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Pacific Palisades Bowl Mobile Estates, LLC v. City of Los Angeles

August 31, 2010

PACIFIC PALISADES BOWL MOBILE ESTATES, LLC, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
CITY OF LOS ANGELES, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court for Los Angeles County, James C. Chalfant, Judge. Reversed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BS112956).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Willhite, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

The California Legislature enacted a statute -- Government Code*fn1 section 66427.5 -- that facilitates the conversion of mobilehome parks to resident ownership by limiting a local authority's traditional power to regulate development within the local authority's territory when the proposed development is the conversion of a mobilehome park. That statute imposes certain specific requirements on the subdivider seeking the conversion (aimed at preventing the displacement of current residents, particularly those with lower incomes), and provides that the scope of the hearing at which the local authority may approve, conditionally approve, or deny the tentative map "shall be limited to the issue of compliance" with the specific requirements set forth in the statute. (§ 66427.5, subd. (e).)

But the Legislature also enacted a statute -- section 65590, part of the Mello Act -- that "establishes minimum requirements for housing within the coastal zone for persons and families of low or moderate income" (§ 65590, subd. (k)) and requires local governments to deny the conversion of mobilehome parks within the coastal zone unless certain requirements have been met (§ 65590, subd. (b)). The Legislature also enacted a comprehensive statutory scheme that regulates all development within the coastal zone -- the California Coastal Act of 1976 (Pub. Resources Code, § 30000 et seq.) (the Coastal Act) -- a provision of which requires any person wishing to undertake any development within the coastal zone to obtain a coastal development permit from the California Coastal Commission and/or a local agency, depending upon the circumstances. (Pub. Resources Code, § 30600, subd. (a).)

This case presents the question: What happens when conversion to resident ownership is sought for a mobilehome park that is located in the coastal zone? Does the limitation on the scope of the hearing set forth in section 66427.5, subdivision (e), prohibit the local authority from requiring compliance with the Mello Act and the Coastal Act? In this case, the City of Los Angeles (the City) rejected as incomplete the application of Pacific Palisades Bowl Mobile Estates, LLC (Palisades Bowl) for conversion of its mobilehome park -- which is located in the coastal zone -- because the application failed to include an application for clearance under the Mello Act and an application for a coastal development permit under the Coastal Act. The trial court found that the City abused its discretion by requiring compliance with the Mello Act and requiring Palisades Bowl to apply to the City for a coastal development permit, and entered judgment directing issuance of a peremptory writ of mandamus commanding the City to deem Palisades Bowl's application complete. We conclude that, despite the limiting language in section 66427.5, the Mello Act and Coastal Act apply to a mobilehome park conversion within the coastal zone, and the local authority must ensure compliance with those acts in addition to compliance with section 66427.5.

We also address Palisades Bowl's cross-appeal, challenging the trial court's ruling that the City substantially complied with the requirement under the Permit Streamlining Act (§ 65920 et seq.) to provide, within 30 days after a development application is filed, written notification that the application is incomplete. In light of the record, we affirm that ruling.

Accordingly, we reverse the judgment and remand the matter with directions to deny Palisades Bowl's petition.

BACKGROUND

Palisades Bowl owns a mobilehome park with more than 170 units, located across Pacific Coast Highway from Will Rogers State Beach. In August 2006, residents of the park were told that Palisades Bowl intended to subdivide the park to residential ownership. Concerned about protecting residents in the event of a forced conversion, as well as health and safety issues and code violations at the park, the Palisades Bowl Residents' Association, Inc. (Residents' Association) hired an attorney and, in March 2007, began discussions with Palisades Bowl about a global agreement to satisfy the needs of all parties.

