An ordinance that banned short-term residential rentals and related activities did not violate the Dormant Commerce Clause, which prohibits discrimination against interstate commerce by state and local governments. Rosenblatt v. City of Santa Monica, 940 F.3d 439 (9th Cir. 2019).

In Rosenblatt, the Ninth Circuit unanimously affirmed the dismissal of a putative class

Cities and other political subdivisions lack standing to mount a constitutional challenge in federal court against an administrative decision by a state agency. City of San Juan Capistrano v. California Public Utilities Commission, 937 F.3d 1278 (9th Cir. 2019).

The City of San Juan Capistrano sued in federal court to set aside a decision

In Communities for a Better Environment v. State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission, 19 Cal. App. 5th 725 (2017), the First District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s conclusion that a challenge to the constitutionality of California’s process for judicial review of decisions of the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission (Energy Commission) was not ripe. The practical effect of this decision may be to increase the difficulty in permitting and financing large, non-renewable power plants in California.

The Energy Commission has exclusive authority to license thermal power plants over 50 megawatts, “in lieu of any permit, certificate, or similar document required by any state, local or regional agency, or federal agency to the extent permitted by federal law.” Under Section 25531 of the Public Resources Code, decisions of the Energy Commission are reviewable only by the Supreme Court of California, and the Commission’s factual findings “are final and are not subject to review.” Review by the Supreme Court is discretionary and, in practice, the high court has summarily denied every challenge to an Energy Commission power plant licensing decision since energy deregulation in California in the 1990s.
Continue Reading Power Plant Licensing Case May Open Door to Expanded Judicial Review of Licensing Decisions

In Citizens for Beach Rights v. City of San Diego, 10 Cal.App.5th 1301 (2017), the court of appeal held that a challenge to issuance of a building permit necessarily included a challenge to the validity of the underlying site development permit, which was barred by the 90-day statute of limitations in Government Code section

The court in Aptos Council v. County of Santa Cruz  (6th District, No. H042976, April 25, 2017) rejected a lawsuit claiming that three pro-development zoning ordinances the county adopted constituted a single project that that should have been reviewed together in an environmental impact report. The court of appeal found that the zoning ordinances could be implemented separately and operated independently, and were not a reasonably foreseeable “consequence” of one another. The ordinances therefore did not constitute a single project and completion of separate environmental assessments did not amount to improper piecemeal CEQA review.


The three zoning ordinances related to minor zoning exceptions, exceptions from sign standards, and height, density and parking requirements for hotels. The county adopted the ordinances as part of a broader effort to reform its land use regulations.

The zoning exception ordinance authorized administrative approval of “minor exceptions” to zoning standards, such as a 5% height increase. The county found no significant impacts and adopted a negative declaration.

The sign ordinance allowed administrative approval of sign exceptions with public notice. The county found the ordinance qualified for various CEQA exemptions.

Finally, the hotel ordinance removed a requirement that hotels have 1,100 square feet of developable area per room, removed a three-story height limit, and reduced required parking from 1.1 spaces per room to 1.0 space per room. The county adopted a negative declaration.

Aptos Council, a community group, filed suit to challenge the county’s approval of the ordinances. It asserted that the negative declaration for the minor exceptions ordinance was invalid and the sign ordinance was not exempt. It also claimed that the county improperly engaged in piecemeal CEQA review of the three ordinances and that environmental review of the hotel ordinance should have considered the impacts of potential future hotel projects. The trial court rejected these claims and denied the petition.

On appeal, Aptos Council dropped its CEQA challenges to the minor exceptions ordinance and the sign ordinance. The court’s analysis therefore focused on two issues: (1) whether the three ordinances taken together constituted a single project and the county engaged in improper piecemeal environmental review by evaluating them separately and (2) whether the county erred by adopting a negative declaration for the hotel ordinance rather than preparing an EIR.
Continue Reading Court of Appeal Rejects CEQA Piecemealing Challenge to County’s “Zoning Modernization” Ordinances