By Glen C. Hansen

California Public Records Research, Inc. v. County of Stanislaus (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 1432.

In California Public Records Research, Inc. v. County of Stanislaus (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 1432, plaintiff California Public Records Research, Inc., sought a writ of mandate to compel the County of Stanislaus to reduce the fees it charges for copies of official records. Plaintiff alleged the fees of $3 for the first page and $2 for each subsequent page exceeded County’s cost of providing the service. Plaintiff argued that such rates violated Government Code section 27366, which provides that copying fees “shall be set by the board of supervisors in an amount necessary to recover the direct and indirect costs of providing the product or service ….” The trial court denied the writ. Plaintiff appealed. The Court of Appeal reversed.

The evidence demonstrated that the County’s Board of Supervisors based its decision on a study that estimated the cost of a particular service by multiplying (1) the amount of staff time used to provide the service by (2) the cost to County of that staff time. The time figure included an estimate of the average number of minutes needed by staff to provide the service plus an allocation of general and support minutes. The study estimated it cost County an average of $2.97 to process a request for a copy of an official record. The study therefore recommended charging $3 for the first page copied and $2 for each subsequent page. However, the study and other evidence presented information on a per document basis, not a per page basis. The Court of Appeal concluded that the record lacked evidence showing that the fees charged per page reflect the County’s actual costs.

The court then explained how the fee determination should be made. Section 27366 requires an exercise of judgment and is not simply a matter of performing a mathematical calculation that produces a single correct answer. Thus, that section grants a board of supervisors some discretionary authority when setting copying fees, limited by the phrase “direct and indirect costs.” The term “direct costs” is unambiguous. The term “indirect costs” requires that such costs be “reasonably attributed to (i.e., reasonably related to) the service of providing copies and by excluding costs not reasonably attributed to the service of providing copies.” The choice of methodology for calculating a county’s cost of providing copying services is a matter committed to the discretion of the board of supervisors because there is no single legally correct methodology. The court therefore remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with this proper determination of the copying fees.

Glen C. 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, 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.

 

Friends of the Willow Glen Trestle v. City of San Jose (2016) ___ Cal.App.5th ___.

By Daniel S. Cucchi

As part of its plan to upgrade its trail system, the City of San Jose (the “City”) proposed to demolish the Willow Glen Railroad Trestle (the “Trestle”), a wooden bridge built in 1922 as part of a rail line accessing the canning districts near downtown, and replace it with a new steel pedestrian bridge.  The City prepared a mitigated negative declaration (“MND”) in support of the project, which found that because the Trestle design was common and was likely largely rebuilt within the last 30-40 years, it was not a historical resource, and, thus, there was no significant impact on the environment.  The Friends of the Willow Glen Trestle (“Friends”) challenged that determination and filed a writ of mandate challenging the MND, arguing that there was a “fair argument” that the Trestle was an historical resource and an environmental impact report (“EIR”) was required.  The trial court agreed with Friends, asserting that the standard of review applied in Architectural Heritage Assn. v. County of Monterey, 122 Cal.App.4th 1095 (2004), was the correct standard.  The City appealed and the appellate court reversed.

The appellate court first dismissed the argument that it was required to follow the holding in Valley Advocates v. City of Fresno, 160 Cal.App.4th 1039 (2008), concluding that it could complete its own determination of the proper legal standard.  It reasoned that, while the case held that the substantial evidence review standard applied to an agency’s determination of whether a resource was historical, the California Supreme Court’s discussion of Valley Advocates in Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley (2015) 60 Cal.4th 1086 (2015), was limited to the question of whether a bifurcated standard could apply to a multi-part agency decision and avoided the question that was now before the court. 

The court next turned to the applicable language in Public Resources Code section 21084.1, noting that local agencies have the power to determine that a “presumed” historical resource (see Pub. Res. Code §§ 5020.1(k), 5024.1(g)), is not historic when supported by the preponderance of the evidence.  Thus, it reasoned, that application of the fair argument standard to that decision would directly contradict the statutory language. 

The court completed its analysis by reviewing the line of cases involving the review of agency decisions involving historical resources, concluding that the only cases specifically addressing the issue, Valley Advocates and Citizens for Restoration of L Street v. City of Fresno, 229 Cal.App.4th 340 (2014), were in alignment with the court’s reading of the applicable statutes.  It, therefore, held that the City’s determination of whether the Trestle was an historical resource must be reviewed under the substantial evidence standard and remanded the case back to the trial court to make that determination.      