In the meantime, Palisades Bowl hired an engineering firm to help get approval of its subdivision application. In April 2007, Robert Ruiz, a design engineer/project manager for the engineering firm, went to the City's Division of Land office and asked for a list of items needed to file a mobilehome park conversion application. The person at the counter told him that the City did not have a list specifically for mobilehome park conversions, but there was such a list for tentative tract map applications, which was what Ruiz would need to submit. Later that month, Ruiz spoke by telephone with Lynn Harper, a city planner at the Department of City Planning assigned to supervise the Parcel Map unit within the Division of Land. They discussed various issues related to the proposed mobilehome park conversion, including the various requirements Harper said Palisades Bowl would need to satisfy to obtain approval. Following that conversation, Harper sent Ruiz a package of materials, including various forms and instructions (such as those related to Mello Act clearances and coastal development permits), and a tract map checklist.

In June 2007, Ruiz again went to the City's Division of Land office, and said he wanted to file an application to convert the mobilehome park. The person at the counter told Ruiz that Palisades Bowl needed to include applications for a zone change and a general plan amendment. Ruiz insisted that under state law, Palisades Bowl did not need a zone change or general plan amendment. The person at the counter told Ruiz that the City would not accept the application because it was incomplete.

Shortly thereafter, Harper asked Michael LoGrande, Chief Zoning Administrator for the Department of City Planning, to assign a case manager to the matter to work directly with Palisades Bowl. LoGrande appointed Richard Ferguson as case manager in August 2007. Over the next few months, Ferguson had several communications with representatives of Palisades Bowl, both telephonic and by e-mail, regarding various issues, including the requirements Palisades Bowl needed to satisfy and the allowable scope of the City's review of the proposed subdivision. At the same time, Ferguson was conducting research and meeting with other City Planning staff to determine exactly what items Palisades Bowl would need to file with its application. On November 9, 2007, he sent an e-mail to a Palisades Bowl representative, to update him on the staff's latest discussion about what was needed. He noted "[t]here is still some discrepancy on what need[s] to be done before the map [application] can be filed," particularly with regard to a zoning issue, and that the staff had not yet decided what the proper vehicle should be to remedy the issue.

Four days later, on November 13, 2007, Ruiz, his superior, and Palisades Bowl's lawyer went to the Division of Land to submit Palisades Bowl's conversion application. Harper was called to the counter. She examined the application and found it was missing applications for a zone change, a general plan amendment, a coastal development permit, and a Mello Act affordable housing determination. She told the Palisades Bowl representatives that she would not accept the application for filing, and called Ferguson to the counter. Ferguson told the representatives that the missing applications needed to be included with the conversion application, and that he would send them a follow-up e-mail. Palisades Bowl's lawyer told Harper and Ferguson that Palisades Bowl believed that the application, which was being submitted under section 66427.5, was complete, and that the City had an obligation to accept the application, review it, and provide a written completeness determination. The representatives left the application on the counter, along with a letter from the lawyer summarizing Palisades Bowl's position that the application is governed by 66427.5, that the City may not refuse to accept the application, and that the Permit Streamling Act, particularly section 65943, applied to the application.

On November 20, 2007, Ferguson sent an e-mail to Palisades Bowl's engineer, listing "the items you need to file your application." Those items were: (1) an application for a zone change and a general plan amendment; (2) an application for a coastal development permit (Ferguson noted that because the site is in a dual jurisdiction, Palisades Bowl would need clearance from both the City and the Coastal Commission, and the Commission requires developers to file with the local agency before filing with the Commission); (3) an application to the Housing Department for clearance under the Mello Act; (4) a copy of the tenant impact report required under section 66427.5, following the format of the City Advisory Agency; and (5) the Parcel Map application package using form CP-1801.*fn2

No further action was taken, by the City or Palisades Bowl, until Palisades Bowl filed the petition for writ of mandate and complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief in this case, on January 17, 2008. After amendment, the petition/complaint alleged that the City failed to compile a proper list of items needed to apply for a mobilehome park conversion (i.e., a checklist), improperly refused to accept Palisades Bowl's application, and failed to notify Palisades Bowl in writing of any deficiencies in its application, and therefore the application should be deemed complete under the Permit Streamlining Act. The petition/complaint also alleged that the City lacks discretion to impose any requirements other than those set forth in section 66427.5, and asked the court to issue a peremptory writ of mandate, injunction, order, or declaration commanding the City to compile a checklist specifically for mobilehome park conversions, deem Palisades Bowl's application complete, process the application under the limited review process mandated by section 66427.5, and make a decision approving or denying the application.*fn3

