many operators' customer bases.

Enter SB 447. Under this new CalCIMA-driven legislation operators can maintain AB 3098 List eligibility while working to resolve enforcement issues required by an order to comply, and may now also negotiate the terms of, and stipulate to, such an order. These are called stipulated orders to comply.

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Bowman v. California Coastal Commission: New California Court of Appeal Decision Holds that a Collateral Attack is no Substitute for Challenging a Condition Imposed upon the Issuance of a Quasi-Judicial Permit through a Direct Appeal

March 24, 2014

By Matthew Hinks

Sometimes in land use law, the most impactful court holdings come from the simplest of cases. That may be the situation with the new California Court of Appeal decision in Bowman v. California Coastal Commission, issued by the court on March 18, 2014.

Factual Background

Walton Emmick owned property in San Luis Obispo County. In May 2002, Emmick applied to the County for a Coastal Development Permit ("CDP") to rehabilitate an uninhabitable home on the property. Emmick died in March 2003. The County subsequently issued the CDP ("CDP-1") to Emmick's successor, SDS, subject to a condition that SDS dedicate a lateral access easement for public access along the shorefront portion of the property. SDS did not appeal the condition.

In December 2004, SDS applied to the County for a second CDP ("CDP-2") for construction of a new barn. The application included a request that the lateral access easement condition of CDP-1 be removed. The County approved CDP-2, including the removal of the coastal access condition. Environmental groups and coastal commissioners appealed the County's decision to the California Coastal Commission. After hearing, the Commission determined that the easement condition contained in CDP-1 is "permanent and binding on the landowner" and conditioned its grant of CDP-2 upon implementation of the easement condition. SDS sued.

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Property Reserve, Inc. v. Superior Court: California Property Owners Secure Victory in New Eminent Domain Opinion

March 21, 2014

By Matthew Hinks

In a victory for California property owners, the California Court of Appeal, on March 13, 2014, issued a new opinion holding that the State of California's proposed entry onto hundreds of properties in Northern California for geological and environmental testing amounted to a taking under the state constitution. The opinion of the court in Property Reserve, Inc. v. Superior Court may have a profound impact upon major public works projects throughout the state.

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SB 1270 Proposes Significant California Mining Reform

March 7, 2014

by Kerry Shapiro, Esq.

The recent submittal of significant proposed revisions to California's mining law, the Surface Mining and Reclamation Act ("SMARA"), signals potentially broad-reaching changes to the statute. On February 21, 2014, Senator Fran Pavely (D) introduced SB 1270, a bill proposing to overhaul various sections of SMARA. SB 1270 proposes fundamental changes to SMARA. Click here for a copy of SB 1270.

If these changes go through, mine owners and operators will be subject to a new regulatory system under which the State will assume a far greater and centralized role in various aspects of SMARA, including mine inspections, enforcement, and establishment of financial assurance mechanisms. The mining industry also faces the likely prospect of increased carrying costs, arising from such proposals as changes to the annual reporting fee structure (proposed at a minimum of $1,000/year on a per-acre basis, and with no maximum cap), to increased ability to appeal decisions relating to the State's "3098" list.

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Tower Lane Properties v. City of Los Angeles: JMBM Prevails in Published Court of Appeal Opinion Holding that a City's Erroneous Interpretation of an Ordinance At Odds with its Historical Practice is Entitled to No Deference

March 3, 2014

By Matthew Hinks

JMBM has prevailed in the Court of Appeal on behalf of its client in a well-publicized and hotly-contested development project in the City of Los Angeles. The court's published opinion will come as welcome relief to property owners who got caught in the bureaucratic mire when the City chose to "re-interpret" a half-a-century-year-old ordinance dealing with subdivision proposals to apply to all large hillside lots. However, the lasting impact of the decision will be what the court had to say about the deference a municipal authority is entitled to in connection with the interpretation of city ordinances and regulations.

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Appellate Court Rules in Favor of Saudi Prince in Benedict Canyon Case

March 3, 2014


Appellate Court Rules in Favor of Saudi Prince in Benedict Canyon Case
Rejects arguments that ordinance requires environmental review

In the much publicized case of a Saudi Prince seeking to build his residential estate, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal published a decision in which it affirmed a lower court judgment and ruled in favor of the Prince and against the City of Los Angeles, Bruce Karsh and Martha Karsh. In Tower Lane Properties v. City of Los Angeles, Bruce Karsh, Martha Karsh, the appellate court rejected the City and Karsh arguments that the residential project must first file a tentative tract map and undergo environmental and discretionary review before issuance of a building permit.

In reaching its conclusion, the court considered the plain meaning of the subject ordinance (Los Angeles Municipal Code 91.7006.8.2) as well as the City's historical interpretation and application. The court found that the prior owner of the Prince's property has been granted grading permits in 2005 and 2006, and that "...the Karshes obtained grading permits for nine projects on their large hillside property, all without undergoing any environmental review under the Ordinance." The court concluded: "Thus, out of 22 grading permits for properties having hillside grading sites larger than 60,000 square feet, only one required any type of clearance, which was obtained without undergoing any environmental review."

The court rejected the City's efforts to interpret the Ordinance in such a manner as to require the Saudi Prince to undergo environmental review, concluding: "Because the City cannot point to a consistent and long-standing interpretation, its current interpretation is entitled to no deference."

Tower Lane's land use attorney, Benjamin M. Reznik of Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP in Los Angeles, stated that his client, who has been the target of allegedly unfair and at times vicious attacks by local residents and the media, feels completely vindicated by the court ruling. "The City continues to single out the Saudi Prince with new requirements never before applied to other property owners all in an effort to deny him the right to a building permit. This unfair treatment has to stop," said Reznik.

