Glen C. Hansen of Abbott & Kindermann, Inc., will present an update on recent developments in resolving easement, boundary, and implied public dedication disputes in California. This is an advanced class aimed primarily at land surveyors, civil engineers, attorneys, and property owners. This intense, three-hour class examines recent case law about:

  • Creating, Interpreting, and Terminating Easements
  • Accommodating Neighbors vs. Creating Prescriptive Easements
  • Establishing Equitable Easements
  • When Implied Dedications of Public Easements Exist, and When They Don’t.

MCLE and American Planning Association continuing education credits offered. (Pending)

MCLE 3.0       CM 3.0

Glen C. Hansen is Senior Counsel at Abbott & Kindermann, Inc., and a long-time practitioner in real estate and land use law.

Cost $85.00

Location and Time

Roseville – October 13, 2017, 8:00 a.m.-11:45 a.m.  (To Register CLICK HERE)

Holiday Inn Express – Roseville, 1398 East Roseville Parkway, Roseville, CA 95661

Registration:   8:00 a.m.

Class:              8:30 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.

Break:             10:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.

In Murr v. Wisconsin, U.S., 137 S.Ct. 1933 (2017), the U.S. Supreme Court established a multi-factored test to determine what is the proper unit of property against which to assess whether a challenged governmental action constitutes a regulatory taking for which just compensation is owed under the U.S. Constitution. Because the test for a regulatory taking involves a comparison of the value that has been taken from the property with the value that remains in the property, the multi-factored test defines “the unit of property ‘whose value is to furnish the denominator of the fraction.’”

In Murr, Petitioners owned two adjacent lots–Lot E and Lot F–along the lower portion of a river in Wisconsin that is protected under local state and federal law. State and local regulations prevented the use or sale of adjacent lots as separate building sites unless they have at least one acre of land suitable for development. Both lots were over one acre in size, but each had less than one acre suitable for development due to their topography. The unification of the lots under the Petitioners’ common ownership implicated the rules barring their separate sale or development. Petitioners considered selling Lot E as part of an improvement plan for the lots, and sought variances from the existing regulations from a local agency. However, that agency denied the variance request and the state courts affirmed on the ground that the regulations effectively merged the lots for sale or development purposes.

Petitioners filed suit in state court against the State of Wisconsin on the ground that the merger regulations were a taking under the U.S. Constitution because the regulations deprived Petitioners of all, or practically all of the use of Lot E since the lot cannot be sold or developed as a separate lot under the regulations. The trial court granted summary judgment to the State on the ground that Petitioners had other options to enjoy and use their properties. The trial court also found that Petitioners had not been deprived of all economic value of their property because the decrease in market value of the unified lots was less than 10 percent. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari and affirmed.

Writing for the 5-3 majority, Justice Kennedy described the key legal question in the case as follows:

What is the proper unit of property against which to assess the effect of the challenged governmental action? Put another way, “[b]ecause our test for regulatory taking requires us to compare the value that has been taken from the property with the value that remains in the property, one of the critical questions is determining how to define the unit of property ‘whose value is to furnish the denominator of the fraction.’” [Citations omitted.]

The majority rejected each of the formalistic rules advocated by the State and Petitioners because “the question of the proper parcel in regulatory takings cases cannot be solved by any simple test.” Justice Kennedy stated that no single consideration can supply the exclusive test for determining the denominator. That is because of the competing constitutional principles underlying the Takings Clause. Justice Kennedy explained:

A central dynamic of the Court’s regulatory takings jurisprudence, then, is its flexibility. This has been and remains a means to reconcile two competing objectives central to regulatory takings doctrine. One is the individual’s right to retain the interests and exercise the freedoms at the core of private property ownership. Property rights are necessary to preserve freedom, for property ownership empowers persons to shape and to plan their own destiny in a world where governments are always eager to do so for them.

The other persisting interest is the government’s well-established power to “adjus[t] rights for the public good.” In adjudicating regulatory takings cases a proper balancing of these principles requires a careful inquiry informed by the specifics of the case. In all instances, the analysis must be driven “by the purpose of the Takings Clause, which is to prevent the government from ‘forcing some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be borne by the public as a whole.’”.

In light of those countervailing public policies, Justice Kennedy stated that courts must consider a number of factors in making the “denominator” determination:

[W]hether reasonable expectations about property ownership would lead a landowner to anticipate that his holdings would be treated as one parcel, or, instead, as separate tracts. The inquiry is objective, and the reasonable expectations at issue derive from background customs and the whole of our legal tradition.

The majority held that the factors to be considered in such an analysis are the following.

First, courts should give substantial weight to the treatment of the land, in particular how it is bounded or divided, under state and local law. This factor recognizes that “reasonable expectations of an acquirer of land must acknowledge legitimate restrictions affecting his or her subsequent use and dispensation of the property.” Therefore, a reasonable restriction that predates a landowner’s acquisition can be one of the objective factors that most landowners would reasonably consider in forming fair expectations about their property.

Second, courts must look to the physical characteristics of the landowner’s property. Such characteristics include the physical relationship of any distinguishable tracts, the parcel’s topography, and the surrounding human and ecological environment. For example, the property’s location in an area that is subject to, or likely to become subject to, environmental or other regulation is a relevant consideration.

Third, courts should assess the value of the property under the challenged regulation, with special attention to the effect of burdened land on the value of other holdings. Though a use restriction may decrease the market value of the property, the effect may be tempered if the regulated land adds value to the remaining property, such as by increasing privacy, expanding recreational space, or preserving surrounding natural beauty.

Applying that multifactor standard, the majority held in this case that Petitioners’ property should be evaluated as a single parcel consisting of Lots E and F together. The Court reasoned that (1) The treatment of the property under state law indicates petitioners’ property should be treated as one when considering the effects of the restrictions; (2) the physical characteristics of the property support its treatment as a unified parcel; (3) the prospective value that Lot E brings to Lot F supports considering the two as one parcel for purposes of determining if there is a regulatory taking; and (4) the special relationship of the lots is shown by their combined valuation. Therefore, the Court held that the Wisconsin Court of Appeals was correct in analyzing petitioners’ property as a single unit.

The Court further held that, by considering Petitioners’ property as a whole, the state court was correct to conclude that petitioners cannot establish a compensable taking in these circumstances. Petitioners had not been deprived of all economically beneficial or productive use of their property (Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, 505 U.S. 1003 (1992)), and they failed to establish that they suffered a taking under the more general test of Penn Central Trans. Co. v. New York City (1978) 438 U.S. 104.

