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On January 26, 2021, attorneys from Perkins Coie presented the 31st Annual Land Use and Development Law Briefing. Topics included:

    • Key Developments in Land Use Law
    • Legislative Changes Affecting Housing Development
    • CEQA: Key Cases and Trends
    • COVID 19 — Real Estate Impacts
    • Wetlands, Endangered Species and NEPA Update

A full set of the written materials,

Below are summaries of the key California and Ninth Circuit land use and development cases decided in 2020. Each case name is linked to our more extensive discussion of the case on the California Land Use & Development Law Report.

1.  Planning and Zoning

GRANNY PURPS, INC. v. COUNTY OF SANTA CRUZ
53 Cal. App. 5th 1 (2020)

The court of appeal held that the County of Santa Cruz was required to return approximately 2,000 medical marijuana plants seized from a dispensary. Local law enforcement had seized the plants due to a violation of a county zoning ordinance that prohibits cultivation of over 99 medical marijuana plants. The court reasoned that the plants were not subject to seizure because the local zoning ordinance did not change the legal status of medical marijuana under state law. Because medical marijuana is not contraband in California, and local governments are bound by state law, local governments cannot withhold legally possessed marijuana plants.

LATEEF V. CITY OF MADERA
45 Cal. App. 5th 245 (2020)

Plaintiff appealed to the City Council after his conditional permit was denied by the Planning Commission. At the time of the hearing, only five of the seven councilmembers were eligible to vote: one council seat was vacant, and one councilmember had recused himself from voting. Although the Council voted four to one to overturn the Planning Commission’s decision, the City determined that the motion failed to meet the requirement in the municipal code that “five-sevenths vote of the whole of the Council shall be required to grant, in whole or in part, any appealed application denied by the Commission.” The court confirmed the City’s interpretation, finding that nothing in the municipal code indicated that the “whole of the council” meant only those present and voting.

PETROVICH DEVELOPMENT CO., LLC v. CITY OF SACRAMENTO
48 Cal. App. 5th 963 (2020)

The court invalidated the City Council’s denial of plaintiff’s application for a conditional use permit for operation of a gas station, finding that the actions of one of the councilmembers demonstrated hostility and bias toward the project and resulted in denial of a fair hearing. The court relied on evidence that the councilmember was actively lining up votes of other councilmembers against the project, as well as advising a project opponent on how to lobby the council. These concrete facts showed that the councilmember acted as an advocate, not an impartial decisionmaker, and should have recused  himself from voting on the appeal. His actions demonstrated an unacceptable probability of actual bias and denied plaintiff a fair hearing.
Continue Reading 2020 Land Use and Development Case Summaries

The Third Appellate District determined that Placer County met relevant statutory requirements when it partially abandoned public easement rights in a road originally intended to be used only for emergency access and public transit vehicles that residents of the area had been using as an unauthorized short cut between two neighboring residential subdivisions. Martis Camp Community Association v County of Placer, No. C087759 (Third. Dist., Aug 1, 2020).

Background.

The road at the center of the dispute connects Martis Camp, a private gated community adjacent to the Northstar ski resort development, and the Retreat at Northstar, a residential development next to Martis Camp located within the Northstar resort itself.

In 2003, Placer County adopted the Martis Valley Community Plan, which provided that a road connecting Martis Camp and the Retreat would be restricted to public transit and emergency access only. The EIRs for the Martis Camp and Retreat developments, approved two years later, also envisioned that the road would be restricted to these uses. Despite these restrictions, several years after the road was constructed, Martis Camp residents began using it as a short cut through the Retreat community to Northstar village.

By 2014, from 100 to 250 private vehicles were using the road on a daily basis, and it was estimated that once Martis Camp was built out, traffic could triple.  After various efforts to stop the unauthorized use of the road failed, Retreat property owners requested that the County abandon public road easement rights in the road.  Following a series of public hearings, the Board of Supervisors approved a partial abandonment, thereby restricting use of the road to Retreat property owners and emergency and public transit vehicles only, consistent with the uses described and analyzed in the Community Plan and the EIRs for the two developments.

The Martis Camp homeowners’ association and some individual property owners (the “Martis Camp homeowners”) filed suit to challenge the County’s action, claiming it violated the statutory requirements for abandonment of a public road; that it impaired their abutter’s rights to access the road giving rise to an inverse condemnation claim; and that the Board  had violated both the Brown Act and CEQA when it approved the abandonment.  The trial court ruled for the County on each of these claims and the Martis Camp homeowners appealed.

The Court of Appeal’s Decision

Abandonment of a Public Road.   The court of appeal rejected the Martis Camp homeowners’ claim that the County’s decision violated the statutory requirements for the abandonment of a public road, explaining that under the Streets and Highways Code, a county is authorized to vacate all or part of a street, highway, or public service easement where it makes two findings — first, that the road is unnecessary for present or prospective public use, and second, that the abandonment is in the public interest.
Continue Reading County May Abandon Public Easement Rights to Prevent Unauthorized Use of Road

On March 31, six Bay Area counties—Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara—jointly issued new shelter-in-place restrictions that expand, clarify, and extend certain restrictions until May 3, 2020. Previous county orders issued on March 16 allowed almost all Bay Area housing construction to continue, as well as certain other construction projects

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread, rapidly evolving economic and social changes are presenting a host of legal issues for the real estate industry. Attorneys at Perkins Coie, LLP, have published guidance on some of the more pressing issues affecting developers, landlords, tenants, and lenders. The guidance, prepared by Cecily T. Barclay, Allan E.

Automobile delay (as measured solely by roadway capacity or traffic congestion) cannot constitute a significant environmental impact, even for projects that were approved before the new CEQA guidelines on transportation impacts were certified in December 2018. Citizens for Positive Growth & Preservation v. City of Sacramento, 2019 WL 6888482.

The case involved a challenge to the City of Sacramento’s 2035 General Plan, which it adopted in March 2015. The plaintiff alleged that the city violated CEQA and the Planning and Zoning Law.

CEQA: Transportation Impacts

Analyzing Transportation Impacts Under CEQA. Public Resources Code section 21099 (commonly known as SB 743) directed the Office of Planning and Research to develop guidelines for assessing transportation impacts based on vehicle miles traveled (VMT). SB 743 provides that upon certification of implementing guidelines by the Natural Resources Agency, “automobile delay, as described solely by level of service [LOS] or similar measures of vehicular capacity or traffic congestion shall not be considered a significant impact on the environment . . . except in locations specifically identified in the guidelines, if any.”

Section 15064.3 of the CEQA Guidelines, adopted in 2018 to implement SB 743, provides that, except for roadway capacity projects, “a project’s effect on automobile delay shall not constitute a significant environmental impact.” Further, the SB 743 guidelines specify that generally, VMT is “the most appropriate measure of transportation impacts.” The guidelines apply prospectively, and apply statewide beginning July 1, 2020, unless an agency elects to be governed by them sooner. (For a detailed analysis, see our report on the SB 743 Guidelines.)
Continue Reading Automobile Delay May Not Be Treated As a Significant Environmental Impact

The Fourth District Court of Appeal held that that while most of the California Coastal Commission’s conditions for construction of a home on an oceanfront lot were reasonable, a requirement that the home be removed from the parcel “if any government agency orders it not to be occupied due to a natural hazard” was “overbroad,