The California Supreme Court has accepted a case in which a deal between the State Lands Commission and the City of Long Beach was halted by an appellate court.

At issue is a complicated land swap. Nearly 100 years ago, the city acquired tidelands from the state. By law, tidelands are covered by the “public trust doctrine” and can have limited, public uses. Over time, the city filled in the tidelands, which lie between downtown and the waterfront.

The property in question is three acres of filled tidelands, on which the city sought retail development as part of a major redevelopment project. The city in 2001 approved a multi-screen cinema, an arcade and other retail uses on the site.

Project opponents argued that the development, known as Pike at Rainbow Harbor, violated the public trust doctrine. The State Lands Commission suggested that it agreed with the project opponents. So the Commission removed the three acres from the public trust and, in exchange, placed 10 acres of city-owned land along the Los Angeles River in the public trust. Project opponents sued, and the Third District Court of Appeal ruled that the deal violated the state law that permits the exchange of land covered by the tidelands public trust doctrine (see CP&DR Legal Digest, July 2005).

The city and Developers Diversified Realty, which built Pike at Rainbow Harbor, appealed to the Supreme Court. The court has framed the question before it this way: “Does Public Resources Code § 6307 permit an exchange of land only when the exchange will serve any of the trust purposes designated in the statute with respect to the land that is currently subject to the public trust, or does the statute also permit an exchange when the exchange will serve any of the designated purposes with respect to the land that is to be acquired and that will become subject to the public trust as a result of the exchange?”

The case is California Earth Corps v. State Lands Commission, No. S134300. Opening briefs are due this month.