Daniel S. Cucchi is an associate 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.

 

People for Proper Planning v. City of Palm Springs (April 22, 2016, E062725) ____ Cal.App.4th ____. 

By William W. Abbott

In 2013, the City of Palm Springs amended its general plan to remove any mention of minimum densities in the residential land districts. The text of the general plan in some residential districts provided for a range of densities, in others an average density or one stated density. The general plan also provided that the stated densities at the upper end were maximums, but the lower end reflected “the minimum amount of development anticipated, provided that all other required conditions can be met.” The City Council’s resolution adopting the amendment provided in part that “the current and past practice of the city… is to consider only the maximum density allowed within each land category and consider and approve lower density projects.” The Council passed the resolution relying upon a categorical exemption (Class 5; “minor alterations in land use limitations in areas of average slope of less than 20%, which do not result in any changes in land use or density….”). A citizens group filed suit, challenging the amendment on CEQA grounds as well as violations of the state planning and zoning law. The trial court ruled in favor of the city and the petitioners appealed. In the published portion of the decision, the appellate court reversed the City’s use of an exemption.

Surprisingly, the appellate court did not cite the Supreme Court’s decision in Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley (2015) 241 Cal.App.4th 943, on judicial review of CEQA exemptions. The appellate court’s first point was that the amendment facially conflicted with the terms of the exemption in that that it resulted in change in densities. Accepting for the sake of argument the City’s position that the amendment simply reflected actual city practices, the appellate court noted that the petitioner had presented sufficient evidence of a fair argument (without elaborating on that evidence) and that the general plan amendment was capable of significant cumulative effects to the supply of high density, low and moderate income housing. To this latter point, the court noted that the 2007 General Plan EIR discussed the role of high density housing to meet its housing needs and to avoid unnecessary conversion of surrounding desert lands. The Court then questioned the City’s ability to meet its fair share of housing as a basis to overturn the use of the CEQA exemption.

The court went on to address the City’s argument that the baseline had not changed, asserting that as the City had not interpreted its general plan in a manner which dictated minimum densities, there was therefore no change from the baseline as a result of the general plan amendment. The Court concluded that once the general plan was adopted, it became the new baseline. Since the general plan relied upon the anticipated densities to meet housing needs, the question remained as to the City’s ability to meet its fair share housing needs. Although the published decision lacks critical analysis, the inference is that this unanswered question defeated the use of the categorical exemption.

Comment: The court’s characterization of the general plan as the new baseline while in many circumstances this would be an ideal approach in reducing CEQA burdens, this court’s approach is at variance with a number other long standing CEQA decisions, and lead agencies should be cautious about uncritical reliance upon this approach. The decision is best viewed as an unusual analysis of a CEQA exemption and left at that.

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.

 

By Glen Hansen

Friends Of Martin’s Beach v. Martin’s Beach 1, LLC (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 1312

In a dispute between a plaintiff unincorporated association asserting public rights and defendant property owners over the use of a road, parking area and the inland dry sand of a popular beach that were owned by defendants, the Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District in Friends Of Martin’s Beach v. Martin’s Beach 1, LLC (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 1312, 2016 Cal.App.LEXIS 341, held: (1) that the trial court properly granted summary adjudication as to plaintiff’s claim that Article X, section 4, of the California Constitution, confers on the public a right of access over private property to tidelands; and (2) that the trial court erred in granting summary adjudication as to plaintiff’s claim that, under the theory of common law dedication, the owner’s predecessors dedicated such access to the public through their words and acts, and that the public accepted that offer by using those parts of defendants’ property.

The Martin’s Beach case involved two parcels of land bounded on the east by Highway 1 and on the west by the Pacific Ocean (“Property”). At the western edge of the Property is a crescent-shaped strip of land known as “Martin’s Beach.” The only land access to Martin’s Beach is via a road that runs across the Property from Highway 1 to the beach. The Property was once part of a larger tract of land that was provisionally granted by the Mexican Governor of California in 1838 (“Rancho”).  The grant was not finalized by the time war broke out between Mexico and the United States in 1848. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the war, and in 1851, Congress passed legislation to implement the Treaty. The 1851 Act established the process to address pre-war land claims.  Claims that were confirmed in those proceedings resulted in a federal patent, which is the equivalent of a deed from the federal government conveying fee simple ownership.  A patent claim for the Rancho was eventually confirmed in such patent proceedings, and by the United States Supreme Court on appeal.  Over time, the Rancho was divided into smaller parcels, including the Property, and conveyed to various persons. 

