Recent Cases - Land Use and Entitlements

Undoubtedly, development impact fees (DIFs)[1] can make or break the pro forma of any development project. Until this month, developers hoping to challenge the assessment of project-related DIFs were often limited in the causes of action that could be brought. For instance, in California, a DIF may be challenged under the Mitigation Fee Act (Govt. Code §§ 66000 et seq.), and only DIFs that were “imposed neither generally nor ministerially, but on an individual and discretionary basis” could invoke the Takings Clause embedded in the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.[2] This limitation on developers’ ability to utilize the Takings Clause meant that courts would not apply the “Nollan/Dolan test” to DIFs generally applicable to a broad class of property owners pursuant to legislative action.[3]Continue Reading What the Sheetz: Where California Development Impact Fees Stand Following Recent Supreme Court Decision

In its recent decision in Hilltop Group Inc. v. County of San Diego, California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal issued a number of holdings that resulted in a strong ruling in support of streamlined environmental review for projects that are consistent with and within the scope of a program environmental impact report (EIR) for a general plan. The Court clarified that CEQA Guidelines section 15183 (“Section 15183”) does not permit additional environmental review for such projects except as necessary to determine whether a project will have significant effects that are peculiar to the project or the site that were not analyzed in the prior EIR and cannot be substantially mitigated by uniformly applied development policies or standards. The Court went on to hold that public controversy and lay testimony about “peculiar” impacts that might arise from a project do not constitute substantial evidence sufficient to require further environmental review under Section 15183. Perhaps the most important lesson of Hilltop Group Inc. is that decisionmakers cannot err on the side of requiring environmental review simply because a project is controversial, particularly when streamlining is in play. If substantial evidence demonstrates a project’s environmental effects were studied in the prior general plan EIR or can be addressed through uniform policies and procedures, the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) does not permit the lead agency to require an EIR, mitigated negative declaration or other additional environmental review.Continue Reading A Win for Consistency Evaluations Under CEQA Guidelines 15183: Court Rules that Public Controversy is not a Basis for Additional Environmental Review

Despite repeated attempts at reform by the Legislature, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) continues to be a minefield for those assigned with the herculean task of complying with the law’s myriad of directives. Add to the already inherent complexity of CEQA, judicial interpretation of its provisions has wide-reaching implications that can create even more potential pitfalls for those required to abide by its mandates, including decisionmakers and project proponents. Below are the summaries of the most notable CEQA cases from 2023, broken down by category.Continue Reading 2023 Year-in-Review CEQA Litigation

Near the end of 2023, the United States Supreme Court declined to consider the City of Costa Mesa’s appeal of a January Ninth Circuit ruling in SoCal Recovery, LLC v. City of Costa Mesa (2023) 56 F.4th 802. The decision held that sober living home operators can prove “actual disability” – as required by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) – without an individualized assessment of each resident. Instead, the Ninth Circuit held that admissions criteria, house rules, and testimony are sufficient to show on a collective basis that a sober living home serves or intends to serve individuals with actual disabilities.Continue Reading U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Consider Appeal of Ninth Circuit Ruling that Sober Living Homes Do Not Have to Prove Each Resident Is Disabled to Survive Summary Judgment in Challenge to Allegedly Discriminatory Zoning Laws

On June 13, 2023, the Second Appellate District affirmed the City of Pomona’s use of a statutory exemption for its Commercial Cannabis Overlay Permit Program under California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Guidelines section 15183, finding that the program required no additional environmental review. The decision in Lucas v. City of Pomona is noteworthy for the appellate court’s broad interpretation of the statutory exemption,[1] holding that (i) the City’s zoning ordinance, General Plan Update, and environmental impact report (EIR) that do not address “density” may be exempt under CEQA Guidelines section 15183, and (ii) uses, including cannabis-related uses, that are not literally included in land use plan documents, may be determined to be sufficiently similar to existing and defined land uses allowed by underlying zoning.Continue Reading Commercial Cannabis Permit Program and Overlay District Statutorily Exempt Under CEQA Guideline Section 15183

Last week the Office of the Attorney General demonstrated the State of California’s unwillingness to cede its enforcement of state housing laws even in the face of defiance from local governments. On April 10, in People of California v. City of Huntington Beach (OCSC, Case No. 30-2023-01312235-CU-WM-CJC), Attorney General Rob Bonta filed a Motion to Amend its Petition For Writ of Mandate and Complaint For Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (Motion to Amend), which included the proposed First Amended Petition (Amended Petition), after the City of Huntington Beach (City), again, failed to adopt its sixth cycle update to its Housing Element[1] (6th Cycle) on April 4, 2023 – more than 16 months after the statutory deadline – in violation of the state Housing Element Law (Govt Code. § 65580 et seq.). Continue Reading California City Flouts Housing Laws, Inviting State Scrutiny