Legal news briefs, November 11, 2014: Cell phone towers, Bowman redux, and the La Mirada Ave. Neighborhood Association strikes again
By Martha Bridegam
November 17, 2014
Attorney Robert May of the LA-based Telecom Law Firm writes in the San Francisco Daily Journal that a new order from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could limit local power to regulate cell phone towers. The October 17 FCC approval interprets Sec. 6409 (a) of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 to allow the addition of new equipment within the areas of currently used wireless sites. He writes that new rules will "require local governments to do more, with less information, in a shorter time, or face harsher consequences." Among other rules, the order allows applicants to start construction if they receive no response to a qualifying permit application after 60 days, and allows them to file suit under "Shot Clock" rules when local governments delay responding to an application by "90 to 150 days depending on the application type." Telecom Law Firm has posted detailed analysis and commentary on the ruling at https://telecomlawfirm.com/sec6409/. The FCC announcement is at http://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-boosts-wireless-broadband-easing-infrastructure-burdens. A statement attributed to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says the order responds to the reduced size of recent cell phone technology "by crafting a more efficient process for small deployments and other installations that do no trigger concerns about environmental protection for historic preservation."
The Ninth Circuit upheld a grant of summary judgment against the National Resources Defense Council and local environmental groups in late October, allowing a project to go continue linking the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to the I-405 freeway. The case is NRDC v. USDOT, No. 12-56467.
The Coastal Commission has requested rehearing in the Bowman sisters' case, now formally known as SDS Famly Trust v. CA Coastal Commission. This is the October 2014 Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) victory, reported at http://www.cp-dr.com/articles/node-3607, in which the Second Appellate District reversed itself on rehearing. It allowed daughters who inherited a coastal property from their father to file a fresh application for a coastal development permit, removing the burden of a coastal access easement that had been imposed as a condition for granting a previously sought permit to their father. (The sisters' family trust is known as "SDS", hence the case name.) The PLF noted the review request indignantly on its blog and posted a copy of the request. The request challenges the court's decision to adopt a different version of the facts in October than it had related as part of its first decision in March. The request also challenges the court's October finding that the coastal easement was unfair because it had little to do with the work for which the coastal development permit was sought: renovations and rebuilding to a dilapidated farmstead a mile inland. The review request alleges the court made its more recent decision "based on facts that were different than those before the Commission and a legal theory undeveloped in the record below." It alleges the facts stated by the court "are not only directly contradicted by the record, but are also contrary to SDS's representations" to the Commission and the courts. It asks the court essentially to return to the March fact pattern (see http://www.cp-dr.com/articles/node-3452). That version says the current landowners' father did do some work on the property in anticipation of the first permit, thereby becoming bound by its terms. Further, the review request argues the Court had no right to exercise independent judgment about the fairness of the easement requirement. The Cambrian has local coverage.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia threw out HUD's disparate-impact rule under the Fair Housing Act as of November 3 in American Insurance Association v. HUD. (Opinion may be downloadable here.) As of October 3 the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case of Texas Dept. of Housing v. Inclusive Communities, a Fifth Circuit appellate ruling on the distribution of affordable housing subsidies in Dallas. Forbes has a writeup of the Texas case. (Links to both via HAC News.)
The State Supreme Court has denied review of an appellate ruling against Target Corporation in the recent case of Target Corp v. La Mirada Ave. Neighborhood Association. The LA Weekly reports the request for review concerned Target's request to resume construction of a store on Sunset Boulevard. As described by Curbed LA, the litigation had previously won an October order stopping construction of the store at Sunset and Western Avenue. It's another success for the La Mirada Avenue Neighborhood Association and its counsel, Robert Silverstein. They are profiled in the Weekly article, which includes a catalogue of their recent victories.
The San Diego U-Treported that Superior Court Judge John Meyer upheld a $120 million infrastructure bond issue over a challenge brought by activist litigator Cory Briggs on behalf of San Diegans for Open Government. The paper said Meyer "essentially agreed" with Briggs that the bond issue was structured to avoid a public vote via "subterfuge", but that he ruled, "like it or not, it's legal."
The League of California Cities noted a chance to comment to a State Supreme Court commission on the way California courts are run.