The Property was eventually acquired by the Deeney family.  The Complaint in this case alleged that, from the 1930s or earlier, the Deeney family invited the public to use the beach and the road to the beach both by words and conduct, specifically by posting a large billboard on the highway inviting the public to come to the beach by way of the road, by “welcom[ing] all ‘with open arms,’” and by constructing public toilets, a parking area and a convenience store catering to those who visited the beach.  For some of that time they charged a 25ȼ parking fee.  The Complaint also alleged: “Postcards from the ‘50s show hundreds of people enjoying idyllic days at a beach that at times had the feel of a Mediterranean escape.” “In more recent years, surfers, in particular, enjoyed what the website Surfpulse refers to as a ‘mystical and multi-faceted playground’ and what Save the Waves’ program director called ‘a natural theme park with sand.’”  The Deeney family sold the Property to defendants Martin’s Beach 1, LLC and Martin’s Beach 2, LLC (“Owners”) in 2008.  In 2009, the Owners locked a gate barring the entrance to the road, placed “No Trespassing” signs there and otherwise prevented the public from using the road or the beach.

Plaintiff Friends of Martin’s Beach, an unincorporated association (“Plaintiff”), filed a complaint against the Owners “on behalf of the general public,” citing numerous legal theories and causes of action in order to assert “nonexclusive rights and interests acquired by the general public in the beach to high tide at Martin’s Beach, the dry sand inland, an inland area historically used for parking and access along Martin’s Beach Road.”  In response to the parties’ cross-motions for summary adjudication, the trial court ruled in favor of Owners on all of the public access issues.  Plaintiff appealed.  The Court of Appeal affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case to the trial court on the public dedication claim. 

Plaintiff’s Constitutional Claims For Public Access

Plaintiff argued that Article X, section 4, which was adopted by the People as part of the Constitution of 1879, entitled the public to an easement to use the road across the Property for the purpose of gaining access to the tidelands.  That section 4 provides:

 

No individual, partnership, or corporation, claiming or possessing the frontage or tidal lands of a harbor, bay, inlet, estuary, or other navigable water in this State shall be permitted to exclude the right of way to such water whenever it is required for any public purpose, nor to destroy or obstruct the free navigation of such water; and the Legislature shall enact such laws as will give the most liberal construction to this provision, so that access to the navigable waters of this State shall be always attainable for the people thereof. 

However, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s conclusion that, whatever public rights exist under section 4 (that issue was not decided), do not override the federal land patent title in the Owner in light of Summa Corp. ex rel. Lands Commission v. California (1984) 466 U.S. 198.   In Summa, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the State of California acquired no public trust interest in lands to which title was confirmed under the federal Act of 1851 patent process based on a Mexican land grant, unless such interest was asserted by the State in the patent proceedings.  Here, Plaintiff’s cause of action based on section 4 was barred under Summa because California did not acquire a public interest in the Property.  That was so because the State did not assert any such interest during the patent proceedings for the Rancho in the 1850s.  In response to Plaintiff’s attempts to distinguish Summa, the Court further held (1) that the provisional nature of the Mexican land grant for the Rancho did not alter the conclusive application of Summa; (2) that section 4 is, at least in part, a codification of the public trust doctrine; and (3) that section 4 is not a mere regulation of an “incident of ownership.”  Thus, Plaintiff’s constitutional claim based on section 4 was barred under Summa.  The Court also explicitly rejected Plaintiff’s alternative argument that section 4 is retroactive and burdens lands held in private ownership before its enactment. Not surprisingly, counsel for the owner called the Court of Appeal’s ruling on the section 4 claim, which ruling rejected the idea of a guaranteed right of beach access under the California Constitution, “a win for our client and for all coastal property owners.”

