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

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 Residents opposed to the proposal, qualified a referendum and the city council repealed the coastal ordinance and reinstated the prior harbor plan.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.

Following the election, BBR moved to have the appeal dismissed which the appellate court rejected in an unsigned order. When the case finally reached the appellate court for disposition, the court on its own determined that the appeal on the merits had been rendered moot, as there was no effective relief to be granted by the court, and that the factual questions were sufficiently unique that there was no continuing benefit to other potentially interested parties to be had by addressing the merits. The court then turned to the appeal of the attorneys' fees, and as to those issues, the appellate court affirmed the long standing rule that appellate courts largely defer to the trial courts in determining the reasonableness of the hours and the rates to be charged, applying an abuse-of-discretion standard of review. Concluding that the trial court was not “clearly wrong”, the appellate court affirmed the judgment on attorneys' fees. Building a Better Redondo Beach, Inc. v. City of Redondo Beach (February 22, 2012, B226499)___ Cal.App.4th ___.

William W. Abbott is a partner at Abbott & Kindermann, LLP. For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, real estate, environmental and/or planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann, LLP at (916) 456-9595.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, LLP, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because of the changing nature of this area of the law and the importance of individual facts, readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.

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