Articles Posted in Coastal Development

Published on:

Anyone who is considering developing, remodeling, or demolishing hotels, motels, or other visitor-serving lodging in the California coastal zone needs to be aware that these projects are likely to be receiving much greater scrutiny at the Coastal Commission.

California’s Coastal Act requires the Commission to protect, encourage, and, where feasible, provide “lower cost visitor and recreational facilities,” which includes lodging. However, under the Coastal Act the Commission cannot fix private overnight room rental rates or set income eligibility standards for overnight room rentals.

The Commission has been discussing ways to provide low-cost overnight accommodations in light of these limitations. The Commission is now approaching the issue with renewed emphasis due to the recent enactment of AB 2616. AB 2616 allows the Commission to consider environmental justice and “the equitable distribution of environmental benefits throughout the state when acting on a coastal development permit.” The new law defines “environmental justice” as “the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, and incomes with respect to the development, adoption, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

Although AB 2616 takes effect on January 1, 2017, the Commission already is applying environmental justice principles with respect to lodging. At a recent workshop, the Commission’s staff presented preliminary recommendations to address low-cost overnight accommodations. While the Commission has not yet adopted any formal guidance, we expect the Commission will be using the principles discussed at the workshop in evaluating applications in the meantime.

There are some immediate implications that applicants need to plan for now:

First, the Commission is likely to scrutinize renovations and demolitions of existing lower-cost lodging much more closely. The Commission has seen examples of locally approved renovations of affordable accommodations that removed the units from the affordable category. The Commission is now aware of companies investing in that business model. We can expect the Commission to maintain that such upgrades require coastal development permits conditioned to address the anticipated loss of affordability. We also anticipate that the Commission will deny permits to demolish or repurpose affordable accommodations, unless replacement accommodations are first provided.

Second, we can expect that the Commission will require projects that are not affordable to provide onsite low and moderate-cost accommodations (such as camp sites, RV overnight facilities, and similar lower-cost classes of accommodations). We also expect the Commission to  impose higher in-lieu fees on all classes of lodging projects and appreciably higher in-lieu fees on high-cost lodging projects, even where existing affordable accommodations have not been eliminated. The Commission’s data shows that fees collected to date have not been enough to create the affordable accommodations for which they were imposed.

Third, Commission staff’s preliminary recommendations emphasize consideration of a project’s affordability relative to the availability of affordable overnight accommodations in the vicinity of the project. The Commission and the State Coastal Conservancy are developing a database for this analysis. Applicants need to be prepared to address marketplace affordability and project economics before the Commission.

Fortune favors the prepared. That certainly will be the case when it comes to dealing with lodging in the coastal zone in the coming years.

Published on:

Forty years after the California Supreme Court addressed vested rights in its oft-quoted “Avco” decision, a simple two-part question often is asked to determine whether, in the face of changes to land use regulations, the right to complete a project has vested: “Has a building permit been issued and has a foundation been poured?” Sometimes, the question is framed “Are there sticks in the air?” There are, however, circumstances where vesting may occur without sticks in the air, the pouring of a foundation, or even the issuance of a building permit. One of those arises under what Avco Community Developers v. South Coast Regional Commission called “rare situations.” Another is where a local ordinance provides its own vesting standards.

Avco Grading-CaptionThe Decision. Avco arose from the 1972 adoption by California’s voters of the Coastal Zone Conservation Act (the “Act”), the precursor to California’s Coastal Act. The County of Orange had approved a final tract map and issued a grading permit for a planned community. The developer began grading, installed subdivision improvements, and incurred substantial liabilities in reliance on the County approvals – all before the effective date of the Act. In the end, the Court concluded that the developer needed a permit from the newly-created Coastal Zone Conservation Commission because building permits for individual structures had not been issued before the Act became effective. This has led to a common, though incorrect, perception that Avco held that in all cases a building permit – and more – is needed to vest a project against changing land use regulations.

