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M. Catherine Eddy v. Placer County Board of Supervisors

March 28, 2011


(Super. Ct. No. SCV24519)

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

Eddy v. Placer County Bd. of Supervisors



California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

In a neighborhood of 20-acre-minimum lots, plaintiff M. Catherine Eddy objects to the 20-foot variance granted her neighbors who, based on Placer County's mistaken designation of their front yard as their side yard, built a house 20 feet too close to a partially improved easement. The trial court denied her petition for a writ of mandate to vacate the board of supervisors' denial of her appeal of the planning commission's grant of the variance. On appeal, she contends there is no finding or substantial evidence to support a finding that her neighbors' property differs substantially and in relevant aspects from other parcels in the neighborhood as required by Government Code section 65906. We disagree and affirm.


Real parties in interest Craig and Lisa Hilt own two contiguous lots in a residential forest zone in Placer County. In 2002 they applied for a building permit to construct a single-family residence on one of the lots. Because 90 percent of this lot contains slopes ranging from 30 to 50 percent and approximately 80 percent of the lot is heavily forested, the majority of the lot is not suitable for the construction of a house.

The Placer County Code requires a front yard setback for a structure of 50 feet and a side yard setback of 30 feet. The front yard setback is based on which boundary of the parcel abuts an adjacent road or street, or the edge of any public or private road easement. In establishing the setback requirements for the Hilts' building permit, Placer County (County) used an outdated parcel map that failed to depict a road easement running along the southwest property line. The Hilts indicated that the access would be the northwest property line, and indeed, the front door of the home faces the northwest property line. Thus, the northwest boundary of the Hilts' property was designated as the "front yard," requiring a 50-foot setback, and the southwest property line was designated as the "side yard," requiring a 30-foot setback.

In June 2002 the County issued a building permit. The setbacks were inspected on May 1, 2003, and the foundation of the home was poured on May 9.

In reality, a 50-foot road easement runs along the southwest boundary, although only a 19-foot segment of the 50-foot easement is improved with a gravel surface. Eddy does not use the gravel road and does not need it for access to her property. Nevertheless, in September of 2007, over four years after the Hilts poured the foundation for their house, Eddy filed a complaint with the Placer County Code Enforcement Division asserting that the home's location violated the 50-foot setback requirement.

Because the Hilts' predecessor had failed to file an updated parcel map depicting the easement and the County had used the existing parcel map to establish the setback requirements, the County advised the Hilts to apply for a variance to remedy the technical violation. The Hilts complied. On August 7, 2008, the zoning administrator approved the variance over Eddy's objection. She appealed to the Placer County Planning Commission (Planning Commission), and when she lost, she appealed to defendant Placer County Board of Supervisors (Board). Both bodies held hearings, admitted evidence, and made findings in support of their decisions to uphold the issuance of the variance and to reject Eddy's appeal. The evidence and findings will be set forth in relevant part in the discussion that follows.

The County issued a certificate of occupancy, and the Hilts reside in their home with their minor children. The road has only 19 feet of gravel on it. The planning department advised that it was unlikely the road would be improved to 50 feet in the future because it only serves two additional properties, one of which is owned by the Hilts. Nevertheless, the County determined that even if it is improved in the future, the variance would not impact the integrity of the road as the residence is 30 feet outside the road easement.

The trial court denied Eddy's petition for a writ of mandate. The court explained: "[T]he 'whole record' contains evidence of the nature of the Hilts' property compared to surrounding properties. The administrative record contains testimony and other evidence that the Hilts' property has unique characteristics, making it different from nearby parcels. Such differences include unique shape, topography, suitability for construction, accessibility, condition of recorded maps, and other differences." The trial court identified those pages in the administrative record on which the evidence could be found.

The court further held: "Additionally, the administrative record demonstrates that the location, condition and existence of the road easement which is the basis for Eddy's complaint and the variance, are notably unique to the property. Pursuant to the stipulation filed by the parties on September 14, 2009, the administrative record includes all of the documents and exhibits considered by the Planning Commission, as well as the transcript of the appeal hearing before the Board of Supervisors on February 24, 2009. The record makes clear that the documents and exhibits considered by the Planning Commission were reviewed by the Board of Supervisors as well. Petitioner's argument that the Board's findings when considered alone are insufficient--and without regard to the evidence--is contrary to both the applicable case law and to the parties' stipulation." Eddy appeals.

DISCUSSION I Standard of Review

"A local government's grant of a variance is a quasi-judicial act subject to judicial review under Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5." (Craik v. County of Santa Cruz (2000) 81 Cal.App.4th 880, 884 (Craik).) "Section 1094.5 clearly contemplates that at minimum, the reviewing court must determine both whether substantial evidence supports the administrative agency's findings and whether the findings support the agency's decision. Subdivision (b) of section 1094.5 prescribes that when petitioned for a writ of mandamus, a court's inquiry should extend, among other issues, to whether 'there was any prejudicial abuse of discretion.' Subdivision (b) then defines 'abuse of discretion' to include instances in which the administrative order or decision 'is not supported by the findings, or the findings are not supported by the evidence.' (Italics added.) Subdivision (c) declares that 'in all . . . cases' (italics added) other than those in which the reviewing court is authorized by law to judge the evidence independently, 'abuse of ...

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