Articles Posted in Litigation

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LOS ANGELES — On behalf of the Ventura County Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business (CoLAB), Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP (JMBM) filed a lawsuit in Superior Court against the County of Ventura challenging a Wildlife Corridor Ordinance that rezones more than 160,000 acres and imposes complex new rules and restrictions on businesses and landowners of thousands of parcels.

“I’ve never seen regulations affecting over 160,000 acres of land go into effect without any environmental review,” said Benjamin M. Reznik, Chair of JMBM’s Government, Land Use, Environment & Energy Group. “Relying on obscure exemptions to California’s environmental laws in a regulation of this magnitude is highly unusual.”

The lawsuit states: “Despite the laudable purpose—and CoLAB supports reasonable efforts to minimize impacts to wildlife movement within the County—many of the Ordinance’s regulations are legally flawed and scientifically unsupportable.” The lawsuit also states that the Ordinance is in conflict with the County’s own General Plan.

“The restrictions this ordinance imposes on property owners are likely to have a serious negative impact on property owners’ ability to use their land, which will also effect property values” said Reznik.

JMBM has also filed a lawsuit on behalf of the California Construction and Industrial Materials Association (CalCIMA) against the County of Ventura, challenging the Wildlife Corridor.

Ben Reznik is the Chair of JMBM’s Government, Land Use, Environment and Energy Department. His practice emphasizes real estate development entitlements, zoning and environment issues, including frequent appearances before city planning commissions, city councils and other governmental boards and agencies on behalf of real estate development firms and various industries. Reach him at BMR@JMBM.com or 310. 201.3572.

About JMBM’s Government, Land Use, Environment and Energy Department
JMBM’s government, land use, environment, and energy lawyers represent a wide range of industries, businesses, trade groups and individuals before every level of government, and in litigation. We routinely advocate for our clients’ interests before the myriad of regulatory authorities, administrative agencies and elected bodies that govern business and development activities. Our negotiation expertise and lobbying experience includes representing clients seeking to locate and develop new sites, relocate, expand operations, and all related permitting and compliance.

About Ventura County Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business (CoLAB)
CoLAB is a 501(c)6 non-profit membership organization formed in 2010 to support land-based and industrial businesses including farming, ranching, oil, mining, and service, and to promote sensible and rational local government.

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By Martin Stratte for Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP

In August 2018, the California Court of Appeal decided Citizens Coalition Los Angeles v. City of Los Angeles, 26 Cal.App.5th 561 (2018), commonly referred to as “Target II,” which arose from a years-long challenge by citizen activist organizations to the development of a Super Target in Hollywood, California.

As discussed below, the court was asked to resolve the following issue of first impression: what level of environmental review is required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for a legislative action that re-designates a project site for the purpose of mooting pending litigation that was filed in opposition to an already approved project?

In essence, what the City of Los Angeles did was re-zone the site of a previously approved Super Target to remove the need for the variances that were adopted in support of the project, which the trial court had struck down in the litigation commonly referred to as “Target I.”

Background

Target applied to the City of Los Angeles (City) for land use entitlements to develop an approximately 75-foot high, three-story Super Target at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Western Avenue in Hollywood, California, the top floor of which would contain the 163,862 square foot “Superstore.”

The City certified an EIR for the Target project and granted eight exceptions (variances) so that the project could exceed height and parking-space restrictions, among others.  Thereafter, two citizen activist organizations filed a petition for writ of mandate alleging: 1) the project violated CEQA; and 2) the variances violated the City’s Municipal Code because they were not supported by substantial evidence.  Target proceeded with construction while the litigation was pending; that litigation is commonly referred to as “Target I.”

The trial court denied the petitioners’ CEQA claim in Target I, but found that six of the eight variances were not supported by substantial evidence.  Accordingly, the court ordered Target to stop construction.  Target filed an appeal and the petitioners filed a cross-appeal. Continue reading

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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.

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.

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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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