In dissent, Chief Justice Roberts advocated sticking with “our traditional approach,” under which “[s]tate law defines the boundaries of distinct parcels of land, and those boundaries should determine the ‘private property’ at issue in regulatory takings cases.” Justice Roberts complained that the majority decision “knocks the definition of ‘private property’ loose from its foundation on stable state law rules and throws it into the maelstrom of multiple factors that come into play at the second step of the takings analysis.” In short, the dissent believed that the new framework established by the majority “compromises the Takings Clause as a barrier between individuals and the press of the public interest.”

Glen Hansen is a Senior Counsel 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.


By Glen Hansen

The California Supreme Court held in Lynch v. California Coastal Commission (2017) 3 Cal.5th 470, that plaintiff property owners forfeited their challenge to conditions attached to a permit to rebuild a seawall and beach access stairway because the plaintiffs accepted the benefits the permit conferred, even though they simultaneously filed an action challenging the conditions.

In Lynch, plaintiffs owned homes that sit on a coastal bluff that cascades steeply down to the beach and Pacific Ocean. Since 1986, the properties have been protected by a shared seawall at the base of the bluff and a mid-bluff erosion control structure. A shared stairway provided the only access from the bluff-top to the beach below. Plaintiffs applied to the City of Encinitas (“City”) for authorization to replace the wooden seawall and mid-bluff structure and rebuild the lower portion of the stairway. The City approved the project, but final approval required a coastal development permit from the California Coastal Commission (“Commission”). A heavy winter storm then caused part of the bluff to collapse and destroyed part of the seawall, the mid-bluff structure, and the stairway. Plaintiffs sought a new permit to rebuild the damaged structures. The Commission approved a permit that allowed seawall reconstruction and mid-bluff protection, but with special conditions, including the following: (1) reconstruction of the lower stairway is prohibited; (2) the seawall permit will expire in 20 years and prohibits future bluff-top redevelopment from relying on the seawall; and (3) before expiration of the 20-year period, plaintiffs must apply for a new permit to remove the seawall, change its size or configuration, or extend the authorization period. Plaintiffs submitted written objections to those conditions during the review process. But, then plaintiffs complied with the permit requirements and recorded deed restrictions stating that the special conditions of the permit were covenants, conditions and restrictions on the use and enjoyment of their properties. Plaintiffs also filed a petition for writ of administrative mandate challenging the 20-year expiration conditions and the condition prohibiting reconstruction of the lower stairway. While the mandate action was pending, however, plaintiffs satisfied all other conditions, obtained the permit, and built the seawall.

The trial court issued a writ directing the Commission to remove the challenged conditions and held that “by proceeding with the repairs,” plaintiffs “have not necessarily accepted the conditions in question. No action has been taken as to the twenty year condition[,] which can be removed after review of the instant petition.” The Court of Appeal reversed in a split decision. The California Supreme Court granted review and affirmed the Court of Appeal’s decision.

The Supreme Court held that “plaintiffs forfeited their right to challenge the permit’s conditions by complying with all pre-issuance requirements, accepting the permit, and building the seawall. The Court relied on the general rule in the land use context that “a landowner may not challenge a permit condition if he has acquiesced to it either by specific agreement, or by failure to challenge the condition while accepting the benefits afforded by the permit. Generally, challenges to allegedly unlawful conditions must be litigated in administrative mandate proceedings.” That general rule stems from the equitable concept that permit holders are obliged to accept the burdens of a permit along with its benefits. The general rule also serves the public purpose of “promptly alerting the [agency] that its decision is being questioned and allows the government to mitigate potential damages.” In this case, plaintiffs obtained all the benefits of their permit when they built the seawall and “[t]hey cannot now be heard to complain of its burdens.” The Court refused to create a new exception to that general forfeiture rule which would allow landowners to accept the benefits of a permit under protest if the challenged restrictions can be severed from the project’s construction.

The Court recognized that there is a “narrow exception” to the general rule for challenges to permit conditions imposing a fee or similar exaction. The Mitigation Fee Act (Govt. Code, §66000 et seq.) (“MFA”) contains a procedure by which developers may proceed with a project and still protest the imposition of “fees, dedications, reservations, or other exactions.” If a developer tenders payment of the disputed fee and gives written notice of the grounds for protest, local agencies cannot withhold project approval during litigation of the dispute, and local agencies must refund the fee if the challenge is successful. But that MFA procedure does not govern the type of land use restrictions that were imposed by the Commission on the project in this case.

Thus, the plaintiffs in Lynch forfeited their objections by constructing the project. The Court concluded:  “Without an express agreement with the agency providing otherwise, landowners who object to permit conditions not covered by the Mitigation Fee Act must litigate their objections in an administrative mandate proceeding before constructing the permitted project. Landowners who proceed with a project before the merits of their claims have been decided risk a finding that their objections were forfeited.”

Glen Hansen is Senior Counsel 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.

By Glen Hansen

In Gion v. City of Santa Cruz (1970) 2 Cal.3d 29, the California Supreme Court held that private owners of certain coastal property who allowed the public to use the property for recreational purposes over a period of years thereby impliedly dedicated property rights to the public. The Legislature responded to Gion by enacting Civil Code section 1009. That section generally provides that “no use” of private noncoastal property after the legislation’s effective date of March 4, 1972, will give rise to “a vested right” in the public to continue using the property permanently, unless the property owner makes an express, irrevocable offer to dedicate the property to public use. In Scher v. Burke (2017) 3 Cal.5th 136, the California Supreme Court resolved a dispute between the Courts of Appeal and held that section 1009 bars all use of non-coastal private real property, not simply recreational use of such property, from ever ripening into an implied dedication to the public after March 4, 1972.

In Scher, Plaintiffs owned property along Henry Ridge Motorway, which is located in the unincorporated Topanga Canyon area in the Santa Monica Mountains in Los Angeles County. Plaintiffs purchased their property along Henry Ridge Motorway in 1998 with a 1948 easement that only gave them access to the north. Defendants’ properties were located south of Plaintiffs’ property along Henry Ridge Motorway and/or along an adjacent road.

