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Developers' Challenge To L.A. Design Guidelines Fails

A state appellate court has upheld the adoption of design guidelines that are intended to implement a City of Los Angeles redevelopment plan.

PR/JSM Rivara LLC v. Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles involves adoption by the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles, and the city (collectively, the "city") of design guidelines for the North Hollywood redevelopment project area in September 2007. A developer in the project area, PR/JSM Rivara challenged the guidelines on the grounds the guidelines illegally reduced the maximum allowable densities in the commercial portion of the project area. In other words, the developers claimed their property was down zoned. The developers also argued the city improperly rezoned the properties without complying with the Planning and Zoning Law. Clearly, the developers' interest in this case was preserving their right to build at densities contained in the city's zoning ordinance.

The trial court denied the developers relief, finding that the densities within the project area were set years ago when the redevelopment plan was amended in 1997. Thus, the time to challenge those densities had long expired. The lower court also rejected the argument that the design guidelines acted as a de facto amendment to the zoning code.

The Second District Court of Appeal upheld the lower court's ruling. In doing so, the Second District first gave an overview of redevelopment law. The court explained why the adopted guidelines are not a zoning ordinance within the Planning and Zoning Law, and emphasized the difference between adopting a redevelopment plan (a legislative act) and implementing one (an administrative act). If the guidelines were found to be a zoning ordinance, then the Planning and Zoning Law requires public notice and a hearing prior to adoption. While redevelopment law also requires certain procedures for adopting or amending a redevelopment plan, the court found that there were no provisions in either redevelopment law or the Planning and Zoning Law that required public notice and a hearing prior to the administrative act of implementing a redevelopment plan. Because the guidelines were merely implementing the plan, public notice and a hearing were not required prior to adoption.

The court further determined the developers had not provided any evidence as to how the guidelines were inconsistent with the city's general plan despite the court's admission that developer had demonstrated that provisions of the guidelines and general plan were different with respect to certain land uses.

In rejecting the developers' contention that the guidelines conflicted with the state's density bonus law, the court paid particular attention to the declaration of the city's regional administrator. She averred that the discretionary density bonus plan in the guidelines would not interfere with the state law. In addition, the court said that developers could not point to contrary evidence. The court further noted that because the city's municipal code allows a redevelopment plan to contain a base density lower than the maximum allowable residential density under the zoning code, the developers failed to prove they were entitled to the density set by the zoning code. Finally, the court hammered the proverbial nail in the coffin on this issue when it found that the decision to impose the density regulations was completed in 1997, when the redevelopment plan was amended. Thus, the statute of limitations to challenge density expired a decade earlier.

Lastly, the court held the developer's California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) claims were time-barred. In doing so, the court held that, contrary to developers' contentions, the notice of determination filed by the city on October 26, 2007, was sufficient. The statute of limitations for filing a CEQA claim expired on November 25, 2007. The developers did not file their lawsuit until the following month.

The Case:
PR/JSM Rivara, LLC v. Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles, No. B213051, 2010 DJDAR 622. Filed December 17, 2009. Ordered published January 13, 2010.
The Lawyers:
For PR/JSM Rivara: Matthew Hinks, Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro, (310) 203-8080.
For the city: Deborah Fox, Meyers, Nave, Riback, Silver & Wilson, (213) 626-2906.

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