The State Supreme court denied review of several appellate court orders in litigation between the Taxicab Paratransit Association of California and Internet-dispatched transit companies Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. Per the San Francisco Business Times, the taxi association has been suing since last year over the Public Utilities Commission's decision to legalize the "ride sharing" companies. See Supreme Court case numbers S218427, S220982, S218564 and Third Appellate District Case No. C076432, all at http://appellatecases.courtinfo.ca.gov/search.cfm?dist=0.
A writeup by the Nossaman firm discusses U.S.A. v. 1.41 Acres of Land (N.D. Cal. Nov. 10, 2014). This ruling by California's Northern District federal court held the General Services Administration (GSA) could use an eminent domain action to increase the profitability of a sale of federal land, but only under specific disposal statutes, not the general authority of the GSA. The court refused to strike a defense noting that the property already had an access easement, hence didn't need the added land. The GSA had attempted to take a part of McKay Avenue in the town of Alameda, which belonged to the East Bay Regional Park District and adjoined the Crown Beach public park. The parcel to be augmented was vacant waterfront land next to the Alameda Federal Center, being sold to a private developer for $3.075 million. The decision text, placed online by the Nossaman firm, said that after the developer outbid the park district for the property, the city of Alameda zoned the property open-space only. The case goes to trial next October.
In Squires v. City of Eureka, landlords filed suit accusing Eureka city officials of singling them out for harassing code enforcement efforts; the city and individual defendants responded successfully with SLAPP suit motions for dismissal. The First District Court of Appeal upheld the trial court's dismissal in October and published its own decision November 14. The decision is at http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/A138768.PDF.
The California Supreme Court denied review November 12 for an unpublished August decision in Harper v. Canyon Hills Community Association, by the Fourth District Court of Appeal. The ruling held that an aggrieved homeowner in a subdivision had no right to sue her neighbors for an encroaching contruction project based on their alleged violation of conditions, covenants and restrictions of the subdivision homeowners' association. However, the appellate court upheld her claim against the homeowners' association for approving her neighbors' project, overturning a trial-level ruling that she bore the burden of showing the association's board did not act in good faith. The Fourth District ruling is at http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/nonpub/G048445.PDF.
In the case of Union Pacific Railroad v. Santa Fe Pacific Pipelines, the Second Appellate District ordered recalculation of rent rates in litigation pending since 1994 over the rent due from Santa Fe Pacific Pipelines and Kinder Morgan to the Union Pacific Railroad for use of easements allowing a pipeline along a railroad right of way established in the 19th century. The lengthy opinion includes extensive long-range historical discussion of Western railroads and pipelines and of the pipeline agreement in question.
The Porterville Recorder reports former councilman Greg Shelton is claiming vindication from a recent opinion by state Attorney General Kamala Harris on purchases of former redevelopment property. The paper said Shelton purchased property in the local redevelopment zone in 2012, and that Shelton was saying the AG's opinion supported his purchase as legitimate because it was for a residence and not for speculative purposes. It reported the opinion followed from a query raised in 2012 by Assemblymember Connie Conway, R-Tulare. The opinion, at http://oag.ca.gov/system/files/opinions/pdfs/12-1204.pdf, provides that conflict-of-interest laws written for redevelopment agencies are still in effect with respect to members of the governing bodies of successor agencies. It says such provisions in general prohibit acquisition of real property by a member of such a governing body, and resignation from the body would not cure a violation of law committed through an improper acquisition. However, it includes among exemptions a mention of Health and Safety Code Sec. 33130.5 allowing purchase or lease of a project area property for "personal residential use" but "only after any needed property improvements have been completed, or when no improvements are needed."
Developer-side law blogger Art Coon noted the case of Paulek v. CA Dept of Water Resources, a Fourth District Court of Appeal ruling issued October 31. The case upheld a local activist's standing to bring a CEQA challenge the Perris Dam Remediation Project in Riverside County but rejected the challenge itself. The Department of Water Resources had argued that when appellant Albert Paulek spoke at a public hearing on the project, asking whether the project would achieve what it set out to do, he was raising questions but not making objections, and hence lacked standing to pursue them later. The court said Paulek raised objections sufficiently to qualify to bring a petition. However, the court rejected the challenge itself, which alleged that DWR, by removing plans to include an emergency outlet extension in the dam repair project would leave a flooding hazard unmitigated. It held the decision not to include the extension in the project was not improper segmentation. Further, the court held DWR's responses to comments were adequate, including on a question Paulek raised about cumulative impacts to habitat for the Stephens' kangaroo rat.