Endangered Species Act to Trump Mining Claims: Supreme Court Lets Stand Ninth Circuit Ruling in Karuk Tribe of California v. U.S. Forest Service

March 22, 2013

By Scott Castro

On March 19, 2013, U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the ruling in Karuk Tribe of California v. U.S. Forest Service, a Ninth Circuit en banc decision broadly construing the scope of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) consultation requirements.

By denying the petition for certiorari brought by recreational miners and other interests, the Supreme Court lets stand the Ninth Circuit's ruling, which broadens the scope of when consultation is required under Section 7 of the ESA to include instances where an agency makes a decision not to regulate an activity.

For the mining industry and other operations on U.S. Forest Service lands, the Supreme Court's action makes clear that low-impact mining operations that could previously operate pursuant to notices to the Forest Service now are confronted with the likely need to undergo lengthy and expensive consultation under the ESA. For the regulated community in general, the implications are broader, because reach of the ESA's consultation requirement is effectively expanded to apply to instances of agency "inaction."

Continue reading "Endangered Species Act to Trump Mining Claims: Supreme Court Lets Stand Ninth Circuit Ruling in Karuk Tribe of California v. U.S. Forest Service " »

Save Cuyama Valley v. County of Santa Barbara: JMBM Scores Significant Victory in CEQA Ruling on Significance Thresholds and Mitigation Measures

February 15, 2013

By Scott Castro

In a decision published on February 8, 2013, the Second Appellate District ruled in favor of the JMBM client Troesh Materials, LLC in a challenge brought pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA") against the County of Santa Barbara's approval of Troesh's Diamond Rock Sand and Gravel Mine and Processing Facility (the "Diamond Rock Mine"). The decision, Save Cuyama Valley v. County of Santa Barbara (Case No. B233318), ruled on several important grounds under CEQA, and is further notable because it upholds the County's approval of an in-stream mining project within the bed of the Cuyama River. Troesh Materials, LLC was represented before the trial court and court of appeal by JMBM partner Scott N. Castro. The underlying County approval effort for Troesh's Diamond Rock Mine was led by JMBM partner Kerry Shapiro, leader of the Firm's land use group in San Francisco and co-chair of the Firm's Building Materials Group.

Continue reading "Save Cuyama Valley v. County of Santa Barbara: JMBM Scores Significant Victory in CEQA Ruling on Significance Thresholds and Mitigation Measures" »

Ninth Circuit Ruling in Center for Biological Diversity v. Salazar Creates Tension Between Federal and California Law Regarding Idle Mines and Interim Management Plans

February 15, 2013

by Kerry Shapiro

As reported earlier this week in this blog, the recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Center for Biological Diversity v. Salazar allowed a uranium mine on federal lands in Arizona to re-open after being idled for seventeen years absent any new federal approval or supplemental environmental review. This decision is notable on its own, but carries added significance in California, where it now highlights a potential conflict between federal and state law regarding idle mines and the resumption of mining operations at such mines.

Continue reading "Ninth Circuit Ruling in Center for Biological Diversity v. Salazar Creates Tension Between Federal and California Law Regarding Idle Mines and Interim Management Plans" »

Ninth Circuit Upholds BLM's Decision to Allow Uranium Mine -- Idled for Seventeen Years -- to Reopen Without a New Plan of Operations or Supplemental NEPA Review

February 11, 2013

By Scott Castro

On February 4, 2013, a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel issued a ruling in Center for Biological Diversity v. Salazar holding that a mine idled for seventeen years could restart operations without obtaining a new approval from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or conducting additional environmental review. The Ninth Circuit's ruling is notable because it clarifies that:

(1) The need for new ancillary permits for an already-approved federal project -- even after being idle for seventeen years -- does not create a "major Federal action" requiring supplemental environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA);

(2) A mine may be idle for extended periods of time if the mine is maintained in accordance with an interim management plan set forth in a plan of operations; and

(3) There is no provision under the BLM's surface management regulations (43 CFR subpart 3809) requiring a new plan of operations to restart mining operations following a period of idleness.

