A federal judge has ordered the City of Half Moon Bay to pay a landowner $36.8 million for transforming his 24-acre property into an unbuildable wetland.

District Court Judge Vaughn Walker determined that a city drainage project constituted a taking of developer Charles Keenan's property by making the land unbuildable under environmental regulations. With an annual budget about one-third the size of the damages award, the city will appeal the decision, possibly on the ground that Judge Walker did not have jurisdiction. Keenan did not press his taking claim in state court first.

During the 1980s, the city built a storm drain system for the area that — possibly by accident — turned the private property into what Walker called a "bathtub." Through a trustee, Keenan bought the property in 1993 and has battled the city ever since over a proposed 85-lot subdivision. The city and Keenan have been to the appellate level in state court twice over environmental regulations. In 2003, the First District Court of Appeal ruled that the Coastal Commission did not have jurisdiction over a previously approved coastal development permit for the subdivision (City of Half Moon Bay v. Superior Court, 106 Cal.App.4th 795; see CP&DR Legal Digest, April 2003). Two years later, the same court in an unpublished ruling concluded the property is indeed a wetlands — a decision that led to the federal takings lawsuit.

Keenan has indicated he is willing to settle the case, possibly by accepting development rights to property elsewhere in town. The case is Yamagiwa v. City of Half Moon Bay, No. 05-4149VRW.

Placer County has sued former Planning Commissioner Michelle Ollar-Burris for fraud, violating her fiduciary obligations as a planning commissioner and unfair business practices. County supervisors removed Ollar-Burris from the Planning Commission in June 2007, after the Sacramento Bee revealed that she and four associates skirted the Subdivision Map Act while dividing land into new rural housing neighborhoods east of Auburn (see CP&DR In Brief, July 2007).

The county's suit coincided with the release of a county investigative report that said Ollar-Burris and her associates had actually created six subdivisions without ever going through the Subdivision Map Act process. One 59-acre parcel near Weimar, for example, became 13 parcels through a series of sales transactions and parcel map filings.

An Auburn real estate broker, Ollar-Burris has denied any wrongdoing and says she is the victim of a political vendetta.

The City of San Diego and the San Diego Association of Governments have sued California State University over a San Diego State University master plan adopted in November 2007. The city and SANDAG contend the university is not paying its fair share to mitigate transportation impacts of the plan, which is aimed at increasing enrollment from 25,000 to 35,000 full-time students.

The plan commits the university to funding $6.4 million in off-campus street improvements and asking Caltrans for an additional $10.1 million for freeway work. But the city says the university should commit $21.8 million for street and freeway improvements, and SANDAG says the university should fund millions of dollars of trolley and bus service upgrades.

"It's an honest disagreement over what's required by CEQA, and we welcome the opportunity to address that in court," San Diego State spokesman Jack Beresford told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Humboldt County supervisors have backed away from a proposal to require a conditional use permit for construction of a house on land designated timber production zone (TPZ). Supervisors had been headed toward the new requirement in part because Pacific Lumber Company's plan to emerge from bankruptcy calls for selling a 21,800-acre subdivision of 160-acre parcels on TPZ land (see CP&DR Environment Watch, November 2007).

Property owners strongly objected, and in December the Board of Supervisors decided to place the issue of TPZ regulations into a 7-year-old general plan update process.

A $400 million flood control project to protect Sacramento's Natomas Basin has been approved by the Sacramento Area Flood Control Authority. The project involves raising 25 miles of Sacramento levees by up to three feet and building an adjacent 300-foot-wide "piggyback levee." The project is intended to provide 200-year flood protection to 70,000 residents who now lack even the federal minimum 100-year protection.

Yet the project still must be approved by the State Reclamation Board and the Army Corps of Engineers, and a group of landowners who fear they will lose homes and property to the project is threatening to sue.

In September, the Federal Emergency Management Agency rejected Sacramento's request to allow continued development in the Natomas basin before 100-year protection is provided.