By Glen Hansen

Roberson v. City of Rialto (2014) 226 Cal.App.4th 1499.

On July 15, 2008, the City of Rialto approved development of a commercial retail center to be anchored by a Wal-Mart Supercenter. The notice of the initial, July 1, 2008, public hearing before the city council on the project approvals was legally defective because the notice did not indicate that the planning commission had recommended the city council adopt the project approvals. (See Environmental Defense Project of Sierra County v. County of Sierra (2008) 158 Cal.App.4th 877, 890–893.) In August 2008, Rialto Citizens for Responsible Growth, a nonprofit mutual benefit corporation (“Rialto Citizens”), petitioned the trial court to invalidate and set aside the project approvals based in part on the defect in the notice of the July 1 city council hearing. On appeal, the court ruled against Rialto Citizens, holding that the petitioner made no attempt to show in the trial court, and the trial court did not find, that the defect in the notice was prejudicial, caused substantial injury to any of Rialto Citizens’ members, or that a different result was probable absent the defect. (See Rialto Citizens for Responsible Growth v. City of Rialto (2012) 208 Cal.App.4th 899, 916–921.)

Meanwhile, in an entirely separate proceeding, Marcus Roberson petitioned the Superior Court for a writ of administrative mandate invalidating and setting aside the same project approvals by the City of Rialto. In his trial brief, Roberson claimed that the project approvals were invalid only because of the same notice violation that was fully adjudicated in the Rialto Citizens case. The trial court denied Roberson’s petition, and the Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District affirmed the trial court’s judgment, on two grounds. First, Roberson failed to demonstrate reversible error because (a) the record on appeal was inadequate to show the trial court erroneously failed to credit Roberson’s “evidence of prejudice” (the record on appeal did not contain either a copy of the tentative decision or a transcript of the court trial, and the judgment contained no factual findings); (b) Roberson failed to explain what comments or testimony he would have submitted to the city council had he known of the planning commission’s recommendation to adopt the project approvals; and (c) substantial injury and the probability of a different result is not presumed as a matter of law here, because this case involved a defective notice of a public hearing, and not the complete lack of any notice. Second, the court held that Roberson’s defective notice claim was barred by res judicata because (a) Roberston’s claim was identical to Rialto Citizens’ defective notice claim; and (b) Roberson was in privity with Rialto Citizens, since Roberson never explained to the trial court what “harm to himself” he was seeking to prevent by challenging the project approvals based on the defective notice that differed in any respect from any alleged harm to the community or the public, and since his own declaration in the trial court showed that he was seeking to vindicate the same public interests Rialto Citizens sought to vindicate, and not his private interests.

Glen Hansen is senior counsel 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.