March 2012

By William W. Abbott

No one ever said planning was easy. In 2002, the City of Redondo Beach approved a coastal zone ordinance for the significant revitalization and intensification for its harbor area, a plan proposal known as “Heart of the City”. Residents opposed to the proposal, qualified a referendum and the city council repealed the coastal ordinance and reinstated the prior harbor plan. From 2005 to 2008, the council adopted updated planning documents for this area, however, the amendments were subject to review and approval by the Coastal Commission pursuant to the Coastal Act. Concurrently, the voters were circulating an initiative measure which would have required voter approval for major land use changes. This measure was eventually placed on the ballot and approved by the voters in November 2008. The city had submitted its harbor area coastal planning documents to the Commission in May 2008, and Commission, after review, indicated that the city documents, subject to conforming amendments identified by the Commission, could be found to conform to the Coastal Act and certified. In 2010, the city adopted the conforming amendments, determined that only certain elements were subject to voter approval, and committed to an election at a future unspecified date. Building a Better Redondo Beach, Inc. (“BBR”) filed suit to compel the city to place the full measure on the ballot for voter approval. After a trial, the court order the matter be placed on the ballot. Following entry of judgment, the city promptly filed a notice of appeal, but then the city council took action to order the Planning Department onto the ballot, where it was approved by the voters three months later. Following entry of judgment, BBR moved for an award of attorneys’ fees as permitted by Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5. The court awarded BBR $313,000 in attorneys’ fees. The city appealed the award.

Continue Reading Compliance with Trial Court Writ Renders Moot an Appeal on the Merits

By William W. Abbott

The adjective “short” best describes California’s land use and CEQA statutes of limitation. From CEQA’s 30/35 day limitation periods, to the 90 day limits for the planning and zoning matters (Government Code section 65009), to the Subdivision Map Act (Government Code section 66499.37), time waits for no litigant. The most recent case addressing the Planning and Zoning law wrestles with the interface of the ninety day statute in Government Code section 65009, with the time line found in Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.6. These later timelines call for an extension of time periods in circumstances in which the petitioner has requested the agency to prepare the administrative record, in which case, the statute extends to 30 days from the delivery of the record. (Section 1094.6(d))

Continue Reading The Ninety Day Period to Challenge a Land Use Approval is Not Extended by More General Rules Governing Administrative Mandamus

By William W. Abbott

Property owners in Berkeley applied for use permits to demolish an existing home on a 29,714 square foot lot and to construct a 6,478 square foot home along with an attached 3,394 square foot, 10 car garage. The lot is a hillside lot with an approximately 50% grade. Based upon CEQA exemptions for infill and for construction of new small structures, the Board of Zoning Adjustment approved the permits. The proposed construction was supported by neighbors, but other interested parties appealed the approvals to the city council. A geotechnical engineer, Karp, submitted a letter indicating that he had reviewed the building plans, and that he was familiar with the site based upon his work on other building sites in Berkeley. The letter reflected his belief that additional benching would be required, that this was not reflected on the plans, and that the site potentially had some exposure to seismic risk. Karp also indicated that additional vegetation removal was required that was not otherwise reflected on the plans. Karp concluded by indicating his opinion that the project would likely have significant impacts during construction and operationally due to seismic risk. Two engineers submitted letters on behalf of the applicants’ (at least one was a geotechnical engineer) submitted responses to Karp’s comments, which argued in part that Karp misread the plans, and that the project was otherwise appropriate for the site. The council was presented with conflicting evidence as to relative size of the proposed structure to other homes in Berkeley. The city council denied the appeal, and the opponents filed suit. The trial court ruled for the city and applicant, and the neighbors appealed.

Continue Reading Applying CEQA’s Unusual Circumstances Exception to an Otherwise Exempt Activity Results in an EIR for a Single Family Residence