The words most often associated with Avco are “if a  property owner has performed substantial work and incurred substantial liabilities in good faith reliance upon a permit issued by the government, he acquires a vested right to complete construction in accordance with the terms of the permit.” Those words, however, did not foreclose a less rigid vesting analysis. The Court also stated that its decision was “not founded upon an obdurate adherence to archaic concepts inappropriate in the context of modern development practices or upon a blind insistence on an instrument entitled ‘building permit’.” The Court even commended the Commission for conceding that a building permit is not “an absolute requirement under all circumstances for acquisition of a vested right”  before noting that there may be “rare situations” where vesting is based upon a different type of approval, one that provides “substantially the same specificity and definition to a project as a building permit.” This crack in the Avco door can lead to an alternative path for acquiring vested rights to shield an approved project from new regulations.

The “Rare Situation.” Not long after Avco, a “rare situation” emerged from the application of changed land use regulations to another Orange County planned development. In San Clemente Estates v. City of San Clemente, a federal bankruptcy judge addressed the vesting of a development for which grading permits had not been issued and building permits applications had not been filed at the time the new laws were adopted. The court concurred with the holding in Avco, but seized upon Avco’s “rare situations” discussion. The court found that the City Council was “intimately familiar with the project,” including details regarding the location, elevation, and appearance of each lot, the type of single family home to be built on each lot, and the specific locations of condominiums, a club house, and an equestrian center. As a result, the court concluded that the City Council knew “exactly what it was approving” and found that the project was insulated from the City’s newly-adopted land use regulations.

Local Ordinances.  The Avco Court also noted that Orange County’s Building Code prohibited issuance of a building permit unless it conforms to “other pertinent laws and ordinances.” The Court saw that language as reflecting “the general rule that a builder must comply with the laws which are in effect at the time a building permit is issued, including the laws which were enacted after application for the permit.”

DP 9.61.040(f)-SnipBut what if local ordinances, as sometimes is the case, expressly counter that “general rule” by providing that a developer has the right to complete a project pursuant to planning and zoning regulations in effect when an application is deemed complete? It is difficult to foresee any situation in which Avco would override the express vesting provisions of local ordinances, such as the example to the right from the City of Dana Point. Therefore, rather than meekly conceding to a rigid application of Avco, it is necessary to evaluate vested rights in the context of sometimes obscure local ordinances which might operate in the developer’s favor.

Without a doubt, Avco is alive and well at age forty. It continues to strongly suppress the vesting of development rights in California. Indeed, there have been harsh applications of Avco which have denied vesting to projects that arguably could have been “rare situation” exceptions. While, in virtually all cases, development agreements will remain the best protection against new land use regulations, developers should be aware that “rare situations” and local ordinances do exist which may present project-saving opportunities. Those opportunities should not be overlooked simply because foundations have not been poured and sticks are not in the air.

Published on:

. . . The Corps’ Definition of Waters of the United States

From Clark Morrison:

Clark photoJustice Scalia’s passing may have an immediate impact on the Army Corps of Engineers’ expanded definition of “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. Last October, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a nationwide stay of the Corps’ new broader definition until the matter is fully litigated, citing skepticism over whether the Corps’ definition is scientifically supportable. Recently, the 6th Circuit decided that it will hear the entire case rather than returning it to the district courts for trial. So, we may see a ruling on this regulation much more quickly than we previously anticipated. Should this matter end up before the Supreme Court, it should be remembered that Justice Scalia was a staunch proponent of the idea that the Corps should not exercise jurisdiction over waters that are not truly navigable (e.g., “reasonably permanent flow”).

 

. . . Dueling Ballot Measures for Los Angeles

From Alex DeGood:

Two competing initiatives are currently gathering signatures in the City of Los Angeles for placement on the November 8 general election ballot. One, called “The Build Better LA Initiative,” is sponsored by a coalition of labor unions and housing advocates. The second, called the “Neighborhood Integrity Initiative,” is backed by the Coalition to Preserve LA. Both initiatives would have far-reaching implications for future development in Los Angeles.

What will proposed ballot measures do to LA's skyline?

What will proposed ballot measures do to LA’s skyline?

The Build Better LA Initiative would affect projects requiring general plan amendments or zone changes that permit additional floor area, density, or height. It contains inclusionary affordable housing requirements, mandating affordability for up to 25% of the units in rental projects and up to 40% of the units in for sale housing projects. Offsite affordable housing and the payment of a substantial affordable housing in lieu fee would be options in some instances. The initiative also would impose substantial union labor and local hire requirements on affected projects.

