Articles Posted in Litigation

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By Neill Brower
The California Supreme court determined the California State University (“CSU”) could not rely solely on earmarked appropriations from the State Legislature for payment of “fair share” mitigation fees the CSU determined necessary for full mitigation of impacts, and the absence of specific legislative appropriations for mitigation fees did not render payment of mitigation fees infeasible. On August 3, 2015, the California Supreme Court filed its decision in City of San Diego v. Bd. of Trustees of the California State University, Case No. S199557, rejecting the notion that the contingent nature of State budgeting excused a failure to commit to enforceable mitigation for off-campus impacts resulting from on-campus development. Further, because the CSU relied on the purported infeasibility of paying mitigation fees as a basis for its Statement of Overriding Considerations, the Statement of Overriding Considerations was unsupported by substantial evidence as to that finding.

In this case, the CSU approved an Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) to expand the San Diego State University (“SDSU”) campus to accommodate, among other significant components; a hotel, academic research, medical, social, administrative, and conference facilities; faculty and student housing; a 10,000-student enrollment increase; and associated increases in faculty and staff by 2030 school year. Among other impacts, the EIR determined the project would result in significant contributions to cumulative traffic impacts on off-campus roads in the City of San Diego and Caltrans jurisdictions. The EIR determined the specific improvements required to mitigate these impacts and calculated the “fair-share” fees necessary to construct those improvements.
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By Matthew Hinks
Governor Brown signed into law on September 27, 2014, AB2222, which amends the State’s Density Bonus Law (“DBL”), Gov’t Code §§ 65915, et seq. to establish significant constraints upon the use of the incentives provided by DBL in connection with certain real estate developments. The main purpose of AB2222 is to eliminate density bonuses and other incentives previously available unless the developer agrees to replace pre-existing affordable units on a one-for-one basis. The impact of the bill will be significant because it will remove the economic incentive to undertake density bonus projects where existing units are subject to rent control ordinances or similar restrictions.
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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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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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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

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.

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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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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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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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by Neill Brower
An August 5, 2013, the California Supreme Court provided some additional flexibility to local agencies in deciding what conditions properly constitute the “baseline” for analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). The decision, Neighbors for Smart Rail v. Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority (“Neighbors”), Case No. S202828, narrowly upholds the environmental impact report (“EIR”) prepared for phase 2 of the Exposition Corridor Transit Project (“Expo Phase 2”) and strikes a middle ground among previous decisions regarding the use of various future baselines. The court ruled, among other things, that although an agency may, in very limited circumstances, evaluate project impacts on the basis of conditions anticipated to exist at the time of certification of an environmental impact report (“EIR”) for the project, or on a hypothetical longer-term future baseline, these cases remain the exception, rather than the rule. If using only a hypothetical future conditions and omitting existing conditions as a baseline, an agency must demonstrate that an analysis based on existing conditions “would detract from an EIR’s effectiveness as an informational document” by providing an uninformative or misleading analysis. In most cases, an agency must still evaluate the impacts of a project in comparison to existing conditions, though nothing prevents additional analysis of long-term impacts, particularly in the context of a cumulative analysis or a “no project” alternatives analysis.
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