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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.

Continue reading "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" »

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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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.

Continue reading "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 " »

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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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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California Supreme Court to Local Agencies: Hypothetical Future Baselines in CEQA are not per se Improper in All Cases, but likely are Improper in the Vast Majority

August 5, 2013

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.

Continue reading "California Supreme Court to Local Agencies: Hypothetical Future Baselines in CEQA are not per se Improper in All Cases, but likely are Improper in the Vast Majority" »

Citizens for Ceres v. Superior Court: New California Court of Appeal Opinion Addressing Privilege Issues in Connection with Review Under California's Environmental Quality Act Will Have Lasting Impact on Litigation Involving Land Use Entitlements

July 26, 2013

By Matthew Hinks

Effective environmental review of a real estate development project under the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA") often requires that the approving agency and representatives of the developer work together collaboratively to ensure that environmental review is carried out according to the dictates of the law. However, doing so raises the question of the protectability of communications shared between the developer, the CEQA lead agency and their lawyers. Communications between an attorney and his or her client are privileged and are therefore not subject to disclosure as part of the discovery process or the administrative record in CEQA litigation. But what about in situations where communications take place or are shared among a developer, a lead agency and their lawyers?

A new California Court of Appeal opinion -- Citizens for Ceres v. Superior Court -- offers a new answer to that question, which will have significant practical implications for property owners and developers engaged in the CEQA process. However because the opinion appears to conflict with a prior Court of Appeal opinion, it is unclear how the rule announced by the Ceres court will get applied in future litigation. Moreover, there is significant question as to whether the Ceres rule will get applied outside of the CEQA context.

Continue reading "Citizens for Ceres v. Superior Court: New California Court of Appeal Opinion Addressing Privilege Issues in Connection with Review Under California's Environmental Quality Act Will Have Lasting Impact on Litigation Involving Land Use Entitlements" »

Good News for Developers and Affordable Housing Advocates: California Court of Appeal Rejects Significant Challenge to State's Density Bonus Law

July 16, 2013

By Matthew Hinks

State density bonus law -- one of many California statutes enacted to implement the state's policy of promoting the construction of affordable housing -- has withstood a significant challenge posed by the County of Napa (the "County") in a new California Court of Appeal opinion, Latinos Unidos del Valle de Napa y Solano v. County of Napa. The Court's opinion is good news, not only for advocates of affordable housing, but also developers of multifamily housing who rely upon the law, which provides valuable development incentives and is a useful and powerful tool in the permitting process.

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Koontz will significantly alter the way in which private property rights, government regulation, and exactions for public benefits will play out in the future, and everyone needs to understand it thoroughly.

June 25, 2013

Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District

By Robert I. McMurry

The United States Supreme Court announced Tuesday its decision in a major land use case concerning the government's leverage to exact concessions and money payments in exchange for permits for land use development.

In a 5-4 opinion issued Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the lower court's decision dismissing a property owner's takings claim against a water reclamation district, holding that the Nollan/Dolan takings requirements apply even when a governmental body denies a permit, and where the government imposes monetary exactions. Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District

This decision had been widely speculated to be perhaps the most important Supreme Court land-use decision in 20 years, depending on how reaching the court's ruling was (See hypothesizing as to the possible outcomes.) For once, the Supreme Court made a significant and substantial contribution to land-use constitutional law, an area in which even the court had conceded its inability to fashion clear law. Koontz could have a significant effect on the balance of power between land-use developers seeking permits and public entities using that process to exact all manner of "free concessions" ranging from new city halls to substantial monetary payments.

Continue reading "Koontz will significantly alter the way in which private property rights, government regulation, and exactions for public benefits will play out in the future, and everyone needs to understand it thoroughly. " »

Inclusionary Housing Ordinance Withstands Facial Challenge in New California Court of Appeal Decision; California Building Industry Association v. City of San Jose

June 17, 2013

By Matthew Hinks

The California legislature has declared the availability of housing for every Californian to be a matter of "vital statewide importance." Thus, the legislature has charged local governments with facilitating the provision of housing for all economic segments of the community through the implementation of "housing elements" as part of the community's general plan. The components of those housing elements, including an assessment of housing needs for all income levels, the identification of adequate housing sites, and a program that assists in the development of such housing to meet the needs of low-income households.

San Jose's Inclusionary Housing Ordinance

To implement the state's inclusionary housing policy, the City of San Jose (the "City") passed in 2010 an Inclusionary Housing Ordinance ("IHO"). The IHO requires multi-unit residential developments including at least 20 units to set aside 15 percent of the units for purchase at a below-market rate to households earning no more than 110 percent of the area median income. Alternatively, the developer could comply with the IHO by paying an in-lieu fee not to exceed the difference between the price of a market rate and affordable housing unit or dedicating land.

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Developers' Rights Alert: California Property Owner Prevails in Significant Regulatory Takings Case

June 7, 2013

By Matthew Hinks

Chief Justice John Roberts recently observed during oral argument on the Supreme Court's latest foray into the field of regulatory takings that the government does not lose a Penn Central case very often. A new opinion from the California Court of Appeal in Lockaway Storage v. County of Alameda represents one of those rare instances. But more than offering just an isolated example of a property owner victory in such cases, the court's opinion in the Lockaway case delivers a significant blow to a major obstacle that has stood in the way for developers alleging damages caused by project delays -- the California Supreme Court's seminal decision in Landgate v. California Coastal Commission.

Facts of Complaint

In May 2000, Lockaway Storage ("Lockaway") purchased an 8.45-acre parcel of land in an unincorporated area of Alameda County. The property was zoned for agricultural uses with an alternative conditional use for "open storage of recreational vehicles and boats". Prior to Lockaway's purchase of the property, the County had issued a Conditional Use Permit ("CUP") authorizing an rv storage facility, which would expire if it was not implemented by September 22, 2002.

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CEQA Claimants Be Warned: New California Court of Appeal Opinion Holds That CEQA Filing Deadlines are Mandatory and Not Subject to Extension for Good Cause

April 25, 2013

By Matthew Hinks

Statues of limitations issues frequently loom large in litigation under the California Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA") and can confound litigants and their counsel. Depending on the challenge being made and the context in which it is made, claims brought under CEQA may be subject to a range of limitations periods -- from 30 to 180 days. Moreover, the date on which a CEQA claim accrues is not always clear. For example, an agency making a CEQA decision may file a Notice of Determination, which generally triggers the shorter CEQA limitations periods, but parties with an interest in that same decision may not always get notice of the filing. For these reasons, among others, calculating the correct statute of limitations period applicable to a CEQA claim can be risky business. A new opinion from the California court of appeal, Alliance for the Protection of the Auburn Community Environment v. County of Placer, raises the stakes even higher and holds that a party may not obtain relief from a late filing by reason of mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect.

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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."

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