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Sequoia Park Associates v. County of Sonoma

August 21, 2009


(Sonoma County Super. Ct. No. SCV240003), Temporary Judge Raymond J. Giordano.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richman J.


One of the subjects covered by the Subdivision Map Act (Gov. Code, § 66410 et seq.) is the conversion of a mobilehome park from a rental to a resident ownership basis. One of the provisions on that subject is Government Code section 66427.5 (section 66427.5), which spells out certain steps that must be completed before the conversion application can be approved by the appropriate local body. Although it is not codified in the language of section 66427.5, the Legislature recorded its intent that by enacting section 66427.5 it was acting "to ensure that conversions... are bona fide resident conversions." (Stats. 2002, ch. 1143, § 2.)

The County of Sonoma (County) enacted an ordinance with the professed aim of "implementing" the state conversion statutes. It imposed additional obligations upon a subdivider submitting a conversion application to those required by section 66427.5. The ordinance also imposed criteria that had to be satisfied by the subdivider before the application would be presumed bona fide and thus could be approved.

A mobilehome park operator brought suit to halt enforcement of the ordinance on the ground that it was preempted by section 66427.5. The trial court declined to issue a writ of mandate, concluding that the ordinance was not preempted. As will be shown, we conclude that the ordinance is expressly preempted because section 66427.5 states that the "scope of the hearing" for approval of the conversion application "shall be limited to the issue of compliance with this section." We further conclude that the ordinance is impliedly preempted because the Legislature, which has established a dominant role for the state in regulating mobilehomes, has indicated its intent to forestall local intrusion into the particular terrain of mobilehome conversions, declining to expand section 66427.5 in ways that would authorize local government to impose additional conditions or requirements for conversion approval. Moreover, the County‟s ordinance duplicates several features of state law, a redundancy that is an established litmus test for preemption. We therefore reverse the trial court‟s order and direct entry of a new order declaring the ordinance invalid.


On May 15, 2007, the County‟s Board of Supervisors unanimously enacted Ordinance No. 5725 (the Ordinance). Sequoia Park Associates (Sequoia) is a limited partnership that owns and operates a mobilehome park it desires to subdivide and convert from a rental to a resident-owner basis. Within a month of the enactment of the Ordinance, Sequoia sought to have it overturned as preempted by section 66427.5. Specifically, Sequoia combined a petition for a writ of mandate with causes of action for declaratory and injunctive relief, and damages for inverse condemnation of its property.

The matter of the Ordinance‟s validity was submitted on the basis of voluminous papers addressing Sequoia‟s motion for issuance of a writ of mandate. The court heard argument and filed a brief order denying Sequoia relief. The court concluded that section 66427.5 "largely does appear... by its own language" to impose limits on local authority to legislate on the subject of mobilehome conversions. "However, Ordinance 5725 seems merely to comply with, and give effect to, the requirements set forth in section 66427.5 rather than imposing additional requirements. This is certainly true for the language on bona fide conversions, tenant impact reports, and even general plan requirements. It is possibly less clear regarding health and safety, but even on this issue, the Ordinance does not appear to exceed [the County‟s] authority since, contrary to [Sequoia‟s] contention, it does not intrude on the [state Department of Housing and Community Development‟s (HCD)] power in the area." This order is the subject of Sequoia‟s appeal.*fn1


The parties agree that our review of the trial court‟s order is de novo because it involves a pure issue of law, namely, whether the Ordinance is preempted by Section 66427.5. (Apartment Assn. of Los Angeles County, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles (2006) 136 Cal.App.4th 119, 132; Ruble Vista Associates v. Bacon (2002) 97 Cal.App.4th 335, 339.) But the parties do not agree on how far our analysis may, or should, extend.

Sequoia argues we should restrict our inquiry to the current version of section 66427.5, in particular paying no attention to an uncodified expression of the Legislature‟s intent passed at the same time that version was enacted. At the same time Sequoia also argues that we should look to a provision in a version of an amendment to the statute that the Legislature rejected in 2002.

The County‟s approach is similarly compressed: noting that because Sequoia challenged the legality of the Ordinance on its face, the County argues that our analysis must be confined to the four corners of that enactment, and nothing else. Yet the County ranges far afield in marshalling the statutes which it incorporates in its arguments, and tells us that section 66427.5 must be considered in the context of "entire continuum of state regulation of mobilehome park subdivisions." And the County has no hesitation in arguing that the substance of the uncodified provision actually works to the County‟s benefit.

