In Pacific Palisades Residents Assn, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles (2023) 88 Cal.App.5th 1338, neighbors challenged a proposed four-story senior living facility in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood in the City of Angeles. They alleged the project was inconsistent with the surrounding “parklike neighborhood,” it would disturb “scenic values and views,” worsen of traffic and congestion, among other complaints. The city’s zoning administrator endorsed the project. The neighbors appealed to the West Los Angeles Area Planning Commission, which approved the project, finding it was consistent with the general plan, followed applicable design guidelines, and preserved neighborhood character. The neighbors then lodged duel appeals to the California Coastal Commission (“Commission”) and the Los Angeles City Council. Both bodies held hearings. The Commission concluded the appeal presented no substantial issue and rejected the appeal. The City Council approved the project. The neighbors sued the City of Angeles and the Commission. The trial court rejected the neighbor’s contentions, holding, relevant here, that the city properly exempted the project from CEQA pursuant to the Class 32 CEQA infill exemption (Cal. Code Regs. tit 14 § 15332.)

On appeal, the neighbor’s CEQA claims centered on just one of the five requirements required for a Class 32 infill exemption, which includes that a project must be consistent with “all applicable general plan policies.” (Cal. Code Regs. tit 14 § 15332, subd. (b).) The neighbors on appeal contended that the project violated the policy of the local community plan that seeks to “preserve and protect views from hillsides, public lands, and roadways.” The Second District Court of Appeal reviewed the city’s factual findings of general plan conformity under the deferential substantial evidence standard. The Second Appellate District held that the city had ample basis for finding the project, which the court described as an urban building, was appropriate for an urban area. The court focused primarily on the neighbor’s complaints that the project would disturb “scenic values and views.” However, the court pointed to evidence in the record that hundreds of buildings in the neighbors’ subdivision already intrude on the views of nearby open space, defining the neighborhood as “an urban neighborhood against a backdrop of open space.” The court concluded that the city was thus entitled to determine that the addition of another urban building to that setting was compatible with the local community plan, and thus, the general plan.

The neighbors relied in part on Georgetown Preservation Society v. County of El Dorado (2018) 30 Cal.App.4th 358, where the Third District held opinions by local neighbors that a project would be in disharmony with the existing aesthetic character of a community can create a fair argument of significant environmental impacts related to a proposed retail store. The Second District, meanwhile, distinguished that case. The court reasoned that Georgetown was decided using the less deferential fair argument standard due to the challenged adoption of a mitigated negative declaration at issue in that case.

Patrick L. Enright is an Attorney with Abbott & Kindermann, Inc. and Garrett Bergthold is a law clerk at Abbott & Kindermann, Inc.  For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, real estate, environmental and/or planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann, Inc. at (916) 456-9595.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, Inc., 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.