Appellate Court Clarifies Permit Streamlining Act’s Noticing Requirements

PSA's

On the heels of the Berkeley Shellmound SB 35 decision in favor of streamlined housing, another recent Court of Appeal decision rejected a public agency’s attempts to delay a housing project under the Permit Streamlining Act (“PSA”), and clarified that a jurisdiction with permitting authority must take action within the PSA’s time limits even if the project’s public hearing notice did not specifically discuss the PSA’s “deemed approved” provision.

Overturning a 2006 decision about the level of detail necessary to trigger the PSA’s “deemed approved” requirement when a City fails to render a decision on a project within a specified time period, the Court of Appeal in late June determined that a public agency’s hearing notice did not need to specifically include a reference to the deemed approved outcome (Linovitz Capo Shores LLC et al v. California Coastal Commission, No. G058331 (Cal. Ct. App. June 25, 2021)). Instead, the Court found that the California Coastal Commission (“Coastal Commission”) failed to properly make a decision on the merits of a mobilehome housing project within the PSA’s time limits, and under the PSA the project was approved. While the fact pattern for the case is somewhat unique, it provides a lesson for local and state permitting agencies, and project sponsors dealing with jurisdictions hostile to new housing.

Owners of beachfront mobilehomes in San Clemente, Orange County, filed permits with the Coastal Commission and other permitting agencies to renovate their mobilehome park. After several years, the Coastal Commission issued individual public hearing notices for each application. The notice included a project description, the date, time, and location of the hearing, hearing procedures, and ways the public could participate. Notably, the hearing notice did not specify the deadline for the Coastal Commission to render a decision on the permits under the PSA. However, the staff report provided in bold lettering that the Coastal Commission was required to make a decision at the hearing in order to comply with the PSA, and the Commission’s legal counsel discussed the “deemed approved” deadline at the hearing itself.

At the project hearing, the sponsors agreed in principle to withdraw and re-file their applications with an amended scope, but asked the Coastal Commission to waive resubmittal fees and a resubmittal waiting period. The Commission waived the waiting period, but not the resubmittal fees, and the meeting recessed without any further comment from the project sponsors. The Commission did not take any formal action on the pending applications. The sponsors then sued the Commission, claiming in part that the projects had been deemed approved under the PSA.

Unsurprisingly, the Coastal Commission claimed that the projects were not approved for several reasons. Relevant to the PSA, according to the Commission, the requisite public notice under the PSA was never given. It claimed the hearing notice needed to include a statement that the projects would be “deemed approved” if the Commission did not act within 60 days. The Court of Appeal disagreed, interpreting the PSA to require such a statement only when an applicant itself is providing notice of a hearing under the PSA. When the permitting agency provides notice, the PSA’s time limitations can apply even if the notice does not discuss the PSA.

The Court of Appeal’s decision overturns a 2006 decision reaching the opposite conclusion. The Court did not promulgate a list of information that must be included in a public notice to trigger the PSA’s deemed approved deadlines, instead reaching a narrower conclusion that the notice provided in this case—as discussed above—complied with statutory law and constitutional due process principles.

Interestingly, the Court noted that even though the Coastal Commission did not have a legal obligation to notify the public of the upcoming PSA deadline, it did just that, both through the project’s staff report and its legal counsel’s advice to the Commission that the PSA deadline was approaching. The Court also went out of its way to note near-unanimous public support for the project, which arguably made its decision easier. Implied in the Court’s opinion is that the Commission made a simple mistake of parliamentary procedure by not taking an official action on the pending applications in front of it.

The Court did not opine on whether the Commission could legally keep the hearing open and continue it to a future date past the PSA deadline date, or adopt a motion of intent to disapprove and continue it. Both are common actions taken by permitting authorities that pro-housing activists have long claimed circumvent the intent of the PSA and cause delay to housing projects.

Increasingly, California courts are being asked to enforce the pro-housing laws passed in Sacramento in recent years, such as SB 330, the PSA, and SB 35. For example, two trial courts recently rejected anti-housing voter initiatives on the grounds they violated SB 330, either one of which could be appealed and become binding case law. We will continue to keep you up to date on major housing-related legal developments.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Mark Loper.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

No Parking? No Problem. Property Owner Not Liable for Failure to Provide On-Site Parking

on-site

A case recently discussed a property owner’s duty to a third party visitor, more specifically a possible duty to a third party who incurs an off-property injury due to an alleged deficiency at the owner’s property itself.  In Issakhani v. Shadow Glen Homeowners Association, Inc. (“HOA”), the plaintiff tried to park at the property (owned by the HOA) but there was no more guest parking available (and likely too few guest parking spaces to begin with at the property), so she parked across the busy street at an off-site location.  63 Cal.App.5th 917 (2021).  Plaintiff jaywalked to cross the street to get to the property and was hit by a car and suffered severe injuries.  The Court of Appeal ultimately held that the property owner did not have a duty of care to protect the plaintiff from an accident that occurred as she travelled to the premises.

The Court analyzed the standards for negligence and duty of care.  Claims for negligence or premises liability for injury at a property rely on the same analysis – was there a duty of care?  Was there a breach of that duty?  If yes to the first two, was such breach the cause of the person’s injuries?  The Court referenced the common law that a property owner does have a duty to maintain the land in its possession and control in a reasonably safe condition as to avoid exposing others to an unreasonable risk of injury.  The Court elaborated that such duty of care can extend to a responsibility to avoid exposing persons to risks of injury that occurs off-site if the landowner’s property is maintained in such a manner as to expose persons to an unreasonable risk of injury off-site.

