Constructing a golf course is a legitimate use of public parkland, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled. The court ruled against an Orange County citizens group that alleged the county government was improperly using land dedicated for a park.
At issue was Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley, a World War II military airfield that the county acquired from the federal government in 1973. The terms of the sale required the county to keep the 507-acre tract around the former runways for park and recreational uses. While leasing the land prior to purchasing it, the county had constructed a golf course on part of the site. During the 1980s, the county built a second golf course.
In the early 1990s, the county purchased the remaining 137 acres of the former airfield, which the county had previously leased and left open to the public. The purchase of this "core area" came with an unrestricted title, and the county said it would develop "a mix of traditional commercial recreational uses."
The county then undertook an extensive planning process that involved 17 public meetings and preparation of an environmental impact report. In May 1999, the Board of Supervisors decided to build a golf course, sports fields and a nature center on the core area.
An organization called Save Mile Square Park Committee (SMSPC) sued. The group argued that the county was developing park property for non-park purposes without providing a replacement park or funds for a replacement, in violation of Public Resources Code § 5401. The group also alleged due process violations under the Federal Civil Rights Act.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Eileen Moore issued summary judgment for the county, and a three-judge panel of the Fourth District, Division Three, unanimously upheld the decision.
The case turned on the determination of what is a permissible use of parkland. The citizens group said that a golf course might be a proper use but that in this case the proposed golf course would displace hobbyists who have used the core area for years to fly model airplanes, landsail, walk, and ride bicycles.
In his opinion, Justice William Bedsworth said he could find no California cases that address whether a golf course is a legitimate park use. However, some out-of-state rulings have concluded a golf course is a park use. He also pointed to definitions of a park found in San Vicente Etc. Sch. v. County of L.A., (1956) 147 Cal.App2d, 79, and to the California Wildlife, Coastal and Park Land Conservation Act. San Vicente says a park "is a pleasure ground set apart of recreation of the public, to promote its health and enjoyment." The conservation act calls a park "a tract of land … to be used by the public as a place for rest, recreation, education, exercise, inspiration and enjoyment." The court held that either definition fits a golf course.
"It is apparent that the real dispute is over how the core area of Mile Square Park should be used — not whether golf is a park purpose," Bedsworth wrote. "SMSPC's complaint is political, not legal. And were we to accede to it, we would be taking on the role of a three-person Legislature."
Whether or not the decision to build a golf course was wise, it was entirely legal, the court held.
As for the due process claims, the court shot those down quickly. The citizens group argued it had a right to use the parkland and that the county took the right without due process. But the court ruled that the site remains parkland, and the "imagined right" did not exist.
Save Mile Square Park Committee v. County of Orange, No. G027787, 01 C.D.O.S. 8913, 01 DJDAR 11083. Filed October 16, 2001
For SMSPC: Vincent Goodwin, Goodwin & Wynen, (714) 565-1918.
For the county: Stephen Martino, Madory, Zell & Pleiss, (714) 832-3772.
In the clearest decision to date on antiquated subdivisions, the First District Court of Appeal has ruled that subdivision maps recorded prior to the first version of the Subdivision Map Act in 1893 do not create legal parcels.
When taking property by eminent domain, a city does not have to pay for the property's value as a potential garbage dump, the Third District Court of Appeal has ruled. The court held that the farmland's value as a landfill was too speculative under eminent domain law.
The City of Palm Springs has agreed to pay $1.2 million to a conservation organization because the city built a golf course on land donated to the city as desert preserve. The settlement apparently ends the protracted litigation between the city and the Living Desert Reserve of Palm Desert.
An Orange County Superior Court judge has reversed a portion of a $94.5 million judgment against the City of San Diego in an inverse condemnation case. Judge Raymond Ikola approved the city's request for a new trial on $29.2 million worth of damages related to breach of contract, but he upheld a jury's remaining $65.3 million award to businessman Roque de la Fuente II.
The validity of a growth-control initiative in Alameda County has been upheld by a trial court. Superior Court Judge James Richardson in October issued final orders in a case filed by homebuilders over Measure D, which voters approved in November 2000 (see CP&DR, December 2000).
Farmers in the Klamath Basin of far northern California and southern Oregon have filed a $1 billion takings lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation over the government's decision to greatly reduce water delivery to farms in the area (see CP&DR Environment Watch, October 2001).
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has allowed members of the building industry to intervene in a lawsuit that environmentalists filed regarding the San Diego Multi-Species Conservation Program (MSCP).
The state Supreme Court has agreed hear to an unusual case from the Sonoma County city of Cotati that involves both mobile home rent control and an alleged strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP).
An environmental assessment of a 5,000-acre federal land exchange in Las Vegas did not sufficiently address the question of the cumulative air-quality impacts of developing the property, a three-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled. The court held that federal officials may be required to prepare an environmental impact statement.
A city resolution restricting parking on certain residential streets to residents with parking permits was categorically exempt from environmental review, the Second District Court of Appeal has ruled.
An exemption to the California Environmental Quality Act for construction of a sea wall below two houses has been upheld by the Fourth District Court of Appeal. The court ruled that the potential collapse of a bluff could threaten public safety and qualified for an emergency exemption under CEQA.
In a case that touched on redevelopment law, the California Environmental Quality Act and general plan compatibility, an appellate court has upheld San Francisco's handling of a project on the site of the historic Emporium department store.