By William W. Abbott

Local governments are stunned to learn that over the weekend they were thrown under the bus by the President and Speaker John Boehner. Hidden in the fine language of the new draft federal budget compromise was a presidential suspension of billboard regulation along federal interstate highways. “The result”, said a spokeswoman for the National Association of Counties, Cities and Towns, “is a advertising free fire zone snaking throughout the country on both sides of federally supported highways. The bottom line is that no agency will be able to control the size, type or number of billboard displays. It’s a disgrace. How many billboards does society really need which advertise hair implants for men going bald?”

But that wasn’t the only bad news as far as local governments were concerned. In a surprising decision, the United States Supreme ruled that a property owner could sue individual councilmembers who voted against a development project, even in circumstances in which a majority of the councilmembers acted to approve the application. In an unsigned, unanimous opinion, the court wrote, “Apparently, locally elected officials are of the opinion that as long as someone else does the heavy lifting of approving a project, that they are free to say whatever they want about a pending application and then vote against it. The United State Constitution does not give our elected officials free reign to run amuck in total disregard to the consequences under a theory that ‘my vote didn’t matter.’ In a democracy, every vote counts.”

Finally, the listing last week of the tri-winged spotted black bird in California as an endangered species came as no surprise to scientists, consultants and interested attorneys. The big gotcha however was the designated critical habitat. Interagency Federal Investigations of Scientific Habitats (IFISH) designated the entire State of California as habitat with the exception of the Port of Long Beach, Chavez Ravine and Mammoth Mountain. Observed one cynic: “well it’s pretty clear to me what the agency staff likes to do in its free time: sail, watch baseball, and ski. If they had been fair about this, they would have included AT&T Park and the Tahoe resorts. Well there is no questioning science is there?”

William W. Abbott is a partner at Abbott & Kindermann, LLP. When not reading EIRs, he spends his time playing guitar, mandolin and banjo. 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. For music related questions, see a professional musician.

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.