Here, the Court did state that a landowner has a duty of care not to maintain conditions on its property that exacerbated the dangers of invitees entering or exiting the property.  However, they rejected the theory that the absence of adequate on-site parking, by itself, amounted to a condition on the property that exacerbates the off-site danger to invitees and gives rise to an actionable duty.  They found that although there was a foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff with reasonable degree of certainty due to lack of sufficient parking and possible injury when coming to the property, there was not a closeness of connection between the defendant’s conduct and the injury suffered.  More specifically, they found that the plaintiff’s actions – selecting an off-site parking location on the far side of a busy street and then jaywalking – was more a product of plaintiff’s decisions rather than simply a lack of on-site parking at the HOA’s property.

In addition to the analysis of common law elements, the Court also relied on a prior case which directly held that a landowner does not have a duty to provide invitees with on-site parking in order to protect from the dangers of crossing nearby streets to get to the property.  Finally, they found that public policy guarded against finding for the plaintiff as a property owner is sometimes limited by a finite amount of parking and cannot necessarily always provide enough on-site parking for guests and invitees.

Issakhani reminds us that a landowner should be cognizant of possible unsafe conditions at their property which could expose them to liability.  The Court will analyze whether there was a duty and foreseeability of harm to the third party based on the maintenance of one’s own property and a close connection between the risk and injury suffered.  This could also include liability for injuries off the property if directly caused by an unreasonable risk at one’s own property.  However, this case highlights that one cannot cover each and every contingency and someone’s choice to make a riskier decision (here jaywalking across a busy street) will likely not be held against the property owner.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Lindsay Petrone.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.

Proposition C Upheld by Court of Appeal

Proposition C

California’s First District Court of Appeal (“Court of Appeal”) has rejected arguments from business and tax groups challenging the validity of San Francisco’s Proposition C, the Early Care and Education initiative.  The Court of Appeal held that citizen initiatives to enact a special tax only require a simple majority vote to pass, even if an elected official is involved in the citizen initiative process. This decision could be a game-changer in how tax measures are processed in the future, causing legislators to convert proposed tax measures into citizen-initiated measures, i.e. allowing politicians in California to use the citizen initiative’s simple majority vote requirement to avoid the more strenuous two-thirds supermajority vote local governments must obtain to increase taxes. San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera described the ruling as “a victory for voters and a victory for democracy.”

Background

Proposition C, a citizen initiative, was approved by City of San Francisco voters on the June 5, 2018 ballot. This commercial rent tax was expected to raise up to $145 million annually for childcare and early education services by taxing business revenues from commercial space rentals by 3.5% and warehouse space rentals by 1% where receipts are over $1 million. Norman Yee, at the time a member of the City’s Board of Supervisors, was the driving force behind citizen initiative Proposition C. He completed the key steps required to put a citizen initiative on the ballot— he both turned in the signed initiative petition pages and signed the ballot arguments in support of Proposition C.

In San Francisco, there are two different ways special taxes are imposed: (1) local governments may present a special tax to the voters, but voters must approve the special tax by a super majority two-thirds vote, or (2) local citizen initiatives may present special taxes to the voters after receiving a threshold number of signatures. Citizen initiatives only require a simple majority vote to pass.

After Proposition C was approved by a 51% majority of voters, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association quickly joined forces with other business-related groups (“Plaintiffs”) to challenge the initiative, arguing the measure needed a two-thirds supermajority vote to pass because an elected district supervisor put forward the measure. Though the City has collected tax funds from businesses since the passage of the proposition, the money was not spent during the legal challenge. A San Francisco Superior Court judge rejected Plaintiffs’ arguments in July 2019. The decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeal on January 27, 2021. Now, Plaintiffs are planning to appeal the most recent decision to the California Supreme Court as the Court has not previously ruled on this issue.

Legal Reasoning

The Court of Appeal adopted the reasoning of a recent case in another division of the same court, City and County of San Francisco v. All Persons Interested in the Matter of Proposition C (2020) 51 Cal.App.5th 701 (“All Persons”), to reject Plaintiffs’ appeal arguments. First, All Persons noted the initiative power is “one of the most precious rights” of the democratic process, so courts must both guard and liberally construe the exercise of the power. Accordingly, the court held Proposition 13 only requires governmental entities to gain two-thirds supermajority voter approval before imposing a special tax. Next, the court held Proposition 218, which requires a two-thirds supermajority when local government imposes a special tax, did not apply because the electorate is not “local government.” Finally, the court held that the City Charter did not require a two-thirds supermajority to pass a special tax because the Charter only creates substantive limits on the initiative power, not procedural limitations.

Plaintiffs argued their action challenging Proposition C was distinguishable from All Persons because Norman Yee was an elected official serving on the Board of Supervisors. The court rejected this argument, holding that Propositions 13 and 218 did not require a two-thirds vote to pass special taxes where an elected official was involved in the citizen initiative process. Plaintiffs will appeal to the California Supreme Court, noting this decision allows politicians in California to circumvent the two-thirds voter approval requirement for special taxes by turning special tax proposals into citizen initiative petitions.

 

Authored by Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP Attorney Kaitlin Sheber.

The issues discussed in this update are not intended to be legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is established with the recipient.  Readers should consult with legal counsel before relying on any of the information contained herein.  Reuben, Junius & Rose, LLP is a full service real estate law firm.  We specialize in land use, development and entitlement law.  We also provide a wide range of transactional services, including leasing, acquisitions and sales, formation of limited liability companies and other entities, lending/workout assistance, subdivision and condominium work.