Much of the case concerned whether and in what manner Henry Ridge Motorway and the adjacent road were used by the public. When Pauline Stewart, the “matriarch of Henry Ridge,” moved to Henry Ridge Motorway in 1977, it was merely a “fire road.” In 1984, the Los Angeles County Fire Department notified Stewart that it would no longer maintain the road because the “County had designated it as a private road.” Stewart described Henry Ridge Motorway in a 1988 letter as “a road on private property so it is considered a private road, it is not a public thoroughfare, even though it is open to the public for all practical purposes.” In the past, several Defendants recorded irrevocable offers to dedicate easements to the public for a hiking and/or an equestrian trail over those portions of Henry Ridge Motorway that crossed over Defendants’ properties. Defendants have also sought to limit public access over Henry Ridge Motorway and the adjacent road south of Plaintiffs’ property, including locking gates, “religiously” stopping drivers on those roads that they did not recognize, and placing signs that forbid trespassing or state “No access to Henry Ridge Road. Locked gates ahead.”

Plaintiffs alleged, among other things, Defendants have acquiesced to the dedication to public use of the entirety of Henry Ridge Motorway and the adjacent road across defendants’ properties, and that Plaintiffs are entitled to use Henry Ridge Motorway and the adjacent road as a public street. The Superior Court for Los Angeles County held, among other things, that Henry Ridge Motorway and the adjacent road had been impliedly dedicated as public streets under Civil Code section 1009. Defendants appealed part of the judgment. The Court of Appeal reversed the implied dedication part of the judgment in a published portion of its decision. The California Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeal, and remanded to the Superior Court for entry of judgment in favor of Defendants.

In 1971, the Legislature enacted Civil Code section 1009 to restrict the common law implied dedications to the public. Subdivision (b) of that section declares that

“no use of such property by the public after the effective date of this section shall ever ripen to confer upon the public or any governmental body or unit a vested right to continue to make such use permanently, in the absence of an express written irrevocable offer of dedication of such property to such use, made by the owner thereof in the manner prescribed in subdivision (c) of this section, which has been accepted by the county, city, or other public body to which the offer of dedication was made … .”

That statutory restriction was made effective March 4, 1972.

Several cases included language and/or dicta that section 1009, subdivision (b), applied only to recreational uses from developing into an implied public dedication. (See Hanshaw v. Long Valley Road Assn. (2004) 116 Cal.App.4th 471; Pulido v. Pereira (2015) 234 Cal.App.4th 1246; Bustillos v. Murphy (2002) 96 Cal.App.4th 1277.) In Scher, the Court of Appeal disagreed with the language in those cases, and held that section 1009, subdivision (b), barred all public use, not just recreational use, from developing into an implied public dedication. The Supreme Court granted review to resolve that disagreement among the Courts of Appeal.

The Court held that section 1009, subdivision (b), applies to non-recreational use of roadways for vehicle access as it applies to recreational use of other private noncoastal property. The Court reviewed the explicit language, legislative concerns, general legislative scheme and legislative history of the statute, and concluded that “section 1009, subdivision (b) contains no implicit exception for non-recreational use of roadways.” In so holding, the Court disapproved Hanshaw, Pulido and Bustillos to the extent they are inconsistent with the Court’s opinion.

So at the end of the litigation, the Supreme Court essentially followed the testimony of the “matriarch of Henry Ridge.” Ms. Stewart testified that she was unaware of facts that would show that the general public had used Henry Ridge Motorway, over the adjacent road, to access a public road. She added: “I don’t know anybody in their right mind that would even try to go that way.” Apparently, everyone ended the case in their right mind.

Glen Hansen is a Senior Counsel 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.

Glen C. Hansen of Abbott & Kindermann, Inc., will present an update on recent developments in resolving easement, boundary, and implied public dedication disputes in California. This is an advanced class aimed primarily at land surveyors, civil engineers, attorneys, and property owners. This intense, three-hour class examines recent case law about:

  • Creating, Interpreting, and Terminating Easements
  • Accommodating Neighbors vs. Creating Prescriptive Easements
  • Establishing Equitable Easements
  • When Implied Dedications of Public Easements Exist, and When They Don’t.

MCLE and American Planning Association continuing education credits offered, pending approval.

MCLE 3.0       CM 3.0

Glen C. Hansen is Senior Counsel at Abbott & Kindermann, Inc., and a long-time practitioner in real estate and land use law.

Cost $85.00

Location and Time

Roseville – October 13, 2017, 8:00 a.m.-11:45 a.m.  (To Register CLICK HERE)

Holiday Inn Express – Roseville, 1398 East Roseville Parkway, Roseville, CA 95661

Registration:   8:00 a.m.

Class:              8:30 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.

Break:             10:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.

Diane G. Kindermann (2015-2017) and William W. Abbott (2004-2017) were again selected for the Northern California Super Lawyers List in the practice areas of Land Use and Zoning law. More information is available at The firm is pleased to continue to serve private and public clients in Northern California on land use, environmental and real estate matters for more than 20 years.

By William W. Abbott

Cinema West, LLC v. Christine Baker 2017 Cal.App. LEXIS 599

As former redevelopment agency properties come back into the marketplace, prospective developers must proceed cautiously to avoid tripping on the State’s prevailing wage law. What appears to be a fair market transaction may include a disguised agency contribution or publically funded construction, thus triggering prevailing wage for the entire development project. Frequently, this obligation does not surface until after the project is under construction.

The City of Hesperia became the successor agency to its redevelopment agency following dissolution by the state legislature. For a number of years, the City sought the development of the first theater complex inside the City limits. Eventually, as the successor agency, the City negotiated a fair market priced sale to Cinema West, LLC, (“Cinema”) to develop a 12-screen complex. As part of the negotiations, the City would construct the parking lot, provide reciprocal easements, develop a water retention system for the theater and parking lot, and construct offsite improvements. The theater operator would sign a 10-year operating covenant for the theater. The documents recited that the developer was providing all the financing for the theater and permits, and that the City was purchasing the operating covenant in the form of a forgivable loan in the amount of $1,546,363. The City also agreed, as part of the consideration for the operating covenant, to the payment of $102,259., to Cinema a sum equal to the purchase price paid by the theater developer for the land. As the project moved forward, construction costs proved to be greater than originally budgeted. The City provided an additional $250,000 in the form of a forgivable loan in exchange for a second operating covenant.