Our view of our inquiry is that it is hardly as narrow as the parties believe. The authorities cited by the County involve situations where local ordinances were challenged on federal constitutional grounds (e.g., Tobe v. City of Santa Ana (1995) 9 Cal.4th 1069, 1084 [vagueness]; Sanchez v. City of Modesto (2006) 145 Cal.App.4th 660, 679-680 [equal protection]), not that they were preempted by state law. As for Sequoia‟s approach, it would appear feasible only if the state statute has language stating the unambiguous intent by the Legislature expressly forbidding cities and counties from acting.

But for the great number of preemption issues-particularly if the emphasis is on implied preemption- the state and the local legislation must be considered together. Only by looking at both can a court know if the local law conflicts with, contradicts, or is inimical to the state law. As will now be shown, this is an established rule of preemption analysis.

Principles Of Preemption

In California, preemption of local legislation by state law is a constitutional principle. "A county or city may make and enforce within its limits all local, police, sanitary, and other ordinances and regulations not in conflict with general laws." (Cal. Const., art. XI, § 7.) The standards governing our inquiry are well established. According to our Supreme Court: "The party claiming that general state law preempts a local ordinance has the burden of demonstrating preemption. [Citation.] We have been particularly "reluctant to infer legislative intent to preempt a field covered by municipal regulation when there is a significant local interest to be served that may differ from one locality to another.‟ [Citations.] "The common thread of the cases is that if there is a significant local interest to be served which may differ from one locality to another, then the presumption favors the validity of the local ordinance against an attack of state preemption.‟ [Citations.]

"Thus, when local government regulates in an area over which it traditionally has exercised control, such as... particular land uses, California courts will presume, absent a clear indication of preemptive intent from the Legislature, that such regulation is not preempted by state statute. [Citation.] The presumption against preemption accords with our more general understanding that "it is not to be presumed that the legislature in the enactment of statutes intends to overthrow long-established principles of law unless such intention is made clearly to appear either by express declaration or by necessary implication.‟ [Citations.]

"Moreover, the "general principles governing state statutory preemption of local land use regulation are well settled.... " "Local legislation in conflict with general law is void. Conflicts exist if the ordinance duplicates [citations], contradicts [citation], or enters an area fully occupied by general law, either expressly or by legislative implication [citations].‟ " ‟ [Citation.]"

"Local legislation is "duplicative‟ of general law when it is coextensive therewith and "contradictory‟ to general law when it is inimical thereto. Local legislation enters an area "fully occupied‟ by general law when the Legislature has expressly manifested its intent to fully occupy the area or when it has impliedly done so in light of recognized indicia of intent." [Citation.] (Big Creek Lumber Co. v. County of Santa Cruz (2006) 38 Cal.4th 1139, 1149-1150, fn. omitted (Big Creek).)

There are three "recognized indicia of intent": " "(1) the subject matter has been so fully and completely covered by general law as to clearly indicate that is has become exclusively a matter of state concern; (2) the subject matter has been partially covered by general law couched in such terms as to indicate clearly that a paramount state concern will not tolerate further or additional local action; or (3) the subject matter has been partially covered by general law and the subject is of such a nature that the adverse effect of a local ordinance on the transient citizens of the state outweighs the possible benefit to the‟ locality [citations]." (Sherwin-Williams Co. v. City of Los Angeles (1993) 4 Cal.4th 893, 898.)

"With respect to the implied occupation of an area of law by the Legislature‟s full and complete coverage of it, this court recently had this to say: " "Where the Legislature has adopted statutes governing a particular subject matter, its intent with regard to occupying the field to the exclusion of all local regulation is not to be measured alone by the language used but by the whole purpose and scope of the legislative scheme." ‟ [Citation.] We went on to say: " "State regulation of a subject may be so complete and detailed as to indicate an intent to preclude local regulation." ‟ [Citation.] We thereafter observed: " "Whenever the Legislature has seen fit to adopt a general scheme for the regulation of a particular subject, the entire control over whatever phases of the subject are covered by state legislation ceases as far as local legislation is concerned." ‟ [Citation.] When a local ordinance is identical to a state statute, it is clear that " "the field sought to be covered by the ordinance has already been occupied" ‟ by state law. [Citation.]" (O'Connell v. City of Stockton (2007) 41 Cal.4th 1061, 1068.)