The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative appears to particularly target large development projects. It would impose a two-year moratorium on general plan amendments or zone changes that increase density or intensity. It also would require updating the general plan with various lower-growth principles and limit the City’s ability to approve parking reductions for projects.

Both initiatives take direct aim at the planning and development process in Los Angeles, and either one could dramatically alter development plans across the City.

 

. . . Inclusionary Rental Housing

From Steve Ryan and Tim Paone:

AB 2502 was introduced in the California Assembly on February 19 principally to offset the 2009 court decision in Palmer v. City of Los Angeles and allow local jurisdictions to impose, as a condition of project approval, rental units affordable to, and occupied by, tenants whose household incomes fall within the lower, very low, or extremely low categories. If adopted, AB 2502 also will apply to for sale residential developments. In 2013, Governor Brown vetoed similar legislation, noting that inclusionary rental requirements can “exacerbate” the challenges faced by low and middle income communities seeking to attract new development. That, however, occurred before the California Supreme Court’s ruling in California Building Industry Association v. City of San Jose upholding a City of San Jose ordinance requiring developers to include affordable units in their residential projects. The San Jose ordinance specifically stated that it would not apply to rental projects until either the Palmer decision was overturned by the courts or the Legislature authorized inclusionary rental housing. It will be worth watching to see if the Governor’s views on the potentially negative impacts of inclusionary housing requirements have changed since 2013.

 

. . . The Hiring of a New Executive Director for the Coastal Commission

From Tim Paone:

With the termination of Dr. Charles Lester as Executive Director of the California Coastal Commission, all eyes are on the CommBlack Hat-White Hatission’s selection of his replacement. Lost in the unfortunate characterization of Dr. Lester’s dismissal as a battle between developers and environmentalists was the Commission majority’s stated desire for a more efficient process. Shortly before the Commission hearing on Dr. Lester’s performance evaluation, former Commissioner Jana Zimmer had urged in an Op-Ed that appeared in the Santa Barbara Independent that a “black hat versus white hat” approach to the decision before the Commission was not productive. Given the prominence of the Executive Director position, there should be no shortage of candidates who are effective managers with strong integrity, have credibility with the environmental community, and don’t own either a white hat or a black hat.

Published on:

2015 is shaping up as a year of significant developments in land use law thanks to the Governor, the Legislature, and the courts. Here’s an update on anticipated developments related to Sea Level Rise, Affordable Housing, Traffic Impact Analysis and the Drought, any or all of which could constrain land development:

 

. . . SEA LEVEL RISE AND THE COASTAL COMMISSION: Prospective purchasers, developers, and owners of coastal land should pay close attention to the Coastal Commission’s development of policies to address rising sea level and its implication not just for coastal resources, but also for existing and proposed development. Although final guidance has not yet been issued, the Commission’s Draft Sea-Level Rise Policy Guidance concludes that sea level rise threatens “seven wastewater treatment plants, commercial fishery facilities, marine terminals, Coastal Highway One, fourteen power plants, residential homes, and other important developSealevel setbackment and infrastructure.” Add in impacts to tourism, commercial fisheries, coastal agriculture, the ports, and sensitive coastal resources and it is easy to anticipate that the projected risks from sea level rise will create tough decisions for the Commission as it acts on Local Coastal Programs, LCP amendments, and Coastal Development Permits. Hazard avoidance and mitigation are likely to result in proposals for significant constraints on development. Every site and project will be different, but it will be important to evaluate the potential significance of sea level rise over the life of the project in the context of any investment or development within the Coastal Zone. The picture above is from a presentation by Charles Lester, Executive Director of the Coastal Commission, to the Senate Budget Subcommittee 2 on March 20, 2014. It shows a pre-Coastal Act home and more current setback requirements along a blufftop in Pismo Beach which has been impacted by bluff erosion.

