Skip to content

On January 19, 2022, attorneys from Perkins Coie presented the 32nd Annual Land Use and Development Law Briefing.

Topics included:

    • Developments in Land Use Law
    • Housing Legislation Update
    • Real Estate Due Diligence
    • CEQA — Cases, Legislation and Trends
    • Regulatory Compliance, Investigations and Enforcement
    • Wetlands, Species and Federal Environmental Review

A full set of the written

Below are summaries of the key California and Ninth Circuit land use and development law cases decided in 2021.

1.  Planning and Zoning

CHEVRON v. COUNTY OF MONTEREY
70 Cal. App. 5th 153 (2021)

A county ordinance enacted by initiative effectively banned new oil and gas wells and use of wastewater injection (“fracking”) as part of extraction operations. The court held that these measures were preempted by Public Resources Code § 3106, which vests the State of California’s Oil and Gas Supervisor with exclusive authority to decide whether to permit an oil and gas drilling operation or the use of wastewater injection in such operations, leaving no room for local regulation. The court noted that its holding did not affect local regulation of the location of oil drilling operations, a matter not addressed by Section 3106 or the ordinance.

PEOPLE v. VENICE SUITES
71 Cal. App. 5th 715 (2021)

The State of California brought action alleging that the owner of an apartment building was illegally operating a hotel or transient occupancy structure in a building permitted to operate only as an apartment house for long-term tenants. The court held that the Los Angeles Municipal Code did not implicitly prevent an apartment house from being used for short-term occupancies of 30 days or less. The court reasoned that (1) a long-term occupancy requirement for apartment houses could not be inferred from definitions in a later-enacted section of the Code limiting transient occupancy structures to occupancies of 30 days or less and (2) the Code governing apartment houses could not be read in conjunction with either the rent stabilization ordinance or the transient occupancy tax ordinance to require long-term occupancy.

SCHREIBER v. CITY OF LOS ANGELES
69 Cal. App. 5th 549 (2021)

The density bonus law (Gov’t Code § 65915) requires cities to grant incentives to projects that provide a specified number of affordable housing units. Plaintiffs challenged the City’s grant of certain incentives to a project on the ground that the City had failed to require the applicant to provide financial documentation proving that the incentives were required to make the project “economically feasible” as required by a local ordinance. The court held that the referenced ordinance conflicted with Section 65915, which required the City, not the applicant, to bear the burden of proof justifying denial of a requested incentive. The local ordinance was accordingly preempted by Section 65915.

2. Coastal Act

KRACKE v. CITY OF SANTA BARBARA
63 Cal. App. 5th 1089 (2021)

In 2015, the City of Santa Barbara directed its staff to regulate short-term rentals as hotels, effectively banning short-term rentals in most residential areas. The court held that the City’s change in policy required Coastal Commission approval because it constituted a “development,” altering the intensity of use and access to land and water in the coastal zone. To proceed, the City would need to obtain a coastal development permit, an amendment to its certified local coastal program, or an amendment waiver. This decision reinforced that restrictions on short-term vacation rentals in the coastal zone—whether by a private entity or a local government—are subject to the Coastal Act and must be approved by the Coastal Commission.

LENT v. CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION
62 Cal. App. 5th 812 (2021)

The court upheld a Coastal Commission penalty of $4,185,000 on Malibu homeowners who refused to remove structures that blocked a public access easement granted to the Commission by a prior owner of the home. The homeowners claimed the penalty violated their due-process rights because it was over four times the amount recommended by Commission staff. The court ruled that due process did not mandate advance notice of the exact penalty the agency intended to impose so long as the agency provided adequate notice of the maximum amount of the possible penalty, which it did in this case. The court also found that the penalty did not amount to an excessive fine under the state or federal constitutions because the homeowners had a high degree of culpability—evidenced by their willful refusal to remove the structures—and their conduct effectively barred access to a beach that was part of a three-mile stretch of the coast with no other public access.
Continue Reading 2021 Land Use and Development Law Case Summaries

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

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