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

November 29, 2012


Los Angeles County Ct.App. 2/4 B216515 Super. Ct. No. BS112956

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

We hold here that the requirements of the California Coastal Act of 1976 (Pub. Resources Code, § 30000 et seq.; hereafter Coastal Act) and the Mello Act (Gov. Code, §§ 65590, 65590.1) apply to a proposed conversion, within California's coastal zone, of a mobilehome park from tenant occupancy to resident ownership. In so holding, we reject the argument that such a conversion is not a "development" for purposes of the Coastal Act, and further reject the argument that Government Code section 66427.5, a provision of the Subdivision Map Act (Gov. Code, §§ 66410-66499.37), exempts such conversions from the need to comply with other state laws, or precludes local governmental agencies from exercising state-delegated authority to require compliance with state laws such as the Coastal Act or the Mello Act.

We therefore affirm the Court of Appeal's judgment overturning a grant of mandamus relief to Pacific Palisades Bowl Mobile Estates, LLC (Palisades Bowl).


The present controversy arose after the City of Los Angeles (the City) refused to accept Palisades Bowl's application to convert its 170-unit mobilehome park from tenant occupancy to resident ownership because Palisades Bowl had failed to include applications for a coastal development permit or for Mello Act approval. Palisades Bowl declined to provide the applications, instead filing in the superior court a petition for writ of mandate and a complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief. Palisades Bowl argued that the proposed conversion was not a development subject to the Coastal Act, and that the City's action was in any event barred by Government Code section 66427.5, a provision that states substantive and procedural requirements for obtaining map approval for conversions of mobilehome parks from tenant occupancy to resident ownership. The trial court agreed with Palisades Bowl. It therefore issued a peremptory writ of mandamus commanding the City to vacate its decision finding Palisades Bowl's application incomplete, to deem the application complete, and to evaluate the application for approval without considering whether it complied with either the Coastal Act or the Mello Act.

The Court of Appeal reversed, reasoning that the policy considerations behind the Coastal Act and the Mello Act are more extensive than those behind Government Code section 66427.5, and section 66427.5 therefore could not preclude the City from imposing conditions and requirements mandated by those acts on a subdivider seeking to convert to resident ownership a mobilehome park located in the coastal zone. It therefore entered judgment directing the trial court to vacate its peremptory writ of mandamus and enter judgment in favor of the City. We granted review.



We are concerned with the interplay between three separate statutory schemes, each furthering important state interests and each in some manner regulating development within California's coastal areas.

A. Coastal Act (Pub. Resources Code, § 30000 et seq.)

The Coastal Act "was enacted by the Legislature as a comprehensive scheme to govern land use planning for the entire coastal zone of California. The Legislature found that 'the California coastal zone is a distinct and valuable natural resource of vital and enduring interest to all the people'; that 'the permanent protection of the state's natural and scenic resources is a paramount concern'; that 'it is necessary to protect the ecological balance of the coastal zone' and that 'existing developed uses, and future developments that are carefully planned and developed consistent with the policies of this division, are essential to the economic and social well-being of the people of this state . . . .' ([Pub. Resources Code,] § 30001, subds. (a) and (d).)" (Yost v. Thomas (1984) 36 Cal.3d 561, 565.) The Coastal Act is to be "liberally construed to accomplish its purposes and objectives." (Pub. Resources Code, § 30009.) Under it, with exceptions not applicable here, any person wishing to perform or undertake any development in the coastal zone must obtain a coastal development permit "in addition to obtaining any other permit required by law from any local government or from any state, regional, or local agency . . . ." (Id., § 30600, subd. (a).)

The Coastal Act expressly recognizes the need to "rely heavily" on local government "[t]o achieve maximum responsiveness to local conditions, accountability, and public accessibility . . . ." (Pub. Resources Code, § 30004, subd. (a).) As relevant here, it requires local governments to develop local coastal programs, comprised of a land use plan and a set of implementing ordinances designed to promote the act's objectives of protecting the coastline and its resources and of maximizing public access. (Id., §§ 30001.5, 30500-30526; Landgate, Inc. v. California Coastal Com. (1998) 17 Cal.4th 1006, 1011.) Once the California Coastal Commission certifies a local government's program, and all implementing actions become effective, the commission delegates authority over coastal development permits to the local government. (Pub. Resources Code, §§ 30519, subd. (a), 30600.5, subds. (a), (b), (c).) Moreover, "[p]rior to certification of its local coastal program, a local government may, with respect to any development within its area of jurisdiction, . . . establish procedures for the filing, processing, review, modification, approval, or denial of a coastal development permit." (Id., § 30600, subd. (b)(1).) An action taken under a locally issued permit is appealable to the commission. (Id., § 30603.) Thus, "[u]nder the Coastal Act's legislative scheme, . . . the [local coastal program] and the development permits issued by local agencies pursuant to the Coastal Act are not solely a matter of local law, but embody state policy." (Charles A. Pratt Construction Co., Inc. v. California Coastal Com. (2008) 162 Cal.App.4th 1068, 1075.) "In fact, a fundamental purpose of the Coastal Act is to ensure that state policies prevail over the concerns of local government." (Ibid.) Moreover, in certain areas, sometimes referred to as dual permit jurisdictions, an applicant must obtain a permit from the local entity and after obtaining the local permit, a second permit from the commission. (Pub. Resources Code, §§ 30600, 30601; Cal. Code Regs., tit. 14, § 13301, subd. (a).) Palisades Bowl's mobilehome park is located in a dual permit jurisdiction.