Continue reading "Ninth Circuit Upholds BLM's Decision to Allow Uranium Mine -- Idled for Seventeen Years -- to Reopen Without a New Plan of Operations or Supplemental NEPA Review" »

Saudi Prince Files a $25 Million Lawsuit Against the City of Los Angeles for Illegally Blocking Construction of His Family Residential Estate in Benedict Canyon

February 8, 2013


On February 5, 2013, Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell (JMBM) filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court (Case # BS141623) against the City of Los Angeles on behalf of Tower Lane Properties LLP whose beneficial owner is Saudi prince Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdul-Aziz al Saud, the current Deputy Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia. The lawsuit seeks a writ of mandate to compel the city to issue the building permits and damages in the amount of $25 million caused by the city's allegedly illegal and discriminatory conduct.

Continue reading "Saudi Prince Files a $25 Million Lawsuit Against the City of Los Angeles for Illegally Blocking Construction of His Family Residential Estate in Benedict Canyon" »

Property Owner Prevails on Appeal in Eminent Domain Case After Trial Court Erroneously Excludes Expert's Appraisal Opinion

January 9, 2013

By Matthew Hinks

Evidence of just compensation to be awarded in an eminent domain action is all but invariably put on through expert opinion. In a bit of good news for property owners facing eminent domain proceedings, the California Court of Appeal has issued a new opinion offering a relaxed view of the admissibility of expert opinions relating to comparable sales.

Continue reading "Property Owner Prevails on Appeal in Eminent Domain Case After Trial Court Erroneously Excludes Expert's Appraisal Opinion" »

Turn Out the Lights: New Court of Appeal Opinion Invalidates Settlement Agreement Allowing for Digital Conversion of Billboards

December 14, 2012

By Matthew Hinks

For those of us involved or merely interested in the seemingly endless spate of sign-related litigation, the Court of Appeal's opinion in Summit Media LLC v. City of Los Angeles has been long anticipated. The Summit case was unlike many of the sign cases winding their way through California's state and federal courts, which have largely involved constitutional challenges to various sign-related laws and actions or enforcement actions by local municipalities against non-complying signs. Summit involved litigation between sign companies -- including two of the largest sign companies in the country. The court of appeal's opinion in the Summit case, which holds that a city may not enter into a settlement agreement allowing for digital billboards when they are expressly prohibited by ordinance, is a stunning defeat for those two particular companies, but surely will not be the last we hear of digital sign conversions in the City of Los Angeles.

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New Eminent Domain Opinion From California Court of Appeal Holds That Business Owner is not Entitled to Jury Determination of Lost Goodwill Until Trial Judge Makes Preliminary Determination of Existence of Business Goodwill

December 5, 2012

By Matthew Hinks

In a question of first impression, the California Court of Appeal has held in, People ex rel. Department of Transportation v. Dry Canyon Enters., LLC, that "a business owner is entitled to a jury trial on the amount of goodwill lost by a taking only if he or she first establishes, as a threshold matter, that the business had goodwill to lose." The court's analysis seems correct; nevertheless, the result is a troubling one for property owners.

Background Facts

Dry Canyon is a wine maker. As part of its business plan, Dry Canyon planned to develop a flagship wine to be made from grapes grown on property it owns in Paso Robles. In 2009, Caltrans initiated eminent domain proceedings to acquire a strip of Dry Canyon's Paso Robles property on which was located 21 percent of the vines Dry Canyon was growing for its new flagship wine. By the time the proceedings were initiated, Dry Canyon had blended and sold a few vintages but had yet to turn a profit on the new flagship brand. The parties agreed to a valuation of $203,500 for the real property, which was paid to Dry Canyon, leaving one remaining issue: the amount of lost goodwill.

Dry Canyon's expert testified that Dry Canyon lost $240,000 in goodwill as a result of the taking, which he calculated using two different methodologies. First, the expert utilized a "cost-to-create" methodology in which he added all expenses incurred in cultivating the new wine and divided by four (being that Caltrans took one-fourth of the vines). The second methodology was defined as a "premium pricing" approach in which the expert calculated that the new vintage would fetch a premium of $10.62 more per bottle than comparable wines, then multiplied that figure by the total number of bottles that would not be sold as a result of the taking. Both methodologies yielded a $240,000 lost goodwill figure.