Nearing the end of theater construction, Union Local 477 sought a public works coverage determination by the Director of the Department of Industrial Relations. Following submittal of documents by the City and written arguments by Cinema, the Director concluded that the theater was a public work subject to prevailing wage requirements. This conclusion was reached based upon the City payment of $102,259, the two forgivable loans, and the construction of the parking lot and offsite improvements. Cinema filed a timely appeal. The Director considered the additional evidence and argument, but affirmed its initial decision. The Department then initiated a wage enforcement proceeding. Cinema then filed a writ in superior court and sought injunctive relief against the enforcement proceeding. The superior court ruled in favor of the Department.

On appeal, the Appellate Court also affirmed. Procedurally, Cinema argued that it was entitled to present extra record evidence before the Superior Court. Both the trial court and appellate court rejected this argument, citing the established cases that extra record evidence (that is evidence not presented to the administrative tribunal) can only come in at trial in limited circumstances.

Turning to the merits, Cinema made four arguments (1) private construction is not subject to prevailing wage merely because other related construction is publically funded; (2) mere coordination of two related construction projects does not create a complete integrated “object”; (3) Cinema did not receive public funds or their equivalent; and (4) the construction of the parking lot did not transform the private theater into a public work. Looking at the totality of circumstances, the appellate court concluded that the evidence supported the conclusion that the parking lot construction and theater were interlinked. This evidence included communications by the Cinema to the City describing the City’s contribution along with the approving resolutions referencing the City’s contributions. Other factors weighed in support of finding the requisite relationship between theater and parking lot, including timing of construction, the use of the same contractor and the fact that the theater did not meet the City’s parking requirements without use of the parking lot. The appellate court also considered that the evidence regarding the forgivable loans as reflecting a public subsidy, but eventually concluded that it need not reach that issue.

Given the expansive statutory definition of public works for prevailing wage purposes, developers need to look closely at any transaction which goes beyond a fair market sale.

William W. Abbott is a shareholder 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.

By William W. Abbott, Diane Kindermann, Glen Hansen, Brian Russell and Dan Cucchi

Welcome to Abbott & Kindermann’s 2017 2nd Quarter cumulative CEQA update. This summary provides links to more in depth case write-ups on the firm’s blog. The case names of the newest decisions start with Section 3 and are denoted by bold italic fonts.

  1. 2016 CEQA UPDATE

 To read the 2016 cumulative CEQA review, click here: 


There are 4 CEQA cases pending at the California Supreme Court. The cases, listed newest to oldest, and the Court’s summaries are as follows:

Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, Inc. v. City of San Diego, S238563. (D068185; 4 Cal.App.5th 103; San Diego County Superior Court; 37-2014-00013481- CU-TT-CTL.) Petition for review after the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment in an action for administrative mandate. This case presents the following issues: (1) Is the enactment of a zoning ordinance categorically a “project” within the meaning of the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.)? (2) Is the enactment of a zoning ordinance allowing the operation of medical marijuana cooperatives in certain areas the type of activity that may cause a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change to the environment? 

Cleveland National Forest Foundation v. San Diego Assn. of Governments,

S223603. (D063288; 231 Cal.App.4th 1056, mod. 231 Cal.App.4th 1437a; San Diego County Superior Court; 37-2011-00101593-CU-TT-CTL, 37-2011-00101660-CU-TTCTL.) Petition for review after the court of appeal affirmed the judgment in a civil action. The court limited review to the following issue: Must the environmental impact report for a regional transportation plan include an analysis of the plan’s consistency with the greenhouse gas emission reduction goals reflected in Executive Order No. S-3-05, so as to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.)? 

Friends of the Eel River v. North Coast Railroad Authority, S222472. (A139222; 230 Cal.App.4th 85; Marin County Superior Court; CV1103591, CV1103605.) Petition for review after the court of appeal affirmed the judgments in actions for writ of administrative mandate. This case includes the following issues: (1) Does the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act [ICCTA] (49 U.S.C. § 10101 et seq.) preempt the application of the California Environmental Quality Act [CEQA] (Pub. Resources Code, § 21050 et seq.) to a state agency’s proprietary acts with respect to a state-owned and funded rail line or is CEQA not preempted in such circumstances under the market participant doctrine (see Town of Atherton v. California High Speed Rail Authority (2014) 228 Cal.App.4th 314)? (2) Does the ICCTA preempt a state agency’s voluntary commitments to comply with CEQA as a condition of receiving state funds for a state owned rail line and/or leasing state-owned property? 

Sierra Club v. County of Fresno, S219783. (F066798, 226 Cal.App.4th 704; Fresno County Superior Court; 11CECG00706, 11CECG00709, 11CECG00726.) Petition for review after the court of appeal reversed the judgment in an action for writ of administrative mandate. This case presents issues concerning the standard and scope of judicial review under the California Environmental Quality Act. (CEQA; Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.)

  1. UPDATE 
  • Ministerial v. Discretionary 

Sierra Club v. County of Sonoma (2017) 11 Cal.App.5th 11.

The County issued an erosion-control permit to allow the establishment of a vineyard on land currently used for grazing. Petitioners challenged the issuance of the permit arguing it was a discretionary decision which triggered compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”). The County argued the permit was ministerial and was, thus, exempt from CEQA. The dispute centered on the interpretation of the County Code and how much discretion the County Agricultural Commissioner can exercise when approving the permits.

The petitioners argued that the relevant provisions of the County Code were broad and vague, thereby allowing the Commissioner to exercise significant discretion. The court found petitioner’s claims unpersuasive, because most of the provisions that provide the Commissioner with considerable latitude were inapplicable to the issuance of the challenged permit. The court reasoned that even if the contested provisions could overcome the County’s position, the discretion arguably conferred to the Commissioner is only relevant when those discretionary provisions are applied to the approval of a specific permit.

The Court then turned to petitioner’s argument that three provisions that did apply conferred additional discretion, namely provisions requiring: (1) a 50-foot setback from wetlands, “unless a wetlands biologist recommends a different setback”; (2) stormwater to be diverted “to the nearest practicable disposal location”; and (3) incorporation “of natural drainage features…whenever possible.” The Court rejected these claims, reasoning that in contrast to prior seminal cases involving discretionary approvals, such as Friends of Westwood, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles, 191 Cal.App.3d 259 (1987), these provisions did not confer the ability to mitigate environmental impacts in a meaningful way. It further reasoned that in each instance petitioners failed to cite to any evidence in the record that demonstrated that the County had discretion or that any discretion found would mitigate potential environmental impacts to any meaningful degree.