Tower Lane Properties is an entity established by Saudi Prince Abdulazziz ibn Abdulazziz al Saud, who is currently the Deputy Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, to develop his family residence in the hills above Benedict Canyon. Next door neighbors Bruce and Martha Karsh have been leading and funding efforts to stop the Saudi Prince.

New California Court of Appeal Opinion Holds That Supreme Court's Seminal Nollan and Dolan Opinions do Not Apply Where a Permit Condition Does Not Otherwise Constitute a Taking

February 25, 2014

By Matthew Hinks

The well-known "nexus" and "rough proportionality" tests from the United States Supreme Court's opinions in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, 483 U.S. 825 (1987) and Dolan v. City of Tigard, 512 U.S. 374 (1994) do not apply where a condition to issuance of a building permit does not otherwise constitute a taking. So says the California Court of Appeal in Powell v. County of Humboldt, a new published opinion that could potentially limit the reach of Fifth Amendment takings protections for California property owners.

Factual Background

Scott and Lynn Powell own property near the Arcata-Eureka Airport in Humboldt County. The previous owners of the property constructed a covered porch and carport without securing a building permit. In May 2008, the County gave notice to the Powells that unless they secured an "after-the-fact" permit for the porch and carport they would be subject to monetary penalties. The Powells thereafter filed a permit application, which included work to secure the porch foundation and strengthen the structures to bring them into compliance with building codes. The County informed the Powells that, pursuant to a County general plan requirement, the County would require, as a condition to issuance of the permit, that the Powells dedicate an aircraft overflight easement over their property granting the County the right to, among other things, allow flights and noise inherent thereto, and regulate the release of substances, light and electrical emissions, in the airspace over the property.

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Foothill Communities Coalition v. County of Orange: New California Court of Appeal Upholds Use of "Spot Zoning" Where a "Substantial Public Need" Exists

February 25, 2014

by Matthew Hinks

Spot zoning - the practice of singling out a parcel of property for either more or less restrictive zoning regulations - does not always constitute an impermissible abuse of discretion according to a new opinion from the California Court of Appeal in Foothill Communities Coalition v. County of Orange that could potentially alter the way spot zoning is viewed in California.

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JMBM Hotel Developers Forum: Miguel Santana advocates hotel expansion for downtown Los Angeles

November 8, 2013

At the recent Hotel Developers Forum hosted in JMBM's Los Angeles office, LA City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana emphasized the City's commitment to development, particularly of hotels in the downtown area. Santana is the chief financial advisor to the mayor, and his office has direct oversight over the city's budget, labor negotiations, and development incentives for the City.

"We're big advocates for hotel expansion in the City," he said, adding that the City of Los Angeles is willing to work with property owners in a variety of ways to create projects that balance profitability with revenue for the city.

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JMBM Recognized as a 2014 Best Law Firm in Land Use & Zoning Law

November 1, 2013

JMBM Best Law Firm 2014LOS ANGELES - Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP (JMBM) is pleased to announce its land use practice has been selected for inclusion in the U.S. News & World Report / Best Lawyers® list of Best Law Firms. JMBM achieved a number of First-Tier Rankings, including a Metropolitan First-Tier Ranking (Los Angeles) in the area of Land Use and Zoning Law.

"Our clients count on us to successfully guide their development projects through the maze of politics, community concerns, and the law. It's rewarding to deliver hard-won results, and a pleasure to be recognized for it," said Benjamin M. Reznik, Chair of JMBM's Government, Land Use, Environment and Energy Department. "My colleagues at JMBM and I are particularly pleased to be recognized as a Best Law Firm in this area, as it is an honor bestowed by our clients and peers."

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Last-Minute CEQA Bill Brings Significant Changes for Major Infrastructure Projects and Projects within Transit Priority Areas

September 24, 2013


This session's California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA") reform bill, Senate Bill 743 ("SB 743") packs a potentially large punch, but only for a narrow group of projects. SB 743 is the brainchild of Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who made CEQA reform a top political priority for 2013. While Senator Steinberg's primary objective was to deliver on a promise to NBA Commissioner David Stern to streamline approval of the Sacramento Kings arena project, SB 743 also provides new rules of general applicability that significantly benefit select projects. First, with regard to projects in transit priority areas, SB 743 reduces the scope of CEQA's impact analysis and may also change the standard traffic evaluation. Second, SB 743 substantially expedites judicial review of so-called "environmental leadership development projects." Thus, while many will be disappointed that SB 743 does not completely overhaul CEQA, certain project proponents will benefit tremendously from the new rules.

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Planned Use of Eminent Domain Powers to Condemn Underwater Mortgages Faces Uncertain Constitutional Outcome

August 13, 2013

By Matthew Hinks

Amidst reports of rising home prices throughout California and fears of a new housing bubble, controversial plans floated by California cities to deal with the lingering effects of the mortgage meltdown by invoking their powers of eminent domain are gaining traction. The City of Richmond in Northern California has begun implementing the plan by sending letters to hundreds of holders of underwater mortgages -- mortgages on homes that are now worth less than the mortgage amount -- offering to purchase the loans at a discount. If the mortgage holders refuse, Richmond's mayor has indicated that the city will move to seize the loans pursuant to its eminent domain powers.

The idea came to national prominence last year when the County of San Bernardino combined with the cities of Ontario and Fontana to form a Joint Powers Authority to publicly examine proposals to assist homeowners within their jurisdictions who are underwater on their mortgages. The JPA publicly flirted with the use of eminent domain to seize underwater mortgages only to abandon the idea after opposition surfaced.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the City of El Monte is considering adopting a similar plan. Other cities across the country and throughout California, including La Puente, near El Monte, and Orange Cove and San Joaquin in Fresno County, are reportedly doing the same.

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