Legal Digest


Carson May Deny Mobile Home Subdivision Based on General Plan Inconsistency, Court Rules

In a split decision, the Second District Court of Appeal has ruled that the City of Carson acted properly in denying the subdivision of a mobile home park because this change in ownership structure was inconsistent with the general plan by placing at risk wetlands within the park, which were reclaimed from contaminated oil friends and are called out in the open space element of the city’s general plan.

The Second District’s ruling in Carson Harbor Village v. City of Carson is the latest ruling in the lengthy litigation between the mobile home park and the city over whether to permit the mobile home park to subdivide its property and require mobile home tenants to own their individual lots. Mobile home residents typical own the mobile home but rent the property on which it sits, which is often subject to a municipal rent control ordinance. Mobile home park owners have fought back using a wide variety of tactics, including the proposed subdivision of their property.

 In a previous unpublished decision, Carson Harbor Vill., Ltd. v. City of Carson (Apr. 30, 2010, B211777), the Second District ruled that the city could not deny the mobile home subdivision based on inconsistency with the general plan. However, in 2012 the California Supreme Court ruled in Pacific Palisades Bowl Mobile Estates, LLC v. City of Los Angeles, 55 Cal.4th 783, that mobile home subdivisions are subject to both the Coastal Act and the Mello Act. The Second District reversed its earlier decision based on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Pacific Palisades. 

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Cal Supremes Agree to Hear Banning, Newhall Ranch Cases

The California Supreme Court has agreed to hear two important planning and development cases – one involving Banning Ranch in Newport Beach and one involving the seemingly endless Newhall Ranch project. 

Was Supreme Court's Ruling on Sign Ordinance Over-Broad?

Cities' ability to control their streets' aesthetics may be affected by a June 18 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on content-based regulation of signage, but perhaps not as drastically as they had feared. 

In Reed v. Town of Gilbert, a six-justice majority of the high court applied strict scrutiny to a local "sign code" that restricted "temporary directional signs" based on their content. However, as the American Planning Association noted, a partly overlapping group of six justices joined in more cautious concurrences that sought to moderate the effects of the main ruling. And even the majority opinion offered reassurance that "Our decision today will not prevent governments from enacting effective sign laws." 

The case concerned a church that held services at varying borrowed locations in the town of Gilbert, Arizona. The church would post signs early each Saturday pointing out the site of the next Sunday service. Town officials regulated these signs under a special legal category for "temporary directional signs" specific to events of religious or nonprofit groups. The category limited the size and frequency of such signs and allowed them to be posted for only 12 hours before each event and one hour after it. 

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There Was No Way the Builders Were Going to Win the San Jose Case

Yesterday’s landmark ruling by the California Supreme Court upholding San Jose’s inclusionary housing ordinance was rightly hailed as a huge victory for affordable housing advocates. But the truth is that the ruling shouldn’t be viewed as a surprise. It was a very difficult case for the building industry to win – at least the way the industry’s lawyers has set the case up. 

And along the way, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye plowed some very powerful ground. She hoisted Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on his own petard by quoting his opinion in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, 483 U.S. 825 (1987), to support her conclusion. And she basically invalidated a key portion of Building Industry Assn. of Central California v. City of Patterson (2009) 171 Cal.App.4th 886, which struck down Patterson’s inclusionary ordinance

Ruling for a unanimous court, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye concluded that the San Jose’s inclusionary housing ordinance is not an exaction imposed on housing developers but rather a land-use restriction no different than a zoning ordinance – or, for that matter, rent control. “This condition does not require the developer to dedicate any portion of its property to the public or to pay any money to the public.  Instead, like many other land use regulations, this condition simply places a restriction on the way the developer may use its property by limiting the price for which the developer may offer some of its units for sale,” she wrote. 

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South-Central Burger Stand Is a Nuisance, Appellate Court Rules

A South-Central Los Angeles fast-food establishment constituted a public nuisance that merited additional restrictions on its operations, the Second District Court of Appeal has ruled.

The City of Los Angeles determined that Tam’s Burgers No. 6 – located at Figueroa and 101st Street – constituted a public nuisance even though the burger stand’s owners claimed most of the problems arose from the fact that the burger stand was located in a high-crime neighborhood. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert O’Brien ruled in favor of the city and the Second District, Division Five, upheld O’Brien’s decision.

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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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