Legal Digest

 

Santa Clara Water Pump Charge Didn't Violate Prop. 218, Court Rules

In a case that would appear on its face to conflict with a different appellate ruling filed just two weeks ago, the Sixth District Court of Appeal has ruled that a groundwater pump charge is a property-related charge subject to Proposition 218. 

However, the court also ruled that the pump charge issued by the Santa Clara Valley Water District is also a fee and therefore is exempt from some of Proposition 218’s  requirements. The facts are very case-specific and the underlying statute is different from the one considered in City of San Buenaventura v. United Water Conservation District, which ruled that a groundwater pump charge is a fee and not a property-related charge.

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Bias Councilmember Should Not Have Been Permitted to Appeal Permit Decision, Court Rules

The City of Newport Beach improperly permitted a councilmember who was openly opposed to a bar’s permit to appeal the planning commission’s decision granting the permit and to vote on the permit appeal, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled. The appellate court also ruled that the trial court should not have granted the city a preliminary injunction to block the bar from operating under the permit approved by the planning commission.

On the question of whether the councilmember should have been permitted to appeal the permit, the appellate court wrote sharply: “The city council violated the rules laid down in the city’s own municipal code, then purported to exempt itself from that code by invoking some previously undocumented custom of ignoring those rules when it comes to council members themselves.”

Regarding the preliminary injunction, the court wrote: “It is hard to maintain the city’s actions were likely to be upheld when it had no authority to act in the first place.”

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Groundwater Pump Charges Not Subject To Propositions 13 and 26, Court Rules

United Water Conservation District may charge urban water users higher groundwater pumping fees than agricultural users, the Second District Court of Appeal has ruled. The court concluded that the fees are not property-based and therefore not subject to Proposition 13. In addition, the court concluded that the pumping fees fall under one of Proposition 26’s exceptions, saying that the pump fees represent “payor-specific benefits” not subject to Prop. 26’s requirements. 

The City of Ventura sued United over the fact that the district charges the city fees that are three to five times that of agricultural users, as permitted in the state Water Code. United manages groundwater in a large area in western Ventura County. Historically, United relied on property tax revenue water delivery charges. But after the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, United began charging customers for pumping the groundwater. Pump charges are governed by Water Code Section 75522, which permits United to charge different rates for agricultural and non-agricultural users and also permits United to separate its service area into different zones. 

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Sacramento Did Not Commit to Downtown Arena Ahead of EIR, Appellate Court Rules

In a ruling critical to moving forward Sacramento’s downtown basketball arena, the Third District Court of Appeal has given the City of Sacramento a clean win in a wide-ranging CEQA challenge brought by a group of individual environmentalists.

Most significantly, the appellate court found that the city did not violate the California Environmental Quality Act by committing itself to a downtown arena site prior to the completion of the environmental impact report and did not have to consider the site of the existing Sleep Train Arena in Natomas in its alternatives analysis.

Mendocino County Timber Plan Upheld by Court

The First District Court of Appeal has upheld Calfire’s Nonindustrial Timber Management Plan to permit logging of a 17-acre parcel of land in Mendocino County. The First District also rejected the Center for Biological Diversity’s claim that the California Department of Fish & Wildlife can be sued under the California Environmental Quality Act over its role in the approval of the NMTP.

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Appellate Court Upholds Emeryville's Post-Redevelopment Agreements

In an important victory for local governments, the Third District Court of Appeal has ruled that the state Department of Finance improperly rejected Emeryville’s action to re-enter into several redevelopment agreements with its successor agency.

The case is perhaps the first big win in the post-redevelopment era for local governments, which have battled DOF daily since the elimination of redevelopment three years ago. 

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Appellate Court Upholds Coastal Commission's Tough Stance on Encinitas Seawall

In a split decision, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has upheld the Coastal Commission’s conditions on two property owners’ reconstruction of a seawall in Encinitas after it was destroyed in a storm, including limiting the new seawall’s permit to a 20-year term.

Court review announcements: Priceline hotel case goes to State Supreme Court, and more

The California Supreme Court has agreed to review an appellate ruling that Priceline, Expedia, Travelocity and similar "online travel companies" (OTCs) did not have to pay San Diego hotel tax on income they derived using a "merchant model" approach to marketing local hotel rooms. The Second District ruled that if an OTC contracts with a hotel for a block of rooms at a fixed wholesale rate, and then retails them to guests at higher prices, then city hotel tax is due only on the wholesale rate, not the difference the OTC receives.

Third District upholds high-speed rail EIR over Peninsula towns' objections

In the latest decision on a long series of legal challenges by Peninsula cities and environment groups to the California High Speed Rail project, the Third District Court of Appeal has upheld the final programmatic environmental impact report for the portion of the project that calls for a route from the Central Valley over the Pacheco Pass into Bay Area suburbia.

Westlands Water District contracts found exempt from CEQA

California's Fifth Appellate District on July 3 upheld the Westlands Water District's 2012 interim renewal contracts for Central Valley Project water from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, finding the changes they represented were exempt from CEQA review sought by environmental groups.

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