By Glen C. Hansen

In Disney v. City of Concord (2011) ___ Cal.App.4th ___, 2011 Cal.App. LEXIS 520, the Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District held that a city ordinance that regulated the storage of recreational vehicles on residential property for aesthetic reasons was within the city’s constitutional police powers.

In this case, the City of Concord approved an ordinance, after “considerable debate,” that amended its long-standing rules for storage of recreational vehicles on residential property. While portions of the ordinance addressed safety issues, the ordinance was adopted primarily out of concern for community aesthetics. The new ordinance amended prior restrictions in eight respects:

  1. It expanded the definition of recreational vehicles to include boats and other recreational equipment.
  2. It allowed only two recreational vehicles on residential property.
  3. It deleted all setback restrictions for side and rear yards to accommodate recreational vehicle storage.
  4. It provided that recreational vehicles may be stored in side and rear yards behind a six-foot high opaque fence.
  5. It prohibited recreational vehicle storage on front yards and driveways, subject to a grandfathering provision that gives owners of recreational vehicles as of the effective date of the ordinance 12 months to obtain a permit to store one recreational vehicle on a driveway or a parking pad adjacent to the driveway.
  6. It specified maintenance standards for recreational vehicles in public view.
  7. It imposed setback requirements for recreational vehicles stored on driveways and parking pads.
  8. It increased to 72 hours the length of time a recreational vehicle can be parked in a driveway for purposes of loading or unloading before or after a trip.

James Disney, an attorney acting in pro per, sued the City and the members of its city council to have the ordinance declared unconstitutional, and to enjoin its enforcement. The trial court granted the City’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. The Court of Appeal affirmed. For three reasons, the court rejected the primary argument raised by Disney that the ordinance exceeded the City’s police power. First, the court noted that the Supreme Court in Metromedia, Inc. v. City of San Diego (1980) 26 Cal.3d 848, held that that cities can use their police power to adopt ordinances for aesthetic reasons. Second, a 1992 opinion by the Attorney General concluded that ordinances such as the one in this case are “typical” and are constitutional. Third, this case is similar to other cases involving aesthetic regulations such as tree-trimming and additions to residences, where courts have held that the regulations were within a municipality’s police powers. The court refused to consider the wisdom of the ordinance.

Thus, the Disney case reaffirms a municipality’s constitutional ability to issue regulations based on community aesthetics.

Glen C. Hansen is an attorney 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, or 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.