A billboard company jumped the gun when it claimed two of its proposed signs were "deemed approved" because of delays by the City of Los Angeles, the Second District Court of Appeal has ruled. The unanimous three-judge panel upheld a trial court's dismissal of a lawsuit filed by Eller Media Company.
In April, May and June of 1999, Eller filed three applications for permits to construct three separate billboards in Los Angeles. The third application received approval, but the first two were referred to the city's Community Redevelopment Agency because the sites are in the Hollywood Redevelopment Plan area. When the CRA had not made a decision on the applications by October 25, 1999, Eller filed a lawsuit claiming that the applications were "deemed approved" under the Permit Streamlining Act (PSA).
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs dismissed the lawsuit, and Eller appealed.
The Second District explained that the Permit Streamlining Act (Gov. Code § 65920 et seq.) limits the time for final approval or rejection of applications based on the environmental review process. A public agency must decide on a project within 180 days of certification of an environmental impact report, or within 60 days of adoption of a negative declaration or the determination of CEQA exemption.
But Eller did not wait for environmental determinations before filing the lawsuit. Prior to Judge Janavs's ruling, the CRA issued initial studies for both billboard applications. The CRA recommended a supplemental EIR be prepared for a sign proposed on Sunset Boulevard, and a mitigated negative declaration, with project modifications, for a sign proposed on Cahuenga Boulevard.
"Until the Supplemental EIR was prepared for the Sunset sign, or the Mitigated Negative Declaration issued for the Cahuenga sign, the time for approval or disapproval pursuant to the PSA did not begin to run," Judge Norman Epstein wrote for the court. "Appellant [Eller] therefore cannot state a cause of action establishing a right to have its applications deemed approved pursuant to § 65956, subdivision (b)."
The court also rejected Eller's contention that the city's failure to prepare initial studies within a time required by CEQA Guidelines also supported the "deemed approved" claim. Epstein wrote: "Allegations that the CEQA determinations were not performed in a timely manner are not sufficient to state a cause of action for ‘deemed approval' of the applications."
Eller Media Company v. City of Los Angeles, No. B142004, 01 C.D.O.S. 2324, 2001 Daily Journal D.A.R. 2903, filed March 21, 2001.
For Eller: Richard Hamlin, (310) 822-2676.
For the city: John Cotti, deputy city attorney, (213) 847-0564.
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