Unfortunately for Dry Canyon, the trial court disagreed that Dry Canyon had any goodwill at all and granted a motion for judgment. The court of appeal affirmed.

Continue reading "New Eminent Domain Opinion From California Court of Appeal Holds That Business Owner is not Entitled to Jury Determination of Lost Goodwill Until Trial Judge Makes Preliminary Determination of Existence of Business Goodwill" »

New Court of Appeal Opinion Concerning Sign Rights Highlights Need for Diligence on the Part of Billboard Companies

November 18, 2012

By Matthew Hinks

The billboard wars rage on. In the latest battle, the court in West Washington Properties, LLC v. California Department of Transportation narrowly interpreted a provision of the Outdoor Advertising Act ("OAA"), which provides a rebuttable presumption of legality to advertising displays erected for more than five years without Caltrans enforcement, rejected equitable defenses and dismissed at the pleading stage plaintiff's inverse condemnation claims. The opinion should be a wake up call for companies engaged in or considering transactions involving the transfer of sign rights.

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New Ninth Circuit Opinion Finds Regulatory Takings Claim Fails Where Economic Impact of Manufactured Home Park Zoning Ordinances Was Minimal

November 1, 2012

By Matthew Hinks

A new opinion from the Ninth Circuit out of the State of Washington -- Laurel Park Community, LLC v. City of Tumwater -- offers an interesting application of the Supreme Court's regulatory taking jurisprudence.

Continue reading "New Ninth Circuit Opinion Finds Regulatory Takings Claim Fails Where Economic Impact of Manufactured Home Park Zoning Ordinances Was Minimal" »

Bad News and Good News for Billboard Companies: Ninth Circuit Refuses to Recognize Limit on City of Los Angeles Sign Ordinance but Curbs the Power of the City to Classify Commercial and Noncommercial Speech

October 26, 2012

By Matthew Hinks

The Ninth Circuit has issued a new "chapter in 'the story of billboards.'" Billboard companies and advertisers should take note of the court's opinion. Although the opinion refused to extend full First Amendment protection to billboards and advertising related to underlying expressive works, the court -- recognizing its central role in defining the contours of Constitutional liberties -- rejected the trial court's reasoning that a municipality should be afforded deference to define the divide between commercial and noncommercial speech.

Continue reading "Bad News and Good News for Billboard Companies: Ninth Circuit Refuses to Recognize Limit on City of Los Angeles Sign Ordinance but Curbs the Power of the City to Classify Commercial and Noncommercial Speech" »

Property Rights and Eminent Domain: Court Overturns Condemnation Victory On Right to Take Where Taking Did Not Result in Landlocked Parcel

September 27, 2012

By Matthew Hinks

In an opinion containing echoes of the United States Supreme Court's controversial and much maligned decision in Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005), the California Court of Appeal has limited the reach of California Code of Civil Procedure § 1240.350(a). That section provides that a condemning agency that takes property resulting in the property being "cut off from . . . access to a public road", may also take property belonging to another party to provide alternative access to the original property. The Court of Appeal in Council of San Benito County Governments v. Hollister Inn, Inc., limited Section 1240.350(a) to situations where the taking leaves the original property completely landlocked.

Continue reading "Property Rights and Eminent Domain: Court Overturns Condemnation Victory On Right to Take Where Taking Did Not Result in Landlocked Parcel" »

An Interview with the New Executive Director of BCDC: Larry Goldzband

September 11, 2012

By Jon Welner

On July 20, Lawrence J. Goldzband was appointed Executive Director of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC).

BCDC is a state regulatory agency created in the 1960s to ensure the environmental protection and responsible economic development of San Francisco Bay. It has permit authority over all development in the Bay and within 100 feet of the shoreline, including the development of all ports and marine facilities. In recent years, BCDC has taken a leadership role in preparing the Bay Area for the effects of sea-level rise resulting from global climate change.

