Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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Plaintiff-respondent San Diego Unified Port District (District) unsuccessfully asked defendant-appellant California Coastal Commission (Commission) to certify an amendment of District's port master plan to authorize hotel development in the East Harbor Island subarea, including construction of a 175-room hotel by real party in interest Sunroad Marina Partners, LP (Sunroad). District filed a petition for peremptory writ of mandate challenging Commission's denial of certification, and the trial court in January 2017 issued the writ, finding Commission violated provisions of the California Coastal Act of 1976 and "impermissibly set policy" by setting a maximum rental rate or fixing room rental rates. Commission did not appeal that ruling, but reheard District's application and again denied certification, finding the master plan amendment lacked sufficient specificity to adequately protect lower cost visitor and public recreational opportunities, including overnight accommodations. On objections by District and Sunroad, the trial court in August 2017 ruled that Commission had essentially conditioned its certification on the provision of lower cost overnight accommodations, which "infring[ed] on the wide discretion afforded to the District to determine the contents of land use plans and how to implement those plans." The court ruled that Commission acted in excess of its jurisdiction and did not proceed in the manner required by law. Commission appealed the August 2017 postjudgment order, contending it complied with the writ, but afterwards, in the face of Port's and Sunroad's objections, the trial court expanded the writ's scope, thereby exceeding its jurisdiction. Commission asked the Court of Appeal to find it complied with the writ as issued, reverse the order sustaining District and Sunroad's objection, and direct the trial court to discharge the writ. Furthermore, the Commission contended it properly denied District's proposed amendment on remand. The Court of Appeal narrowly reviewed the correctness of the trial court's postjudgment ruling that Commission exceeded its jurisdiction or acted contrary to law in denying certification of District's proposed master plan amendment. Doing so, the Court held the trial court erred by relying in part on provisions of the Act governing a local government's authority and imposing limits on Commission's jurisdiction with respect to local coastal programs, which did not pertain to port master plans or master plan amendments. Furthermore, the Court concluded the lower court engaged in an impermissibly broad interpretation of a provision of the Act barring Commission from modifying a master plan amendment as a condition of certification. View "San Diego Unified Port Dist. v. Cal. Coastal Commission" on Justia Law

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In the event a local agency believes it is entitled to subvention for a new unfunded state mandate, the agency may file a “test claim” with the Commission on State Mandates (Commission). Here, the Commission denied consolidated test claims for subvention by appellants Paradise Irrigation District (Paradise), South Feather Water & Power Agency (South Feather), Richvale Irrigation District (Richvale), Biggs-West Gridley Water District (Biggs), Oakdale Irrigation District (Oakdale), and Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District (Glenn-Colusa) (collectively, the Water Districts). The Commission determined the Water Districts had sufficient legal authority to levy fees to pay for any water service improvements mandated by the Water Conservation Act of 2009. The trial court agreed and dismissed a petition for writ of mandate brought by the Water Districts. On appeal, the Water Districts presented a question left open by the Court of Appeal's decision in Connell v. Superior Court 59 Cal.App.4th 382 (1997), addressing the statutory interpretation of Revenue and Taxation Code section 2253.2 (recodified in pertinent part without substantive change in Government Code section 17556). Connell held local water districts were precluded from subvention for state mandates to increase water purity levels insofar as the water districts have legal authority to levy fees to cover the costs of the state-mandated program. In so holding, Connell rejected an argument by the Santa Margarita Water District and three other water districts that they did not have the “practical ability in light of surrounding economic circumstances.” The Connell Court reasoned that crediting Santa Margarita’s argument “would create a vague standard not capable of reasonable adjudication. Had the Legislature wanted to adopt the position advanced by [Santa Margarita], it would have used ‘reasonable ability’ in the statute rather than ‘authority.’ ” This appeal addresses that issue by considering whether the passage of Proposition 218 changed the authority of water districts to levy fees so that unfunded state mandates for water service must now be reimbursed by the state. The Court of Appeal concluded Proposition 218 did not undermine Connell, thus, the Commission properly denied the reimbursement claims at issue here because the Water Districts continued to have legal authority to levy fees even if that authority was subject to majority protest of customers. View "Paradise Irrigation Dist. v. Commission on State Mandates" on Justia Law