Plaintiff’s Common Law Dedication Claim For Public Access

The Court of Appeal held that the trial court erred in granting summary adjudication as to Plaintiff’s common law dedication claim.  A common law dedication is a “grant and a gift” of land or an interest in land to the public for a public use.  A claim for dedication has two elements: “intention to dedicate by the owner, and acceptance by the public.” To constitute a dedication at common law no particular formality of either word or act is required. All that is necessary is sufficient evidence that the property owner either expressly or impliedly manifested an unequivocal intention to offer the property for a public purpose and that there was an acceptance of the offer by the public. Such intent may be demonstrated in any conceivable way that a person’s intention can be shown.  Similarly, the acceptance element may be formal, as by resolution or ordinance, or by use.  Here, the Court rejected the Owner’s singular focus on the “express” dedication label that was used in Plaintiff’s Complaint. The elements are the same for either an implied or an express dedication; the only difference is in the mode of proof of the intent element. Contrary to the Owners’ argument, the “intent to dedicate” element in an express dedication may be established by words or overt conduct of an owner other than a grant deed to a public agency or similar formal writing.  Also contrary to the Owners’ argument, an express dedication does not need to be accepted in a formal way or by a public entity. Here, the Court of Appeal held that “there can be little doubt that the facts [Plaintiff] alleged are sufficient to establish the elements of common law dedication, if they can be proven at trial. The complaint alleged a number of acts on the part of the owners that could manifest an intent to dedicate to the public, coupled with public use over many decades that could establish acceptance.” 

Furthermore, it was error for the trial court to conclude, as a matter of law, that the fact that the Deeneys “at some point charged a fee” to the public negated any intent to dedicate.  Evidence of such permissive use may tend to show the owner intended to control or qualify other parties’ access to the property and thereby rebut a finding of dedicative intent.  But that was a triable issue of fact.  Also, the Court held that the trial court erred when it inferred that the Deeneys’ commercial purpose for inviting the public to use the road and beach negated the intent to dedicate the road or beach, as a matter of law.  In fact, such commercial purpose may support a finding of intent to dedicate.

Accordingly, the Court held that Plaintiff alleged facts sufficient to state a common law dedication claim, and the Owners failed to show, as a matter of law, that they are entitled to judgment on this cause of action. The Court remanded the case to the trial court to adjudicate Plaintiff’s common law public dedication claim.  After the Court of Appeal opinion was issued, counsel for Plaintiff stated the ruling “gave us a road map to how to win at trial.”  However, that remains to be seen in this very public lawsuit.

Glen Hansen is a 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.

 

Reserve your seat for one of four seminars taking place in early 2016.

In January and February 2016 Abbott & Kindermann, LLP will present its 15th annual educational program for clients and colleagues interested in current land use, environmental, and real estate issues affecting commercial and residential development, agriculture, real estate transactions, easements, mining and the construction materials production industry.  

A summary of 2015 case law and legislative updates includes the following hot topics for 2016:

  • Air Quality and Climate Change: including CEQA Guidelines and Mandatory Reporting
  • Mining
  • Updating Land Use Entitlements
  • Endangered Species
  • Water Quality and Wetlands
  • Water Rights and Supply
  • Cultural Resources
  • Renewable Energy
  • Environmental Enforcement
  • Hazardous Substance Control and Cleanup
  • Timber Resources
  • CEQA:  Exemptions, Baseline, Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change
  • CEQA Litigation
  • Real Estate Acquisition and Development

Abbott & Kindermann, LLP will present its annual program at four locations: Redding, Modesto, Sacramento and Napa.  Details for the seminars are below.  We hope you can join us and we look forward to seeing you there.

Modesto Conference  (To Register for the Modesto Location Click Here)

  • Date: Friday, January 22, 2016
  • Location: Double Tree Hotel Modesto, 1150 Ninth Street
  • Registration: 12:30 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Program: 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Sacramento Conference  (To Register for the Sacramento Location Click Here)

  • Date: Friday, February 5, 2016
  • Location: Sacramento Hilton Arden West, 2200 Harvard Street
  • Registration: 8:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. with continental breakfast
  • Program: 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon

Redding Conference  (To Register for the Redding Location Click Here)

  • Date: Tuesday, February 9, 2016
  • Location: Hilton Garden Inn Redding, 5050 Bechelli Lane
  • Registration: 12:30 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Program: 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Napa Conference  (To Register for the Napa Location Click Here)

  • Date: Thursday, February 11, 2016
  • Location: Embassy Suites, 1075 California Boulevard
  • Registration: 12:30 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Program: 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

The registration fee for the program is $80.00. Please register early to reserve your seat. Select the links above to see registration details for each location, as they differ. MCLE and AICP CM credits are available (approval pending).