We recently sat down with Mr. Goldzband to discuss his perspective on the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

Continue reading "An Interview with the New Executive Director of BCDC: Larry Goldzband" »

Eminent Domain and Inverse Condemnation: Court of Federal Claims Opinions Recognize Limits to Right of Compensation for Less Than Permanent Takings

August 28, 2012

By Matthew Hinks

The Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation." The Constitution does not prohibit the taking of private property by the government -- so long as the taking is done for a "public purpose", -- but instead places a condition on the exercise of that power: namely, the payment of "just compensation". As the Supreme Court has recognized, "[t]he paradigmatic taking requiring just compensation is a direct government appropriation or physical invasion of private property." Lingle v. Chevron U.S.A. Inc., 544 U.S. 528, 537 (2005). In other words, situations where the government obtains title to or physically occupies private property present relatively uncomplicated issues as to whether a taking has occurred. More nuanced issues arise, however, where governmental actions cause less than permanent occupations. This principle was on display in a pair of recent opinions from the United States Court of Federal Claims, a court established by Congress to adjudicate monetary claims against the federal government.

Continue reading "Eminent Domain and Inverse Condemnation: Court of Federal Claims Opinions Recognize Limits to Right of Compensation for Less Than Permanent Takings" »

Los Angeles Superior Court Rules Saudi Prince's Benedict Canyon Project Was Illegally Subjected to L.A. Building Code Provisions

August 25, 2012

News Release


LOS ANGELES -- On August 23, 2012, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that the residential project proposed in the Benedict Canyon area by Saudi prince Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdul-Aziz al Saud, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, had been illegally subjected by the City of Los Angeles to rules that are not applicable to the project. [Tower Lane Properties, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Superior Court case no. BS137339.]

The rule at issue is City Building Code sec. 91.7006.8.2 which requires projects that are subject to subdivision to apply for a tentative tract map prior to grading on sites greater than 60,000 square feet. The city and certain neighbors argued that this provision is applicable to the Saudi prince's project even though no subdivision was proposed or contemplated. Hence, they argued the project requires a discretionary review and public hearings.

The court found that the code section is not applicable to the project and ordered the city not to apply this provision to the project. The proposed project consists of three single family homes on three separate legal lots on Tower Lane.

Martha and Bruce Karsh, who own a large estate property next door, elected to intervene in the lawsuit. The Karsh's legal arguments regarding the applicability of this code section were also rejected by the court. In papers filed with the court, Tower Lane Properties submitted evidence of city records showing that Martha and Bruce Karsh had pulled numerous grading and building permits for their own property between 2003 to 2010 in order to construct a recreational building, a guest house, a conservatory with basement, and other improvements, and not once did the City subject them to the very same ordinance they argued Tower Lane Properties must adhere to, even though their property is also greater than 60,000 square feet. Tower Lane Properties produced evidence that the city had never before applied this ordinance to an applicant proposing a single family home on a single legal lot.

Martha and Bruce Karsh have been leading opponents of the project who have waged a campaign-style attack against the project and Prince Abdul-Aziz. The City of Los Angeles Ethics Commission website shows that Martha and Bruce Karsh had also hired a team of lobbyists to influence the city processing of this project. Bruce Karsh is one of the co-founders of Oaktree Capital, an international investment and management firm and, according to the Los Angeles Times, the largest creditor of Tribune Co. which owns the Los Angeles Times.

"Our client designed a project to comply with all the zoning and building code regulations, but in response to outside pressures the city devised new interpretations intended to force our client into a lengthy and unnecessary analysis of non-existent issues. This is a residential project which is completely consistent with neighboring properties and will be constructed in compliance with building and grading regulations. Yesterday's detailed and well- reasoned court ruling vindicates our client's position that the City tried to apply its rules in a discriminatory manner," said Benjamin M. Reznik, land use attorney for the Saudi prince. "It is most unfortunate that our client has been vilified by certain members of the community for doing nothing more than insisting that the laws of our city be applied to him fairly in the same manner as they are applied to other homeowners."

Click here to review the court's tentative decision, which became final after the hearing of August 23, 2012.

Contact
Benjamin M. Reznik
Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP
1900 Avenue of the Stars, Los Angeles CA 90067
BMR@jmbm.com
310.201.3572