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The County of San Diego (the County) challenged a peremptory writ of mandate and injunction, along with a judgment directing it to set aside and vacate the "2016 Climate Change Analysis Guidance Recommended Content and Format for Climate Change Analysis Reports in Support of CEQA Document" and prohibiting it from using the Guidance Document or the "Efficiency Metric" defined in it as part of its California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review of greenhouse gas (GHG) impacts for development proposals in unincorporated areas of San Diego County. The County argued the matter was not justiciable because it was not ripe and the Guidance Document did not establish a threshold of significance for use in environmental review, nor did its use violate CEQA. Furthermore, the County contended its separate development of a Climate Action Plan (CAP) and threshold of significance was evidence the Guidance Document did not violate a previous writ or use piecemeal environmental review. The Court of Appeal disagreed with the County and affirmed the trial court writ and judgment in their entirety. View "Golden Door Properties v. Co. of San Diego" on Justia Law

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The city’s General Plan policy LU-7 encourages new neighborhood commercial facilities and supermarkets to be located to maximize accessibility to all residential areas. Wal-Mart proposed to expand its store to add 36,000 square feet for a 24-hour grocery/supermarket. The city's draft environmental impact report (EIR) concluded the project was “consistent” with LU-7, stating: “There are no existing grocery stores within a 1-mile radius …project would install bicycle storage facilities and enhance pedestrian facilities to improve accessibility.” Objectors claimed that the project would close existing neighborhood-serving grocery stores, is located in a large commercial area, and would contribute to an over-concentrated area. The planning commission declined to approve the original EIR, citingPolicy LU-7. The city council granted an appeal. Previous litigation concerned noise and traffic impacts and resulted in a revised EIR and reapproval. Opponents then challenged the approval based on the General Plan. The trial court concluded the petition was barred by res judicata and the statute of limitations and that substantial evidence supported the approval. The court of appeal affirmed. The project is in a new growth area with increasing residential communities and is located at least a mile from the next closest supermarket but it may place stress on other local supermarkets. Considering the evidence as a whole, the decision was not palpably unreasonable, and did not exceed the city’s “broad discretion.” View "Atwell v. City of Rohnert Park" on Justia Law

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Francis Bottini, Jr., Nina Bottini, and the Bernate Ticino Trust (the Bottinis) applied to the City of San Diego for a coastal development permit (CDP) to construct a single-family home on a vacant lot in La Jolla. City staff determined that the Bottinis' proposed construction project was categorically exempt from environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act, but the City Council of San Diego reversed that determination. In reaching its decision, the City Council found that full environmental review was necessary because the Bottinis had removed a 19th century cottage from the lot on which they planned to build their residence shortly before they applied for a CDP. The City had previously voted against designating that cottage as a historical resource, declared that the cottage was a public nuisance, and authorized the Bottinis to demolish the cottage. Nevertheless, after the cottage's demolition, the City Council declared the cottage "historic," concluded that the cottage's demolition must be considered part of the Bottinis' project for purposes of CEQA, and found that there was a reasonable possibility that CEQA's "historical resources" and "unusual circumstances" exceptions applied to the Bottinis' construction project, thus requiring full environmental review. The Bottinis filed a petition for a writ of administrative mandamus seeking to compel the City Council to set aside its decision, as well as a complaint for damages against the City, based on alleged violations of the takings, due process, and equal protection clauses of the California Constitution. The City moved for summary judgment on the Bottinis' constitutional causes of action. The court granted the Bottinis' petition concluding the demolition of the cottage was not a component of the Bottinis' construction project and, as a result, the City Council's determination that the project was not categorically exempt from CEQA review lacked substantial evidentiary support. The court also granted the City's motion for summary judgment on the Bottinis' constitutional claims. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. View "Bottini v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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This appeal challenged the trial court’s denial of a special motion to strike pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP statute,, directed at a cross-complaint asserting causes of action arising from a civil enforcement action brought by Feather River Air Quality Management District against Harmun Takhar for multiple violations of state and local air pollution laws. Specifically, this case involved dust. Takhar owned a piece of property in Yuba County. In June 2014, he began the process of converting that property from pasture land to an almond orchard. This process required the clearing, grading, and disking of the land in order to prepare the site for planting. The earthwork generated dust that was carried from Takhar’s property and deposited onto neighboring properties. These neighboring property owners complained to the District. District staff contacted Takhar, informed him the dust emissions were impacting neighboring properties causing a public nuisance, and requested he take reasonable precautions to prevent the dust from reaching the affected properties, such as waiting for the wind to change directions before engaging in earthwork. Violations were ultimately imposed, and an offer to settle the civil penalties was made. Takhar did not take the District up on its settlement offer and instead continued with his clearing activities. The District then brought a civil enforcement action against Takhar. The Court of Appeal concluded Takhar did not demonstrate he qualified for an exemption to the anti-SLAPP statute. The causes of action alleged in Takhar’s cross-complaint arose from protected petitioning activity and he did not establish a probability of prevailing on the merits of these claims. The Court therefore remanded the matter to the trial court with directions to grant the anti-SLAPP motion and dismiss the cross-complaint. View "Takhar v. California ex rel. Feather River Air Quality Management Dist." on Justia Law

