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