 

. . . AFFORDABLE HOUSING FEES: We told you earlier this year that the California Supreme Court will be weighing in on the validitysan jose of an in lieu affordable housing fee in San Jose.   Oral arguments in California Building Industry Association v. City of San Jose (click here to read the appellate court decision which is under review) were heard on April 8. CCN’s Mike Zischke was in attendance and observed an engaged and inquisitive Court. When this decision comes down, its significance likely will go beyond the affordable housing issue. With two new Justices sworn in at the beginning of this year, this decision could foretell where the Court will lean on land use issues, particularly those involving exactions and impact fees.

 

. . . THE DROUGHT: Governor Brown’s Executive Order calling for a 25% reduction in the State’s water usage will impact not only daily life for Californians (there goes that ten-minute shower), but potentially development proposals. At a time when some areas in the state are experiencing housing shortages, there undoubtedly will be pressure from some interest groups to cut back on the development of new housing. It’s too early yet to understand what the full effect of Executive Order B-29-15 will be, as local water agencies and local governments will be developing their own policies to comply with the Governor’s directive.

  Continue reading →

Published on:

Digital rendering of the proposed La Bahia Hotel in Santa Cruz

Digital rendering of the proposed La Bahia Hotel in Santa Cruz

The final chapter of the entitlement history of the La Bahia Hotel in the City of Santa Cruz suggests a telling lesson for oceanfront coastal zone projects: keep it simple. The proposed hotel is on the site of the La Bahia Apartments, which were developed in 1926 as luxury apartments and are designated as a local historic landmark. This entitlement story began with the City’s 1998 adoption of the Beach and South of Laurel Comprehensive Area Plan, which envisioned a revitalized beachfront area. The Area Plan contemplated revitalizing older lodging facilities along the shoreline and attracting a quality hotel to the beachfront at the site of the La Bahia Apartments. Parts of this Area Plan were adopted by the Coastal Commission and included in City’s Local Coastal Program (LCP). As with many coastal projects, transforming the vision into reality would have its challenges. In 2003, a hotel proposal was approved by the City, but with conditions of approval that resulted in the applicant deeming the project financially infeasible. In 2009, the City approved a coastal development permit (CDP) for another hotel project, but needed to first amend its LCP to do so. That amendment required Coastal Commission approval. The Commission rejected the amendment in 2011.

The Santa Cruz Seaside Company, the owner/operator of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, then stepped in and submitted a proposal for a 165-room beachfront hotel and conference/banquet facility. Notably, this project would not require amendment of the City’s Local Coastal Program, thus “keeping it simple.” As a result, it did not need Coastal Commission approval unless the City’s approval was appealed to the Commission and presented a substantial issue. Continue reading →

Published on:

Here’s the continuing message from the courts to public agencies demanding money or land from developers: There must be a strong connection between your exaction and the impacts of a project or else the exaction violates the Constitution. Established more than two decades ago by the United States Supreme Court, the principles of “nexus” and “rough proportionality” can no longer be considered “new.” Yet, public agencies continue to explore the limits of the courts’ tolerance for “too much” in the way of exactions. In 2014, two California decisions, one state and one federal, told public agencies that they had gone too far.

The federal case (Levin v. City and County of San Francisco) addressed San Francisco’s rent control ordinance. Under the ordinance, if a landlord wants to remove a rent-controlled unit from the rental market, the landlord must pay the displaced tenant the lump sum equivalent of twenty-four months of the difference between the tenant’s controlled rent and the prevailing market rate rent for a similar unit. Additionally, that amount is increased based upon how long the tenant had resided in the unit, with many tenants owed well over $100,000 under the ordinance.

The federal district court found that a landlord’s decision to remove a unit from the rental market did not create the disparity between the controlled rental rate and the market rental rate. First, market rates are the product of economic factors that have nothing to do with the landlord. Second, the disparity between controlled rates and market rates exists only because the City chose to impose rent control. As a result, there was no valid connection between the rental disparity and the landlord’s removal of the unit from the rental market. Therefore, the court found that the ordinance was a taking without just compensation under the Fifth Amendment.

Similarly, in Bowman v. California Coastal Commission, a California court of appeal addressed a San Luis Obispo County requirement for dedication of a shoreline easement as a condition to the County’s approving the renovation of a house and barn on the same 400-acre site, but a mile from that shoreline. Continue reading →