Please call (916) 456-9595 with any questions.

Reserve your seat for one of four seminars taking place in early 2016.

In January and February 2016 Abbott & Kindermann, LLP will present its 15th annual educational program for clients and colleagues interested in current land use, environmental, and real estate issues affecting commercial and residential development, agriculture, real estate transactions, easements, mining and the construction materials production industry.  

A summary of 2015 case law and legislative updates includes the following hot topics for 2016:

  • Air Quality and Climate Change: including CEQA Guidelines and Mandatory Reporting
  • Mining
  • Updating Land Use Entitlements
  • Endangered Species
  • Water Quality and Wetlands
  • Water Rights and Supply
  • Cultural Resources
  • Renewable Energy
  • Environmental Enforcement
  • Hazardous Substance Control and Cleanup
  • Timber Resources
  • CEQA:  Exemptions, Baseline, Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change
  • CEQA Litigation
  • Real Estate Acquisition and Development

Abbott & Kindermann, LLP will present its annual program at four locations: Redding, Modesto, Sacramento and Napa.  Details for the seminars are below.  We hope you can join us and we look forward to seeing you there.

Modesto Conference  (To Register for the Modesto Location Click Here)

  • Date: Friday, January 22, 2016
  • Location: Double Tree Hotel Modesto, 1150 Ninth Street
  • Registration: 12:30 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Program: 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Sacramento Conference  (To Register for the Sacramento Location Click Here)

  • Date: Friday, February 5, 2016
  • Location: Sacramento Hilton Arden West, 2200 Harvard Street
  • Registration: 8:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. with continental breakfast
  • Program: 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon

Redding Conference  (To Register for the Redding Location Click Here)

  • Date: Tuesday, February 9, 2016
  • Location: Hilton Garden Inn Redding, 5050 Bechelli Lane
  • Registration: 12:30 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Program: 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Napa Conference  (To Register for the Napa Location Click Here)

  • Date: Thursday, February 11, 2016
  • Location: Embassy Suites, 1075 California Boulevard
  • Registration: 12:30 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Program: 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

The registration fee for the program is $80.00. Please register early to reserve your seat. Select the links above to see registration details for each location, as they differ. MCLE and AICP CM credits are available (approval pending).

Please call (916) 456-9595 with any questions.

 

Reserve your seat for one of four seminars taking place in early 2016.

In January and February 2016 Abbott & Kindermann, LLP will present its 15th annual educational program for clients and colleagues interested in current land use, environmental, and real estate issues affecting commercial and residential development, agriculture, real estate transactions, easements, mining and the construction materials production industry.  

A summary of 2015 case law and legislative updates includes the following hot topics for 2016:

  • Air Quality and Climate Change: including CEQA Guidelines and Mandatory Reporting
  • Mining
  • Updating Land Use Entitlements
  • Endangered Species
  • Water Quality and Wetlands
  • Water Rights and Supply
  • Cultural Resources
  • Renewable Energy
  • Environmental Enforcement
  • Hazardous Substance Control and Cleanup
  • Timber Resources
  • CEQA:  Exemptions, Baseline, Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change
  • CEQA Litigation
  • Real Estate Acquisition and Development

Abbott & Kindermann, LLP will present its annual program at four locations: Redding, Modesto, Sacramento and Napa.  Details for the seminars are below.  We hope you can join us and we look forward to seeing you there.

Modesto Conference  (To Register for the Modesto Location Click Here)

  • Date: Friday, January 22, 2016
  • Location: Double Tree Hotel Modesto, 1150 Ninth Street
  • Registration: 12:30 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Program: 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Sacramento Conference  (To Register for the Sacramento Location Click Here)

  • Date: Friday, February 5, 2016
  • Location: Sacramento Hilton Arden West, 2200 Harvard Street
  • Registration: 8:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. with continental breakfast
  • Program: 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon

Redding Conference  (To Register for the Redding Location Click Here)

  • Date: Tuesday, February 9, 2016
  • Location: Hilton Garden Inn Redding, 5050 Bechelli Lane
  • Registration: 12:30 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Program: 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Napa Conference  (To Register for the Napa Location Click Here)

  • Date: Thursday, February 11, 2016
  • Location: Embassy Suites, 1075 California Boulevard
  • Registration: 12:30 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Program: 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

The registration fee for the program is $80.00. Please register early to reserve your seat. Select the links above to see registration details for each location, as they differ. MCLE and AICP CM credits are available (approval pending).