Lastly, the Court turned to petitioner’s claims that the Commissioner’s ability to request additional voluntary actions rendered the permit discretionary. The Court held the requests did not establish the exercise of discretion. It reasoned that despite the inclusion of several mitigation measures in the permit’s conditions of approval, because the ordinance does not require the requested measures, the Commissioner had no authority to require them and the applicant’s acceptance of the voluntary request is insufficient to transform an otherwise ministerial permit into a discretionary one.

  • Piecemealing 

Aptos Council v. County of Santa Cruz (2017) 10 Cal.App.5th 266. 

The County of Santa Cruz, as part of its plan to overhaul its zoning ordinance, adopted three separate ordinance amendments to: (1) expand the minor exceptions to the zoning site standards; (2) alter the height, density, and parking requirements for hotels in its commercial districts; and (3) adopted an administrative approval process for some minor exceptions to the sign ordinance. The County relied on a negative declaration for each of the first two amendments and found the third amendment was exempt. In each case, the County considered them separate and distinct projects under CEQA. The Aptos Council challenged the approvals, arguing the County had improperly “piecemealed” the CEQA evaluation for the projects by failing to consider them as a single project. In addition, the Council challenged the negative declaration for the hotel amendment, arguing the CEQA analysis failed to consider the impacts of future development that would be permitted by the ordinance.

Affirming the trial court, the appellate court denied the Council’s petition. It rejected the Council’s claim that the County improperly piecemealed the CEQA analyses for each amendment, because, as stated in Banning Ranch Conservancy v. City of Newport Beach, 211 Cal.App.4th 1209 (2012), each amendment could be “implemented independently.” As to the hotel amendment, the Court found that the County’s analysis properly considered some potential impacts of future development, but concluded that additional impacts described by the Council were speculative and, thus, were not a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the amendment. 

  • Subsequent Environmental Review 

Friends of College of San Mateo Gardens v. San Mateo County Community College Dist. (2017) 11 Cal.App.5th 596.

In the follow up decision to the Supreme Court’s decision in Friends of the College of San Mateo Gardens v. San Mateo County Community College District (2016) 1 Cal.5th 937, the Appellate Court invalidated the District’s reliance upon the addendum to the previously adopted mitigated negative declaration. In the facts of San Mateo Gardens, the District proposed to modify a previously approved 2006 master plan calling for the demolition of up to 16 buildings and the renovation of several others at the campus. It later adopted an addendum to address the modifications to the master plan which included the removal of a portion of the gardens surrounding a building newly designated for demolition and the renovation of two other buildings that were previously slated for demolition.

First, the Appellate Court applied the substantial evidence test to review the agency’s decision to rely upon the prior mitigated negative declaration and use CEQA’s subsequent review provisions. The Court found there was sufficient evidence to support the lead agency’s decision, because the project’s changes did not affect the 2006 decision and MND to demolish the other 14 buildings nor the previously established mitigation measures. Thus, the agency’s determination that there was continuing utility to the 2006 decision and related environmental analysis was proper.

Moving to the second question, however, the appellate court found the use of an addendum was inadequate under CEQA. Given the agency’s reliance upon a mitigated negative declaration in the first instance, the court held that the use of an addendum was improper when “the proposed modification may produce a significant environmental effect that had not previously been studied.” Based upon the testimony of students and faculty about the aesthetic impacts on the campus gardens, the appellate court concluded there was sufficient evidence to support a fair argument of a new aesthetic impact not previously analyzed and set aside the use of an addendum. The Court, thus, affirmed the lower court judgment in favor of the petitioner. But, rather than directing the agency to prepare an EIR, the court concluded that the agency could “choose to prepare a subsequent MND if it determines that the possibly significant environmental effects will ‘be reduced to insignificance’ through the implementation of mitigation measures.” 

  • Environmental Impact Reports 

Poet, LLC v. State Air Resources Board (2017) 12 Cal.App.5th 52.

In 2013, the Fifth District Court of Appeal issued a writ of mandate compelling CARB to revise its environmental document in support of its 2009 adoption of the Low Carbon Fuel Standards (“LCFS”) to ensure compliance with CEQA. (See POET, LLC v. State Air Resources Board (2013) 218 Cal.App.4th 681.) After Carb adopted the revised environmental document, Poet, LLC (“Poet”), challenged whether the analysis adequately evaluated the project’s impacts on biodiesel consumption and the related increases in NOx emissions that would result. Specifically, Poet challenged CARB’s use of a 2014 NOx emissions baseline to evaluate the impacts of the regulations. CARB argued the 2014 baseline was appropriate under these circumstances, because the changes in biodiesel use and technology in the years after the 2009 LCFS adoption, and the modified LCFS regulations and new Alternative Diesel Fuel (“ADF”) regulations adopted in 2015, made it “impossible to determine what portion of the increase in use is attributable to the original LCFS,” and, thus, would not yield any environmentally meaningful information.

The Appellate Court was unpersuaded and held that CARB was required to set the baseline at 2009 levels. It reasoned that CEQA’s requirement that environmental review must consider “the whole of the action,” as well as the explicit requirements under the writ of mandate, necessitated that the analysis consider not only the original LCFS regulations, but also the 2015 LCFS and ADF regulations, in order to fully inform the decision makers and the public of any significant environmental impacts of their adoption. The Court then issued a revised writ directing CARB to freeze into place the 2017 standards for diesel fuel and its substitutes adopted under the 2015 LCFS until a CEQA-compliant environmental document using the proper baseline is completed. 

Banning Ranch Conservancy v. City of Newport Beach (2017) 2 Cal.5th 918.

Petitioners sued the City of Newport Beach over the approval of a residential and commercial project on one quarter of a 400-acre, largely undeveloped coastal property. The petitioners objected to the City’s EIR, arguing it failed to identify potential impacts to “environmentally sensitive habitat areas” (“ESHA”), defined by the California Coastal Act, as a result of the project. The Coastal Commission had not yet determined whether ESHAs were present at the site and the site was explicitly excluded from the City’s coastal land use plan. Petitioners also challenged the project on general plan consistency grounds, asserting that the County had failed to adequately “work with” the Coastal Commission to identify wetlands and habitats. The Appellate Court held that the City was not required to speculate as to the presence of ESHAs at the site in its EIR, because it is a legal conclusion to be made by the Coastal Commission. Instead, the City’s EIR analysis was sufficient because it included all of the necessary data and analysis regarding biological resources and habitat. The Court also found the project was consistent with the City’s general plan because the City could work with the Commission post-approval when it obtains the necessary coastal development permit. Petitioners appealed and the California Supreme Court granted the petition for review.