To discern whether the local law has entered an area that has been "fully occupied" by state law according to the "recognized indicia of intent" requires an analysis that is based on an overview of the topic addressed by the two laws. " "In determining whether the Legislature has preempted by implication to the exclusion of local regulation we must look to the whole... scope of the legislative scheme.‟ " (Big Creek, supra, 38 Cal.4th 1139, 1157, quoting People ex rel. Deukmejian v. County of Mendocino (1984) 36 Cal.3d 476, 485; accord, American Financial Services Assn. v. City of Oakland (2005) 34 Cal.4th 1239, 1252, 1261; Morehart v. County of Santa Barbara (1994) 7 Cal.4th 725, 751.) Such an examination is made with the goal of " "detect[ing] a patterned approach to the subject‟ " (Fisher v. City of Berkeley (1984) 37 Cal.3d 644, 707-708, quoting Galvan v. Superior Court (1969) 70 Cal.2d 851, 862), and whether the local law mandates what state law forbids, or forbids what state law mandates. (Big Creek, supra, 38 Cal.4th 1139, 1161; Great Western Shows, Inc. v. County of Los Angeles (2002) 27 Cal.4th 853, 866.)

Sequoia sees this as a case of express preemption, although it argues in the alternative that the Ordinance also falls to the concept of implied preemption. These contentions can only be evaluated with an appreciation of the sizable body of state legislation concerning mobilehome parks.

The Extent Of State Law In The Area Of Mobilehome Regulation

Section 66427.5 does not stand alone. If the Legislature ever did leave the field of mobilehome park legislation to local control, that day is long past.

Since 1979, the state has had the Mobilehome Residency Law, which comprises almost a hundred statutes governing numerous aspects of the business of operating a mobilehome park. (Civ. Code, §§ 798-799.10.) There are several provisions expressly ordering localities not to legislate in designated areas, such as the content of rental agreements (Civ. Code, § 798.17, subd. (a)(1)), and establishing specified exemptions from local rent control measures. (Civ. Code, §§ 798.21, subd. (a), 798.45.)*fn2 By this statutory scheme, the state has undertaken to "extensively regulate[] the landlord-tenant relationship between mobilehome park owners and residents." (Greening v. Johnson (1997) 53 Cal.App.4th 1223, 1226; accord, SC Manufactured Homes, Inc. v. Canyon View Estates, Inc. (2007) 148 Cal.App.4th 663, 673; People ex rel. Kennedy v. Beaumont Investment, Ltd. (2003) 111 Cal.App.4th 102, 109.)

Even earlier, in 1967, the state enacted the Mobilehome Parks Act (Health & Saf. Code, §§ 18200-18700), which regulates the construction and installation of mobilehome parks in the state. (See County of Santa Cruz v. Waterhouse (2005) 127 Cal.App.4th 1483, 1489-1490.) In this act, the Legislature expressly stated that it "supersedes any ordinance enacted by any city, county, or city and county, whether general law or chartered, applicable to this part." (Health & Saf. Code, § 18300, subd. (a).) The few exemptions from this prohibition are carefully delineated.*fn3

Then there is the Mobilehomes-Manufactured Housing Act of 1980 (Health & Saf. §§ 18000-18153), which regulates the sale, licensing, registration, and titling of mobilehomes. The Legislature declared that the provisions of this measure "apply in all parts of the state and supersede" any conflicting local ordinance. (Health & Saf. Code, § 18015.) The HCD is in charge of enforcement. (Health & Saf. Code, §§ 18020, 18022, 18058.)

These statutory schemes indicate that the state is clearly the dominant actor on this stage. Under the Mobilehome Parks Act, it is the HCD, a state agency, not localities, that was entrusted with the authority to formulate "specific requirements relating to construction, maintenance, occupancy, use, and design" of mobilehome parks (Health & Saf. Code, § 18253; see also Health & Saf. Code §§ 18552 [HCD to adopt "building standards" and "other regulations for... mobilehome accessory buildings or structures"], 18610 [HCD to "adopt regulations to govern the construction, use, occupancy, and maintenance of parks and lots within" mobilehome parks"], 18620 [HCD to adopt "regulations regarding the construction of buildings in parks that it determines are reasonably necessary for the protection of life and property"], 18630 [plumbing], 18640 ["toilet, shower, and laundry facilities in parks"], 18670 ["electrical wiring, fixtures, and equipment... that it determines are reasonably necessary for the protection of life and property"].)

