Environmental and Land Use Litigation

Continuing a trend toward stricter application of the administrative exhaustion doctrine, an appellate court held that plaintiffs could not bring a takings claims against the Coastal Commission because they did not “present the exact issue” during the administrative proceedings. Greene v. California Coastal Commission, 40 Cal.App.5th 1227 (2019).

Plaintiffs’ beachfront duplex bordered the designated

A plaintiff challenging a city council’s interpretation of a local ballot measure was entitled to recover costs and attorney fees when successful on only one cause of action because the primary relief sought was granted. Friends of Spring Street v. Nevada City, 33 Cal.App.5th 1092 (2019).

In 1991, the Kendalls received a Conditional Use Permit

Planning and zoning decisions by a non-legislative body or public official authorized under a municipal code are subject to the 90-day statute of limitations of Government Code section 65009(c)(1), the court of appeal ruled in 1305 Ingraham, LLC v. City of Los Angeles, 32 Cal. App. 5th 1253 (2019).

In June 2016, the planning

A court challenge to a local agency’s decision to grant a coastal development permit becomes moot when the Coastal Commission accepts an appeal of the decision, the California court of appeal ruled in Fudge v. City of Laguna Beach, No. G05571 (4th Dist., Feb. 13, 2019).

In 2017, the Laguna Beach City Council approved

In an unsurprising decision, the Second District Court of Appeal upheld Ventura County’s decision to a deny a use permit that would allow tigers to be kept on property located within a half-mile of a residential area. Hauser v. Ventura County Board of Supervisors, 20 Cal.App.5th 572 (2018).

Background. Plaintiff Irena Hauser applied for a conditional use permit that would allow five tigers to be kept on a 19-acre parcel in an unincorporated area of Ventura County. The proposed project would include several tiger enclosures and an arena within a seven-acre area surrounded by a chain link fence. The plaintiff planned to use the tigers in the entertainment business and transport them for that purpose up to 60 times per year.

Neighbors strongly opposed the project and presented a petition to the county which contained roughly 11,000 signatures in opposition.  The planning commission denied the permit application, and on appeal, the board of supervisors did the same, finding the plaintiff failed to prove two elements necessary for a use permit: that the project was compatible with the planned uses in the general area, and that it was not detrimental to the public interest, health, safety or welfare.

The Court of Appeal’s Decision. The court of appeal upheld the trial court’s decision rejecting the plaintiff’s challenge. The court first explained that, as the permit applicant, the plaintiff had the burden to show she was legally entitled to a use permit. She had, however, failed to persuade the board of supervisors that the requirements for a use permit were met. In passing, the court stated that the board’s determination that the requirements were not met did not have to be supported by substantial evidence because it is the absence of evidence of sufficient weight and credibility to convince the trier of fact that leads to that conclusion. Nevertheless, the court undertook a thorough review of the record and found that the board’s decision was amply supported by substantial evidence.
Continue Reading Applicant Challenging Denial of Use Permit Must Prove It Is Legally Entitled to Permit

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

The California Court of Appeal for the Fourth District has determined that the actions of a homeowners association undertaken in accordance with its land use approval process are protected activities in furtherance of free speech under California’s anti-SLAPP statute. Golden Eagle Land Investment, L.P. v. Rancho Santa Fe Association, 19 Cal. App. 5th 399

Successful petitioners under CEQA who are motivated to file suit, in part, by their private financial interests are not necessarily ineligible for an award of attorneys’ fees under the public interest fee statute. Heron Bay Homeowners Association v. City of San Leandro, 19 Cal. App. 5th 376 (2018).

Halus Power Systems sought approval from

In Center for Biological Diversity et al. v. California Department of Fish and Wildlife, 17 Cal. App.5th 1245 (2017) the court of appeal held a court order that requires partial decertification of an Environmental Impact Report and leaves some project approvals in place is a legally permissible remedy when an EIR has been found

A CEQA case challenging the City of Wildomar’s approval of a Wal-Mart retail complex has been dismissed because the petitioner refused to comply with discovery requests regarding its standing to sue.  Creed-21 v. City of Wildomar, 4th Dist. Court of Appeal Case No.E066367 (pub. order 12/19/2017).

CEQA cases generally are decided on the administrative