The California Supreme Court reversed. It held that CEQA’s requirement to concurrently integrate CEQA compliance with other related review procedures “required by law or by local practice” (CEQA Guidelines §15080), obligated the City to include at least some analysis of the impacts to known and potential ESHAs present on the site. It found the City’s reasoning for deferring the analysis was not persuasive, given the “ample evidence that ESHA are present on Banning Ranch.” As for the general plan consistency claim, the Court decided it need not address the issue, holding it was unnecessary as sufficient relief was already granted under CEQA.

Residents Against Specific Plan 380 v. County of Riverside (2017) 9 Cal.App.5th 941.

Riverside County approved a specific plan and related regulations for a mixed-use project located on 200 acres. The specific plan, as modified by the Board of Supervisors prior to its approval, included seven planning areas with different allocations of allowed land uses. The EIR analyzed a project consisting of eight planning areas with different land use allocations across the project site than the adopted specific plan. Among other commenters, the air district and a nearby city both suggested mitigation measures to reduce air quality impacts in comments on the Draft EIR. Additional noise mitigation measures were also proposed during the final hearing before the Board. The Final EIR included responses to comments, including those of the air district and nearby city, but as to those comments concluded that the proposed mitigation measures were infeasible. The petitioners filed suit and the trial court denied the claims. The petitioners appealed.

The Appellate Court denied the appeal, rejecting the arguments of multiple CEQA claims, finding: (1) there were no procedural errors concerning the County’s practice of passing a motion of intent to approve and the later final approval; (2) EIR recirculation was not required because the decision not to recirculate due to the changes in the project was supported by substantial evidence; (3) errors in the notice of determination were not prejudicial; (4) there was sufficient evidence in the record to support rejection of suggested mitigation measures; and (5) the County had no duty to formally respond to late comments.

  • Litigation

The Urban Wildlands Group, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles (2017) 10 Cal.App.5th 993.

Urban Wildlands Group, Inc. (“UWG”) filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the City’s use of a California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) exemption for the replacement of street lamp bulbs with new light emitting diodes (“LEDs”). The City certified the Administrative Record, and UWG was ordered to lodge the administrative record pursuant to an agreement. UWG filed its opening and reply briefs, and the City filed its opposition brief, but UWG’s attorney did not lodge the administrative record. The Court found in favor of the City, finding that UWG could not support its arguments because the administrative record was not lodged with the court. UWG subsequently filed a motion to vacate the judgment arguing they were entitled to relief under both the discretionary and mandatory relief provisions in Code of Civil Procedure section 473. The Court granted relief under the mandatory provisions due to UWG’s attorney’s affidavit attesting to a “mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or neglect resulting in a default or dismissal.” The City appealed, and the Court of appeal reversed. Disapproving of prior case law which took a more expansive meaning of “default judgment” (In re Marriage of Hock & Gordon-Hock (2000) 80 Cal.App.4th 1438; Avila v. Chula (1997) 57 Cal.App.4th 860), it held that the trial court ruling was not “a default, default judgment, or dismissal,” because the failure to lodge the administrative record was akin to the failure to provide sufficient supporting evidence to meets its burden of proof in a trial on the merits.

Friends of Outlet Creek v. Mendocino County Air Quality Management District (2017) 11 Cal.App.5th 1235.

The operator of a proposed asphalt plant, after receiving approval from the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors, applied for an Authority to Construct permit (“ATC”) from the District. The District air pollution control officer relied on the County’s prior environmental review to conclude that issuance of the ATC did not require any additional environmental review to comply with CEQA. The petitioner filed an administrative appeal to the District Board challenging the officer’s decision. The District Board denied the appeal, citing the prior land use decisions and environmental review, and the petitioner filed suit on the ground that the District did not comply with CEQA. The District demurred, arguing the petitioner was only entitled to a claim under Health & Safety Code section 40864, which they maintained did not support a CEQA challenge. The trial court sustained the demurrer and the petitioner appealed.

The Court of Appeal overruled the trial court. It found no case law supporting the District’s position that only Health & Safety Code section 40864 can be invoked to challenge the issuance of an air quality permit. Instead, it reasoned that not only do several cases support a petitioner’s right to challenge ATCs on CEQA grounds, but as an administrative proceeding, a suit challenging the ATC issuance proceeds under Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5. Thus, the Appellate Court held that the petitioner could advance claims against the District under Health & Safety Code section 40864, CEQA, or both. The District also raised an additional defense—that the ATC issuance was ministerial—but the Appellate Court held that the record was too lacking to evaluate the District’s determination and held that it could not dismiss the appeal on that basis.

Association of Irritated Residents v. Department of Conservation (2017) 11 Cal.App.5th 1202.

Petitioners challenged the Department’s issuance of permits for 214 new oil wells in Kern County, arguing that the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”) failed to comply with CEQA because no CEQA exemption applied to the permit and DOGGR did not conduct any other environmental review. DOGGR demurred, arguing the claims were res judicata, or barred, as a result of a similar prior action filed in Alameda County. The Department argued that the Alameda County action was a final judgment on the merits which rejected similar claims against DOGGR’s issuance of oil well permits. Petitioners argued the prior decision was found to be moot due to the passage of Senate Bill 4 in 2013, and was not on the merits. The trial court agreed with the Department and sustained the demurrer, and petitioners appealed. The Court of Appeal ruled in favor of petitioners. The Department argued that the Alameda Court had reached the merits of the case when it analyzed relevant provisions with Senate Bill 4 which required DOGGR to issue permits within a certain time period when the permit applications met the statutory conditions for issuance. The Department argued that this analysis was on the merits, because it showed how the new process rendered the claims moot. The Court rejected the argument, however, reasoning that the review was limited to supporting the Court’s position that the prior process was changing and, thus, petitioner’s arguments about past practices were no longer relevant to rule on future activities. Therefore, the Appellate Court remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. 

If you have any questions about these court decisions, contact William Abbott, Diane Kindermann or Daniel Cucchi. The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, Inc. 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.