At present, the HCD has promulgated hundreds of regulations that are collected in chapter 2 of title 25 of the California Code of Regulations. (Cal. Code Regs, tit. 25, §§ 1000-1758.) The regulations exhaustively deal with a myriad of issues, such as "Electrical Requirements" (id., 25, §§ 1130-1190), "Plumbing Requirements" (id., §§ 1240-1284), "Fire Protection Standards" (id., §§ 1300-1319), "Permanent Buildings" (id., §§ 1380-1400), and "Accessory Buildings and Structures" (id., §§ 1420-1520). The regulations even deal with pet waste (id., § 1114) and the prohibition of cooking facilities in cabanas (id., § 1462).

Once adopted, HCD regulations "shall apply to all parts of the state." (Health & Saf. Code, § 18300, subd. (a).) Mobilehomes can only be occupied or maintained when they conform to the regulations. (Health & Saf. Code, §§ 18550, 18871.) Enforcement is shared between the HCD and local governments (Health & Saf. Code, § 18300, subd. (f), 18400, subd. (a)), with HCD given the power to "evaluate the enforcement" by units of local government. (Health & Saf. Code, § 18306, subd. (a).) A locality may decline responsibility for enforcement, but if assumed and not actually performed, its enforcement power may be taken away by the HCD. (Health & Saf. Code, § 18300, subds. (b)-(e).) Local initiative is restricted to traditional police powers of zoning, setback, permit requirements, and regulating construction of utilities. (Gov. Code, § 65852.7; Health & Saf. Code, § 18300, subd. (g), quoted at fn. 3, ante.)

It is the state that determines which events and actions in the construction and operation of a mobilehome park require permits. (Health & Saf. Code, §§ 18500, 18500.5, 18500.6, 18505; Cal. Code Regs, tit. 25, §§ 1006.5, 1010, 1014, 1018, 1038, 1306, 1324, 1374.5.) Even if the locality issues the annual permit for a park to operate, a copy must be sent to the HCD. (Id., §§ 1006.5, 1012.) It is the state that fixes the fees to be charged for these permits and certifications (Health & Saf. Code, §§ 18502, 18503; Cal. Code Regs, tit. 25, §§ 1008, 1020.4, 1020.7, 1025), and sets the penalties to be imposed for noncompliance. (Health & Saf. Code §§ 18504, 18700; Cal. Code Regs, tit. 25, §§ 1009, 1050, 1370.4.) Sometimes, the state assumes exclusive responsibility for certain subjects, such as for earthquake-resistant bracing systems. (Cal. Code Regs, tit. 25, § 1370.4(a).)

Additional provisions respecting mobilehome parks are in the Government Code. Cities and counties cannot decide that a mobilehome park is not a permitted use "on all land planned and zoned for residential land use as designated by the applicable general plan," though the locality "may require a use permit." (Gov. Code, § 65852.7.) "[I]t is clear that the Legislature intended to limit local authority for zoning regulation to the specifically enumerated exceptions [in Health and Safety Code section 18300, subdivision (g), quoted at fn. 3, ante] of where a mobilehome park may be located, vehicle parking, and lot lines, not the structures within the parks." (County of Santa Cruz v. Waterhouse, supra, 127 Cal.App.4th 1483, 1493.) A city or county must accept installation of mobilehomes manufactured in conformity with federal standards. (Gov. Code, § 65852.3, subd. (a).) Their power to impose rent control on mobilehome parks is restricted if the parks qualifies as "new construction." (Gov. Code, § 65852.11, subd. (a); cf. text accompanying fn. 2, ante.)

This survey demonstrates that the state has a long-standing involvement with mobilehome regulation, the extent of which involvement is, by any standard, considerable. Having outlined the size of the state‟s regulatory footprint, it is now time to examine the details of section 66427.5 and the Ordinance.

Section 66427.5

Section 66427.5 is a fairly straight-forward statute addressing the subject of how a subdivider shall demonstrate that a proposed mobilehome park conversion will avoid economic displacement of current tenants who do not choose to become a ...

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