The California Supreme Court has accepted two more land use cases, one involving a habitat conservation plan for North Coast redwood forests and one involving the red-hot issue of eminent domain.
Additionally, the court has dismissed a fee case from the City of Encinitas and, in April, it heard oral arguments in a case involving the level of regulation a county may impose on logging operations.
The environmental case headed to the state’s high court involves the 10-year-old Headwaters Forest deal, in which the state and federal governments paid Pacific Lumber Company (PALCO) $480 million for about 7,000 acres of old growth redwood forest. The complex deal also called for PALCO to adopt a habitat conservation plan (HCP) for its remaining 200,000 acres in Humboldt County, which the company is logging.
Environmentalists sued over the HCP and related “incidental take” permits, arguing that the habitat plan failed to include sufficient steps to offset harm to rare species. They also argued that the HCP’s “no-surprises” assurance violated endangered species laws because it prohibits the Department of Fish & Game from imposing additional species mitigation measures for 50 years. Environmentalists also challenged the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s approval of a sustained yield timber production plan for PALCO, and various state agency findings issued under the California Environmental Quality Act (see CP&DR Local Watch, March 2006).
A trial court judge ruled for environmentalists, but the First District Court of Appeal in December 2005 overturned the lower court and upheld virtually all PALCO permits and plans. The 84-page decision was one of the first published opinions upholding the no-surprises rule.
The case is Environmental Protection Information Center v. California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection, No. S140547.
The eminent domain case actually concerns damages to which a property owner is entitled because of a public water project. In 1997, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California filed an eminent domain action against Campus Crusade for Christ to accommodate a 12-foot diameter pipeline carrying water to Diamond Valley Lake, near Hemet. The Met filed suit to place 18.7 acres of permanent easement and 27.4 acres of temporary construction easements for seven years across the historic Arrowhead Springs property just north of San Bernardino. Campus Crusade owns the 1,800-acre property and has been planning major development on the mostly undeveloped land.
After extensive negotiations, the Met ultimately offered to pay $3.5 million. Campus Crusade insisted the Met pay $12.5 million for the property interests and damages. Campus Crusade argued that the Met should provide compensation for delays in Campus Crusade’s development plans, the loss of mature trees and the possibility of an earthquake-caused pipeline rupture.
San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge John Wade refused to let Campus Crusade present much of its evidence and ultimately awarded the group only $479,000 in damages. The Fourth District Court of Appeal found that Wade made numerous errors and sent the case back for a new trial. Instead, the case is headed to the state Supreme Court. The case is Metropolitan Water District v. Campus Crusade for Christ, No. S141148.
The case recently dismissed by the state high court is Barratt American v. City of Encinitas, No. S123510, which concerns building fees.
In December 2005, the state Supreme Court ruled in Barratt American, Inc. v. City of Rancho Cucamonga, 37 Cal.4th 685, that the developer could challenge building fees contained in a readopted fee schedule (see CP&DR Legal Digest, January 2005). The decision overturned a lower court ruling that the statute of limitations had passed.
In the Encinitas case, an appellate court had ruled that Barratt American could contest building fees that had been adopted years earlier because the city had made no provision for public review of automatic fee increases (see CP&DR Legal Digest, April 2004). The litigation now heads back to Superior Court for a decision on the merits of Barratt American’s claims.
The recently argued case is Big Creek Lumber v. County of Santa Cruz, No. S123659, which concerns how far counties may go in regulating the conduct and location of timber harvest operations. Two years ago, an appeals court essentially overturned a landmark 1995 decision that limited a county’s regulatory authority. A state Supreme Court decision is due by early July.