On September 19, 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1383 (Lara, 2016 Stats., ch. 395), which is designed to address short-lived climate pollutants (“SLCPs”), including methane gas. In SB 1383, the Legislature found that (1) SLCPs are “powerful climate forcers that have a dramatic and detrimental effect on air quality, public health, and climate change”; (2) that SLCPs create “a warming influence on the climate that is many times more potent than that of carbon dioxide”; and (3) that reducing emissions of SLCPs “can have an immediate beneficial impact on climate change and on public health.” SB 1383 requires the State Air Resources Board (“ARB”) to approve and begin implementing a comprehensive strategy to reduce emissions of SLCPs. That includes a reduction in methane by 40% below 2013 levels by 2030. The reduction target for methane under SB 1383 can be summarized in the following chart:

Methane Inventory


Methane Forecast


Methane Target


Percent Reduction From 2013 Levels
118 117 71


Note: Emission levels are listed in MMTCO2e.

The Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Reduction Strategy Targets Dairy Operations.

The comprehensive strategy described in SB 1383 is the “Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Reduction Strategy” (“SLCP Strategy”) that was released by ARB on March 23, 2017. Senate Bill 605 (Lara, 2014 Stats., ch. 395) directed ARB to begin drafting that strategy, and SB 1383 ordered the ARB to complete that strategy and begin implementing it by January 1, 2018. The SLCP Strategy will inform and will be integrated into the 2017 Climate Change Scoping Plan Update. The SLCP Strategy explains that “an increase in the global average temperature of 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels, which is only 1.1°C (2.0°F) above present levels, poses severe risks to natural systems and human health and well-being,” and that “[d]eploying existing technologies and resource management strategies globally to reduce SLCP emissions can cut the expected rate of global warming in half and keep average warming below the dangerous 2°C threshold at least through 2050.”

Scientists have estimated that methane is responsible for about 20 percent of current net climate forcing globally. Manure is responsible for 25 percent of California’s methane emissions. Therefore, the SLCP Strategy is designed to outline the goals, regulations, incentives and other efforts that would, among other things, “[s]ignificantly cut methane emissions from dairy and livestock operations while providing farmers with new, potentially lucrative revenue streams ….”

The State Envisions Collaborative Efforts With Dairies Before Regulations Are Implemented.

SB 1383 requires ARB to adopt regulations to reduce methane emissions from livestock manure management operations and dairy manure management operations. Such regulations would take effect on or after January 1, 2024, if ARB, in consultation with the Department of Food and Agriculture, makes certain determinations.

The SLCP Strategy provides that, before ARB regulates dairy manure emissions pursuant to SB 1383, state agencies will “encourage and support near-term actions by dairies to reduce manure emissions through financial incentives, collaboration to overcome barriers, development of policies to encourage renewable natural gas production, and other market support.” ARB expects a collaborative effort to reduce methane emissions, in which the dairies are active participants. The SLCP Strategy states:

Strong market support and broad collaboration among State agencies, industry, and other stakeholders will be necessary to reduce landfill and manure methane emissions by putting organic waste streams to beneficial use. The State will support early action to build infrastructure capacity and reduce emissions through existing incentives and accelerated efforts to overcome barriers and foster markets. Government agencies and stakeholders will work to foster market conditions to support private sector investment in expanded or new infrastructure, including building markets for compost, soil amendments, and low carbon transportation fuels; overcoming barriers to pipeline injection of biomethane, grid connection for electricity or another best-use alternative; and identifying effective financing mechanisms and levels to reach the goals in this SLCP Strategy.

Ultimately, a combination of incentives, State and private sector collaboration and investment, and regulations will be necessary to capture the value in organic waste streams and ensure lasting emission reductions in order to achieve an economy-wide 40 percent reduction in methane.

However, the state will still create a regulatory environment to force methane reductions at dairies, despite such collaborative efforts. The SLCP Strategy explains:

In coordination with CDFA and local air quality and water quality agencies, ARB will initiate a rulemaking process to reduce manure methane emissions from the dairy sector consistent with the objectives in this SLCP Strategy. As noted earlier, the rulemaking process will involve extensive stakeholder engagement and consideration of multiple factors. The regulations are to be implemented on or after January 1, 2024.

Pursuant to SB 1383, ARB, in consultation with CDFA, will analyze the progress dairies are making in achieving the goals in the Strategy by July 1, 2020, and may make adjustments to those goals if sufficient progress has not been made.

The rulemaking process will first focus on developing measures to require regulated parties to both report and maintain records covering the parameters that affect GHG emissions at California dairies and other livestock operations. Reported information will be used to refine inventory quantification, evaluate policy effectiveness, assess methane reduction progress, and aid in future policy planning and regulatory development. ARB will work with other State agencies and industry groups to improve outreach on new reporting requirements, as well as merge reporting activities with current forms and requirements to avoid duplicative reporting wherever feasible.

Emission control regulations will be designed to support and complement existing programs. In particular, regulatory requirements to achieve large emission reductions from the sector will affect incentives for methane reduction projects, such as the availability and amount of credits under the Cap-and-Trade Program and LCFS.

The Suggested Efforts To Reduce Methane Emissions From Manure Are Not Yet Cost-Effective Or Viable At This Time.

ARB believes that such efforts can even create “economic value in farming communities.” The SLCP Strategy suggests:

If markets are fully enabled, efforts to reduce methane from manure management at California dairies could lead to billions of dollars of investment and thousands of new jobs, concentrated in the Central Valley. Depending on the strategies pursued to reduce emissions, individual dairies may be able to reduce emissions while generating new revenue streams, and the industry as a whole may be able to meet the targets established in this SLCP Strategy at little or no net cost.

However, ARB recognizes such economic benefits are not a certainty. The SLCP Strategy points out that “revenues in some cases are highly dependent on environmental credit and energy markets, as well as on improving access to the common carrier natural gas pipeline system.” But the state’s regulation of methane emissions will not wait for, or be dependent upon, the achievement of such hypothetical economic benefits. The SLCP Strategy explains that “strategies at dairies that may not include energy production and associated revenues can still reduce emissions at low cost, and may deliver other environmental benefits, as well.” Thus, even if there are no offsetting economic benefits to dairies, the State will pursue the methane reduction plans anyway.