Please call (916) 456-9595 with any questions.

 

By Brian Russell 

North County Advocates v.City of Carlsbad (2015) 241 Cal.App.4th 94.

Westfield, the landowner and developer, (“Westfield”) proposed to renovate a 40‑year‑old shopping center located in the City of Carlsbad, California (“City”). In July 2013, the City approved Westfield’s request to renovate the former Robinsons-May store and other small portions of the shopping center (“Project”). North County Advocates (“Advocates”) challenged the City’s approval under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), arguing that the Project’s environmental impact report (“EIR”) used an improper baseline in its traffic analysis because it treated the Robinsons-May store as fully occupied, even though it was vacated in 2006 and had been only periodically occupied since.

Advocates filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the City’s approval of the project, and the trial court denied Advocates’ petition. Advocates appealed the trial court’s judgment to the Fourth District Court of Appeal.

Advocates contended that the EIR’s traffic baseline is “incorrect and misleading” because it did not follow the “‘normally’” applicable rule of measuring conditions as they actually existed when environmental review began. Advocates argued that the City instead “falsely inflated the existing traffic conditions” by “imputing over 5,000 daily trips” to the baseline premised on a fully occupied Robinsons-May building when, in fact, Robinsons-May vacated the space in 2006. By falsely inflating the existing traffic conditions, the baseline understates the Project’s true impact on the environment.

The EIR’s Transportation Study elaborated on the City’s determination of the traffic baseline:

“Westfield Plaza Camino Real is an existing super regional shopping center which is entitled for 1,151,092 square feet of retail commercial space. All of the currently entitled square footage is completely constructed. However, the nature of a shopping center is that tenants change and the amount of occupied space constantly fluctuates. Plaza Camino Real currently has unoccupied leasable space beyond the normal amount, mainly the 148,159 square foot Robinsons-May building. Since this space is currently vacant, traffic from this space is not included in the actual traffic counts conducted at the analyzed intersections and street segments. However, for the purposes of determining the Existing Baseline Conditions pursuant to CEQA Guidelines Section 15125, trips attributable to that currently unoccupied space are imputed. A full occupancy assumption is consistent with San Diego Association of Government’s regional traffic modeling methodology which assumes full occupancy of all entitled square footage. It is also consistent with the City of Carlsbad and City of Oceanside’s determination of existing baseline because the currently vacant space could be occupied at anytime without discretionary action. In fact, portions of that space are periodically occupied with temporary uses such as a Halloween store which leases the space in the month of October. For these reasons, full occupancy of all entitled square footage is assumed in determining the Existing Baseline Conditions.”

Using the baseline with the imputed Robinsons-May traffic, the Transportation Study concluded the “Project will not result in a significant impact at any of the analyzed intersections during either peak hour, or any of the analyzed street segments during either peak hour or daily conditions.”

The appellate court concluded that the City’s selection of a traffic baseline that assumed full occupancy of the Robinsons-May space was not merely hypothetical because it was not based solely on Westfield’s entitlement to reoccupy the Robinsons-May building “at anytime with discretionary action” but was also based on the actual historical operation of the space at full occupancy for more than 30 years up until 2006. Then, from 2007 to 2009, the Robinson-May space had a reduction in occupied square footage. The court viewed this fluctuating occupancy, “which is the nature of a shopping center,” to allow the agency to have the discretion to consider conditions over a range of time periods to account for a temporary lull or spike in operations. Further, the City’s decision to base the traffic baseline on historical occupancy rates is further supported by substantial evidence consisting of San Diego Association of Government data on such use levels. These factors together were substantial evidence which supported the City’s exercise of discretion in selecting a traffic baseline that assumed a fully occupied Robinsons‑May building.

Brian Russell is an associate 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.

 

Reserve your seat for one of four seminars taking place in early 2016.

In January and February 2016 Abbott & Kindermann, LLP will present its 15th annual educational program for clients and colleagues interested in current land use, environmental, and real estate issues affecting commercial and residential development, agriculture, real estate transactions, easements, mining and the construction materials production industry.  

