A court could properly direct a city council to correct internal inconsistencies in its general plan resulting from adoption of an initiative.  Denham, LLC v. City of Richmond, 41 Cal. App. 5th 340 (2019).

The Richmond City Council adopted an initiative, approved by 10 % of the City’s voters, without alteration in accordance with Elections

An appellate court held that the City of Los Angeles’s procedure for approval or denial of development projects in Venice did not violate residents’ due process rights because the procedure was ministerial. Venice Coalition to Preserve Unique Community Character v. City of Los Angeles, No. B285295 (2nd Dist., Jan. 9, 2019).

The City uses two different but parallel processes to approve development projects in Venice. The first is pursuant to the Venice specific plan, which was adopted to implement the polices of the City’s general plan. To comply with the specific plan, projects must either undergo a project permit compliance review or obtain a determination that the project is exempt from such review. The specific plan gives the Director of Planning the ability to issue a “Venice Sign-Off” or “VSO” for certain small development projects, such as construction and demolition of four or fewer residential units not located on certain pedestrian-friendly streets. A VSO exempts the project from a project permit compliance review. The Director first determines if a project is in a category eligible for a VSO. If the project is eligible, then the Director determines whether it meets specific, fixed development requirements based on the project’s location. A project that meets those requirements is exempt from permit compliance review.

Venice, Los Angeles

The second process involves the Coastal Act, which applies to all development in Venice. To comply with the Coastal Act, the project must either receive a Coastal Development Permit or qualify for an exemption from the CDP requirement.
Continue Reading Court Upholds Los Angeles’s Venice Sign-Off Procedure Against Due Process and Coastal Act Challenges

The Ninth Circuit held that the City of Carson’s mobile home rent control board’s decision not to factor in debt service increases in its adjustment of a rental rate for a mobile home park did not result in a regulatory taking of the mobile home park owner’s property. Colony Cove Props., LLC v. City of Carson, 888 F.3d 445 (9th Cir. 2018)

The plaintiff purchased a $23 million rent-controlled mobile home park in the City of Carson, $18 million of which was financed through a loan.  When the plaintiff acquired the property, the City Rent Review Board’s application review guidelines required the Board to consider certain expenses submitted by property owners against the property’s income to determine what rents would give the owner a fair return on their investment. At the time the plaintiff purchased the property, these expenses included debt service, which are interest payments made on a loan to purchase the rent-controlled property.  Subsequently, the City revised its guidelines for considering rent increases and the City’s new rent control formula no longer factored in debt service expenses.

The plaintiff twice petitioned the city’s Rent Review Board for a several hundred-dollar rent adjustment, per space. Applying the new guidelines, the City only granted a rent increase of $36.74.  The plaintiff sued the City, contending the Board’s decision was an unconstitutional taking. The jury awarded the plaintiff over $3 million in damages and the City appealed the decision.
Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Holds that Rent Control Board’s Denial of a Mobile Home Owner’s Request for Rent Increase Is Not an Unconstitutional Taking 

The Second District Court of Appeal upheld the City of Los Angeles’s General Plan amendment, which changed the land use designation of a proposed project site for a mixed-use development against challenges the decision was prohibited by the City Charter. Westsiders Opposed v. City of Los Angeles, 27 Cal. App. 5th 1079 (2018).

The developers filed a permit application with the City for the project, which consisted of the demolition of an automobile dealership and construction of an 800,000 square foot mixed-use project on a five-acre site in West Los Angeles that would include 516 residential units, 99,000 square feet of retail floor area, and 200,000 square feet of office floor area.  Project approval required a General Plan amendment, a zoning amendment, multiple conditional use permits, a development agreement, and an environmental impact report. The City Council adopted ordinances approving the General Plan amendment and the project.

Plaintiffs challenged the approvals, alleging 1) the City Charter bars amending the General Plan for a single project site or single parcel, 2) the Charter bars the City from allowing a member of the public to initiate a General Plan amendment, and 3) the City failed to make the required findings.

