The California Supreme Court has accepted two more land use cases, one of which is a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) case that has generated quite a bit of discussion. The second one is an inverse condemnation case involving street landscaping that blocks a view of billboards.

The CEQA case was filed, ironically, by potential developers. Muzzy Ranch Company, which owns 5,000 acres of farmland, sued the Solano County Airport Land Use Commission after the panel adopted a land use compatibility plan for territory surrounding Travis Air Force Base in 2002. The compatibility plan froze development on hundreds of thousands of acres over 35 miles at the level permitted by the existing general plan and zoning regulations. The airport commission determined that the plan was exempt from CEQA review.

Muzzy Ranch argued that adoption of the plan would cause indirect environmental impacts by re-directing housing development that would have occurred around Travis to other locations in the region. A trial court judge rejected the argument, but the First District Court of Appeal accepted it (see CP&DR Legal Digest, March 2005).

The appellate court ruled that adoption of the plan was a “project” within the meaning of CEQA and required environmental review. Thus, one of the questions for the state Supreme Court is whether adoption of an airport compatibility plan that recommends maintaining a county's existing general plan and zoning is a project under CEQA.

Furthermore, the appellate court specifically rejected the airport commission's contention that it could not study housing displacement because the commission would have to speculate about other agencies' future land use decisions. The court ruled that adoption of the plan was a “conclusive step” that “will foreseeably lead to some displacement of future development.” That part of the ruling has spurred discussion among CEQA practitioners over how far - in both time and distance - an environmental review must reach.

The case is Muzzy Ranch v. Solano County Airport Land Use Commission, No. S131484.

The second case involves a billboard company that sought compensation for damages after the City of Los Angeles planted trees along Century Boulevard that blocked the visibility of six billboards near Los Angeles International Airport. The billboard owner contended that the landscaping amounted to inverse condemnation. However, the Second District Court of Appeal ruled that loss of visibility, without the loss of access to the billboards, was not enough to sustain the billboard owner's claim (see CP&DR Legal Digest, May 2005).

The Second District also ruled that the billboard company owed the city $83,000 in expert witness fees, even though the city accumulated the expense before a settlement offer was made. The billboard company said the awarding of fees violated the Code of Civil Procedure.

The case is Regency Outdoor Advertising v. City of Los Angeles, No. S132619.