A summary of 2015 case law and legislative updates includes the following hot topics for 2016:

  • Air Quality and Climate Change: including CEQA Guidelines and Mandatory Reporting
  • Mining
  • Updating Land Use Entitlements
  • Endangered Species
  • Water Quality and Wetlands
  • Water Rights and Supply
  • Cultural Resources
  • Renewable Energy
  • Environmental Enforcement
  • Hazardous Substance Control and Cleanup
  • Timber Resources
  • CEQA:  Exemptions, Baseline, Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change
  • CEQA Litigation
  • Real Estate Acquisition and Development

Abbott & Kindermann, LLP will present its annual program at four locations: Redding, Modesto, Sacramento and Napa.  Details for the seminars are below.  We hope you can join us and we look forward to seeing you there.

Modesto Conference  (To Register for the Modesto Location Click Here)

  • Date: Friday, January 22, 2016
  • Location: Double Tree Hotel Modesto, 1150 Ninth Street
  • Registration: 12:30 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Program: 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Sacramento Conference  (To Register for the Sacramento Location Click Here)

  • Date: Friday, February 5, 2016
  • Location: Sacramento Hilton Arden West, 2200 Harvard Street
  • Registration: 8:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. with continental breakfast
  • Program: 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon

Redding Conference  (To Register for the Redding Location Click Here)

  • Date: Tuesday, February 9, 2016
  • Location: Hilton Garden Inn Redding, 5050 Bechelli Lane
  • Registration: 12:30 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Program: 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Napa Conference  (To Register for the Napa Location Click Here)

  • Date: Thursday, February 11, 2016
  • Location: Embassy Suites, 1075 California Boulevard
  • Registration: 12:30 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
  • Program: 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

The registration fee for the program is $80.00. Please register early to reserve your seat. Select the links above to see registration details for each location, as they differ. MCLE and AICP CM credits are available (approval pending).

Please call (916) 456-9595 with any questions.

 

Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley (2015) 241 Cal.App.4th 943. 

By William W. Abbott

The history of the controversial home in the Berkeley Hills is well documented. (Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley (2015) 60 Cal.4th 1086 (The California Supreme Court Tackles CEQA’s Gordian Knot: Unusual Circumstances and CEQA Exemptions [https://blog.aklandlaw.com/2015/03/articles/ceqa/the-california-supreme-court-tackles-ceqas-gordian-knot-unusual-circumstances-and-ceqa-exemptions/] Admittedly, it is no ordinary residence: a two story home of 6,478 square feet with a 3,394 square foot 10-car garage, located on a hillside. The new home construction necessitated demolition of an existing dwelling. It is at the end of the day, a single family home nonetheless. The architect filed plans with the City in 2009, and the application was approved in early 2010. In approving the plans, the City relied upon a categorical exemption. The ensuing legal challenges eventually made it to the California Supreme Court, resulting in the Court’s decision addressing the required analysis for the use of CEQA exemptions, including the limitations of the “unusual circumstances” exception. Following the Supreme Court’s decision (BH1), the matter was remanded to apply the Supreme Court’s guidance to the remaining claims.

Although the appellate court had sided with the opponents in BH1, the appellate court rigorously followed the Supreme Court’s strictures on remand. In BH2, the court noted that the opponents had conceded that there was substantial evidence in the record to support the use of an exemption, so the legal debate on remand centered on the alleged unusual circumstances. In asserting unusual circumstances, the opponents focused on two issues: size of the home and the setting. The opponents also argued that the City had improperly mitigated its way into an exemption by using a traffic mitigation plan. As to home size, the evidence in support of the City’s decision was that the proposed home was not unusual when evaluated in the context of the surrounding homes.  As to the claim based upon setting, there was no evidence of a geological fault onsite, or that the house was visible from the public right of way (and therefore would have no effect on the aesthetic values of the neighborhood.) (The appellate court also concluded that any argument based upon geotechnical issues was foreclosed in BH1.) The final issue of note was the traffic mitigation plan. The opponents relied upon Salmon Protection & Watershed Network (2004) 125 Cal.App.4th 1098, in which the appellate court concluded that a lead agency could not mitigate its way into an exemption. In BH2, the court after reviewing the record agreed with the City that the traffic mitigation plan was a standard development condition and was not intended as specific mitigation. Therefore, Salmon Protection was not controlling and the use of the exemption was proper.

The applicants still have one more potential hurdle to cross. Will the Supreme Court take this case up? After six years, what is the hurry?

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.