The SLCP Strategy suggests the following manure management changes to reduce methane emissions:

  • “[S]witching from flush water open lagoon systems to anaerobic digesters or other systems such as solid manure management practices.” However, “[s]witching to systems such as solid manure management may lead to air or water quality challenges, however, which need to be fully considered.
  • “[P]asture-based systems may be a viable option, but tradeoffs can limit their feasibility. … For larger dairies and those in the Central Valley, pasturage would require using significantly more irrigated land, may require supplemental feed, and (in the case of Central Valley dairies) may require construction of shade structures and other infrastructure to alleviate heat exposure-related impacts on animal welfare. Pasture dairies may face potential nutrient management and water quality issues, and are required to maintain the capacity to store liquids from milking parlor operations (chilling milk, cleaning facilities, etc.) for a 100-year stormwater event. Additionally, milk production and feed efficiencies are lower in pasture systems, requiring more cows to produce the same amount of milk. Pasture systems also limit the ability to manage manure as a valuable organic waste resource.”
  • “[C]apturing and utilizing manure methane by installing an anaerobic digestion system is more advantageous than avoiding methane emissions through conversion to practices such as a pasture-based dairy model, providing the current barriers can be sufficiently addressed. Captured biogas from dairy manure can be used to power farm trucks and equipment, upgraded for injection into natural gas pipelines, used as a transportation fuel, or used to generate on-site renewable electricity and heat. However, tapping into this resource in California has been complicated in part due to air quality constraints, especially in the Central Valley and Southern California. … [M]anure-management conversions that produce electricity and vehicle fuel are potentially profitable; however, most require significant up-front capital investment.”

Such technologies do not yet exist. The SLCP Strategy recognizes that “some potentially effective strategies are still in the development stage.” Also, ARB recognizes many of these manure management strategies are not cost-effective at this time. The SCLP Strategy explains:

In many cases, converting to solid manure management systems or installing anaerobic digesters at dairies may not yet be cost-effective if the only marketable products are renewable electricity and/or renewable natural gas. If these revenue streams can be augmented with revenues from compost or other soil amendment products, and from environmental credits, these conversions may offer attractive rates of return for farmers and investors. However, markets for these other products need further support before they can offer returns that are reliable enough to help secure project financing.

Strategies to Reduce Emissions From Dairy Cow Burping Are Not Yet Available.

Nearly 20% of the State’s methane emissions come from enteric fermentation (mostly belching) of dairy cows. Such methane is created by microorganisms involved in the digestive processes in the stomachs of dairy cows. While the SLCP Strategy suggests that it is “important to explore strategies to reduce emissions from these sources to meet the State’s 40% economy-wide methane emission reduction target,” the ARB also recognizes that “development of effective control measures face a unique set of challenges.” In fact, “cost-effective and scientifically validated methods for reducing enteric emissions” are not even available at this time. Therefore, the state will “support and monitor research and explore voluntary, incentive-based approaches to reduce enteric fermentation emissions from dairy and non-dairy livestock sectors until cost-effective and scientifically-proven methods to reducing these emissions are available and regulatory actions can be evaluated.”

The Dairy Industry Views The Methane Emission Reduction Strategy As An Existential Threat.

It is not known how the methane reduction that is mandated by SB 1383 will be met. As one agribusiness professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo commented: “I really don’t know how they will go about reducing methane emissions by 40 percent.” The general manager of an agricultural trade group concluded that the ARB’s methane plan “threatens the future of the California dairy industry,” and the 40% reduction means “[w]e’re just going to see less dairy in this state”. As one farmer in Sacramento County noted: “In the dairy business, the margins are so slim that something like this will force us out of state.” Dairy farmers complain that the new law, and the money and equipment needed to comply with it, could have a severe economic impact in conjunction with low milk prices, rising labor costs and drought. Methane digesters cost several hundred thousand dollars or more; and although the state has set aside $50 million to help dairies set up digesters, farming groups note that this sum is not nearly enough to equip the state’s roughly 1,500 dairies. Also, digesters require considerable upkeep, and they emit other pollutants like nitrogen oxide and particulate matters, which environmental groups are also targeting for reduction. Thus, as the Wall Street Journal points out: “[T]he regulators acknowledge that most ideas involve environmental trade-offs and are not cost-effective without substantial government subsidies and regulatory credits that can be sold to fossil-fuel producers.” An official with Western United Dairymen concluded that the methane reduction requirements “just makes it more challenging. We’re continuing to lose dairies. Dairies are moving out of state to places where the costs don’t exist.”

Glen Hansen is Senior Counsel 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.

In 2016, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas issued this warning about legislative exactions: “Until we decide this issue, property owners and local governments are left uncertain about what legal standard governs legislative ordinances and whether cities can legislatively impose exactions that would not pass muster if done administratively.” He stated there are “compelling reasons for resolving this conflict at the earliest practicable opportunity.” Abbott & Kindermann Inc.’s Senior Counsel, Glen Hansen, proposes a resolution to that conflict in his recently-published article, Let’s Be Reasonable: Why Neither Nollan/Dolan nor Penn Central Should Govern Generally-Applied Legislative Exactions After Koontz, 34 Pace Envtl. L. Rev. 237 (2017).

In that article, Mr. Hansen explains why the level of constitutional scrutiny that was developed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, and Dolan v. City of Tigard, should not apply to legislatively imposed exactions, provided that such exactions satisfy two key criteria: (1) The exaction is generally-applied; and (2) the exaction is applied based on a set legislative formula without any meaningful administrative discretion in that application. He argues that legislative exactions that fail to meet those two criteria should be governed by the Nollan/Dolan standard of review in the same manner as the ad hoc adjudicative exaction in Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District. Mr. Hansen then argues that legislative exactions that satisfy those two criteria also should not be governed by the ad hoc factored analysis in Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City. Instead, Mr. Hansen argues, a “reasonable relationship” test should be applied to legislative exactions that satisfy those two criteria.

The issue addressed in the article is timely and in need of resolution by the courts. In early 2016, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas explained: “For at least two decades, however, lower courts have divided over whether the Nollan/Dolan test applies in cases where the alleged taking arises from a legislatively imposed condition rather than an administrative one. That division shows no signs of abating.” Justice Elena Kagan similarly opined that, following the Koontz decision, there is now a “cloud on every decision by every local government” that requires a person seeking a permit to pay or spend money. Mr. Hansen’s article offers a practical resolution of that constitutional conflict based on the majority and dissenting opinions in Koontz, as well as the various rationales presented in lower court decisions that have squarely addressed the issue.

Mr. Hansen’s article can be found online at .

Glen Hansen is Senior Counsel 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.