Under the Charter, the General Plan may be amended by “geographic areas” that have a “significant social, economic or physical identity.”  The plaintiffs contended that a “geographic area” must be larger than a single lot and the Project site therefore did not qualify as a geographic area with significant or special identity.  Relying on principles of statutory construction, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument and concluded that the Charter did not limit the amendment process to a minimum area or number of parcels and that the court was “prohibited from implying any such limitation or restriction on the City’s exercise of its power to govern municipal matters.”  The court concluded the City did not violate the Charter by amending the General Plan designation for a single parcel because the Charter did not clearly restrict the City’s power to do so.
Continue Reading Court Upholds the City of Los Angeles’s General Plan Amendment for Mixed Use Development Project

The court of appeal held that the plaintiff’s challenge to the City of Rohnert Park’s reapproval of a Wal-Mart grocery store was barred by the doctrine of res judicata because a prior proceeding had raised the same issues.  Atwell v. City of Rohnert Park (Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.), 27 Cal. App. 5th 692 (2018).

In 2010, the City approved the Wal-Mart project.  Following the City’s approval, the Sierra Club and Sonoma County Conservation Action (SCCA) filed a petition challenging the project on grounds that it violated CEQA and conflicted with the City’s General Plan Policy LU-7.  Policy LU-7 sought to “encourage new neighborhood commercial facilities and supermarkets to be located to maximize accessibility to all residential areas. … to ensure that convenient shopping facilities such as supermarkets and drugstores are located close to where people live and facilitate access to these on foot or on bicycles … this policy will encourage dispersion of supermarkets rather than their clustering in a few locations.”

While the plaintiffs in the 2010 proceeding alleged that the project conflicted with Policy LU-7 in their petition, the plaintiffs did not pursue the claim during the proceeding.  The trial court ultimately granted the petition on the CEQA claims and ordered that the resolutions approving the Project be vacated, and that the Project be remanded for additional environmental review with respect to traffic and noise impacts.

The City prepared a revised EIR;  however, the EIR did not alter the original EIR’s analysis of the project’s consistency with the General Plan.  Following the City’s reapproval of the project in 2015, the plaintiffs filed this current proceeding challenging the project’s consistency with Policy LU-7.  The trial court denied the petition finding that the petition was barred by the 2010 proceeding under the doctrine of res judicata.

The doctrine of res judicata applies where a claim or issue raised in the present action is identical to a claim or issue litigated in a prior proceeding, the prior proceeding resulted in a final judgment on the merits, and the party against whom the doctrine is being asserted was a party or in privity with a party to the prior proceedings.
Continue Reading Court of Appeal Holds that Petition Challenging Wal-Mart Project is Barred by Earlier Lawsuit Raising the Same Issues

The California Supreme Court has unanimously denied an effort by the City of Orange to defend its approvals for a residential development project despite an intervening public vote that rejected a general plan amendment the city had passed to advance the project. By later attempting to make an “administrative correction” to its general plan, the

The City of Modesto’s General Plan includes a policy providing that certain neighborhoods “should” include a “7-9 acre neighborhood shopping center, containing 60,000 to 100,000 square feet.” The Fifth District Court of Appeal upheld against challenge the city’s determination that development of an approximately 170,000 square foot shopping center on about 18 acres in one

Giving a green light to construction of a new bridge in the historic Balboa Park, a court has reaffirmed a city’s discretion to interpret and apply its own general plan and zoning ordinances notwithstanding conflicts with specific general plan policies protecting historic resources. Save Our Heritage Organization v. City of San Diego et al., No. D063992 (4th Dist., May 28, 2015).

The Balboa Park bridge project includes a new bypass bridge and paid parking garage, allowing the main portion of Balboa Park to return to a vehicle-free zone, but adversely affecting a significant historic resource in the park. Opponents challenged the project, raising several issues regarding consistency with applicable land-use plans.

The San Diego Municipal Code requires that permits for site development “not adversely affect the applicable land use plan.” The opponents argued that because the project conflicted with several policies protecting historic resources in the City’s general plan, the project would necessarily have adverse effects on the plan. Rejecting this interpretation, the Court of Appeal held that projects need not conform to all policies of a land use plan but have to generally be “in agreement or harmony.” The City’s findings acknowledged inconsistencies with several general plan policies, but concluded that the project “would not adversely affect the General Plan and the project as a whole would be consistent with several of the goals and policies of San Diego General Plan.” Noting the great deference accorded a local agency’s determination of consistency with its own general plan, the court concluded that substantial evidence supported the City’s finding that the project would be consistent with a majority of the applicable goals and policies.
Continue Reading Court Defers to San Diego’s Approval of Bridge in Balboa Park