In August 2008, Palisades Bowl filed a motion for a peremptory writ of mandamus and declaratory relief. Although the notice of motion stated that the motion sought a peremptory writ of mandamus commanding the City to, among other things, review the application only for compliance with section 66427.5, Palisades Bowl's memorandum of points and authorities only addressed the City's alleged failure to provide a checklist for mobilehome park conversions and its failure to make a timely completeness determination. The trial court denied the motion. It found that, although the City "probably" violated section 65940 of the Permit Streamlining Act by failing to provide a checklist for mobilehome park conversions, no particular remedy flowed from that failure.*fn4 But it concluded that Ferguson's November 20 e-mail substantially complied with the Permit Streamlining Act's requirement that the City provide a written completeness determination.

In response to Palisades Bowl's request, the court granted Palisades Bowl leave to file a second amended petition/complaint to address whether the City could require Palisades Bowl to provide the items listed in Ferguson's e-mail. Palisades Bowl filed the second amended petition/complaint,*fn5 and brought a second motion for peremptory writ of mandate and declaratory relief. It argued that the City abused its discretion by requiring Palisades Bowl to submit any additional items because the City failed to provide a proper checklist. Alternatively, it argued that the City abused its discretion by requiring Palisades Bowl to submit the items set forth in Ferguson's e-mail because those items either were already submitted or they cannot be required in light of section 66427.5. In its opposition to the motion, the City noted that it no longer asserted that Palisades Bowl was required to apply for a zone change or general plan amendment and that no new tenant survey or tenant impact report was required. Thus, the only items the City maintained were required were a Mello Act clearance, a coastal development permit from the City and the Coastal Commission, and a complete tentative tract map application.

The trial court granted the motion. It found that, under the Permit Streamlining Act, the City could not require Palisades Bowl to submit a complete tentative tract map application because Ferguson's e-mail did not list that as a missing item. The court also concluded that the language of section 66427.5, subdivision (e), precluded the City from requiring compliance with the Mello Act and the Coastal Act. The court entered judgment and issued a peremptory writ of mandamus commanding the City to (1) vacate its November 20, 2007 decision finding Palisades Bowl's application incomplete; (2) deem the application complete; and (3) evaluate the application for approval, conditional approval, or disapproval within the time limits set forth in the applicable statutes and ordinances. The City appeals from the judgment, and Palisades Bowl cross-appeals.

DISCUSSION

On appeal, the City contends the Mello Act and the Coastal Act can be harmonized with section 66427.5, and that the trial court erred by finding that section 66427.5 precluded the City from requiring Palisades Bowl to comply with the Mello Act and Coastal Act. It its cross-appeal, Palisades Bowl contends the trial court abused its discretion in finding that the City satisfied the requirement of the Permit Streamlining Act to provide a written completeness determination. We begin our analysis with Palisades Bowl's contention in its cross-appeal.

A. Must the Application Be Deemed Complete Under the Permit Streamlining Act?

The California Legislature enacted the Permit Streamlining Act in 1977, declaring "that there is a statewide need to ensure clear understanding of the specific requirements which must be met in connection with the approval of development projects and to expedite decisions on such projects." (§ 65921.) The act requires every state and local agency to "compile one or more lists that shall specify in detail the information that will be required from any applicant for a development project" and to make those lists available to all applicants and any person who requests that information. (§ 65940, subd. (a).) The lists must also indicate the criteria the agency will apply to determine the completeness of an application submitted to it. (§ 65941.) After an application is received by an agency, the agency must "determine in writing whether the application is complete and . . . immediately transmit the determination to the applicant." (§ 65943, subd. (a).) If the determination is not made within 30 days after the application is received, the application "shall be deemed complete for purposes of this chapter." (Id.) If, within the 30-day period, the application is determined not to be complete, the determination must "specify those parts of the application which are incomplete and . . . indicate the manner in which they can be made complete, including a list and thorough description of the specific information needed to complete the ...


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