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Real parties in interest Carlton and Raye Lofgren, as Trustees of the Lofgren Family Trust and the Lofgren 1998 Trust (the Lofgrens), sought a residential development permit to build six single-family homes on a parcel of just over 11 acres in Riverside. After respondent City of Riverside (the City) approved the permit and issued a negative declaration stating the development did not require environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Friends of Riverside’s Hills (FRH) filed a petition for a writ of mandate challenging that decision. FRH alleged the City was required to conduct a CEQA Environmental Impact Review (EIR) of the development because it violated certain land use provisions in the City’s municipal code. FRH also alleged the City abused its discretion by approving a project that violated its own land use provisions. The trial court denied FRH’s petition. The Court of Appeal found no evidence of the alleged land use violations, and affirmed the judgment. View "Friends of Riverside's Hills v. City or Riverside" on Justia Law

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The subject of the public trust at issue in this case was the Scott River in Siskiyou County, California, a tributary of the Klamath River and a navigable waterway for the purposes of the public trust doctrine. The Court of Appeal surmised this appeal presented two questions involving the application of the public trust doctrine to groundwater extraction: whether the doctrine had ever applied to groundwater, and if so, whether the 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) abrogated whatever application it might have had, replacing it with statutory rules passed by the Legislature. The Court felt there was no specific and concrete allegation that any action or forbearance to act by the State Water Resources Control Board (Board) or permit issued by County of Siskiyou (County) to extract groundwater actually violated the public trust doctrine by damaging the water resources held in trust for the public by the Board or the County. Rather, the Environmental Law Foundation and associated fishery organizations Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association and Institute for Fisheries Resources (collectively ELF), the Board, and the County sought the Court's opinion as to whether the public trust doctrine mandated the Board and the County a public trust duty to consider whether the extractions of groundwater adversely affected public trust uses of the Scott River and whether SGMA took those duties away. The scope of the Court's ruling was narrow; the Court found the Legislature had not released the Scott River from the public trust nor dissolve the public trust doctrine within the text or scope of SGMA. View "Environmental Law Foundation v. State Water Resources Control Bd." on Justia Law

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After a challenge to its 2004 general plan, San Francisco, acting under court order, prepared an environmental impact report (EIR) pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code 21000) and approved revisions of the housing element of its general plan. The 2009 Housing Element examined the type, amount, and affordability of new construction needed, as determined by the Association of Bay Area Governments, which determined that San Francisco’s fair share of the regional housing for January 2007 through June 2014 would be 31,190 units, or about 4,160 units per year. The stated goal was to “alleviate a tight housing market.” In certifying the EIR, the planning department notified the public that the 2009 Housing Element, by encouraging housing near transit lines, will have a single, significant, unavoidable environmental impact on transit that cannot be mitigated to a level of insignificance. Opponents filed a petition for writ of mandate challenging the adequacy of EIR. The trial court denied relief. The court of appeal affirmed. The EIR addresses mitigation measures proposed by the opponents. The Housing Element EIR adequately analyzed the impacts on water, traffic, land use, and visual resources by using the future conditions projected by ABAG, rather than analyzing the existing conditions. View "San Franciscans for Livable Neighborhoods v. City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's ruling that the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) because the city treated the creation of a new subzone as follow-on to its prior, initial approval of a Target store rather than as an entirely new "project" under CEQA. The court held that the city's ordinance should be examined under Public Resources Code section 21166, and that the city complied with CEQA in proceeding by way of an addendum to the prior environmental impact report because substantial evidence supported the city's finding that the specific plan amendment would not have any reasonably foreseeable environmental consequences beyond the construction of the Super Target store. The court also held that the ordinance constituted "spot zoning," but that it was permissible because the city did not abuse its discretion in finding that its amendment to the specific plan was in the public interest and compatible with the general plans of which it was a part. View "Citizens Coalition Los Angeles v. City of Los Angeles" on Justia Law