The Coastal Act does not specifically recite that it requires a permit for mobilehome park conversions, and Palisades Bowl contends it does not. We disagree. The act requires a coastal development permit for "any development" in the coastal zone. (Pub. Resources Code § 30600.) As relevant here, a "development" means a "change in the density or intensity of use of land, including, but not limited to, subdivision pursuant to the Subdivision Map Act . . . , and any other division of land, including lot splits, except where the land division is brought about in connection with the purchase of such land by a public agency for public recreational use." (Id., § 30106.) The Subdivision Map Act defines "subdivision" as "the division, by any subdivider, of any unit or units of improved or unimproved land, or any portion thereof . . . ." (Gov. Code, § 66424.) It specifically refers to the conversion of a rental mobilehome park to resident ownership as a form of "subdivision" (id., § 66427.5), and refers to the applicant seeking to subdivide the property on which the park is located as the "subdivider" (id., §§ 66423, 66427.4, 66427.5). A mobilehome park conversion thus is a "subdivision" under the Subdivision Map Act and for that reason is also a "development" subject to the Coastal Act's permit requirements.

Palisades Bowl argues, however, a conversion of a mobilehome park is not a "development" for purposes of the Coastal Act because it does not alter the density or intensity of use of the land. But by introducing a list of projects, including "subdivision," with the phrase "including, but not limited to," the Legislature in Public Resources Code section 30106 has explained that each listed project is a change in the intensity of use for purposes of the act, and by means of the list illustrates various species of changes in land use against which other unspecified projects may be measured so it may be determined whether they, too, require coastal permits. (See People v. Arias (2008) 45 Cal.4th 169, 181 [recognizing "the proviso 'including, but not limited to' 'connotes an illustrative listing, one purposefully capable of enlargement' "].) Any subdivision under the Subdivision Map Act thus is, by definition, a species of change in the density or intensity of use of land and is a "development." Palisades Bowl also seems to assume the Coastal Act is concerned only with preventing an increase in density or intensity of use, but Public Resources Code section 30106, by using the word "change," signals that a project that would decrease intensity of use, such as by limiting public access to the coastline or reducing the number of lots available for residential purposes, is also a development. We observe, further, that other portions of Public Resources Code section 30106 define "development" to include uses that may not or will not have any effect on the density or intensity of use.*fn1 In addition, the statutory reference to "other division[s] of land, including lot splits" (Pub. Resources Code, § 30106), which need not result in a change in density or intensity of use, further suggests the Legislature intended "development" to include all listed uses and all changes in density or intensity of use whether or not the specific use was among those listed.

An expansive interpretation of "development" is consistent with the mandate that the Coastal Act is to be "liberally construed to accomplish its purposes and objectives." (Pub. Resources Code, § 30009.) It thus has been held that "development" is not restricted to physical alteration of the land. (DeCicco v. California Coastal Com. (2011) 199 Cal.App.4th 947, 951 [Rejecting a claim that a subdivision is not a land use and explaining, "[a]lthough a subdivision may not be a use of land, it is quite clearly a 'development' within the meaning of the Coastal Act. Section 30106 expressly defines 'development' to include 'subdivision.' "].) Similarly, it has been recognized that the Coastal Act's definition of "development" goes beyond "what is commonly regarded as a development of real property" (Gualala Festivals Committee v. California Coastal Com. (2010) 183 Cal.App.4th 60, 67) and is not restricted to activities that physically alter the land or water (id. at p. 68).

That the act extends to conversions is further demonstrated by Public Resources Code section 30610, which exempts specified projects, including conversion of a multiple-unit residential structure to a time-share project, from the coastal permit requirement. Subdivision (h) of section 30610 explains that the conversion of a residential structure into condominiums is not a time-share project and thus does not qualify for this exemption. If the conversion of a residential structure into condominiums were not a "development" because it does not increase the density or intensity of use, the explanation would be unnecessary.

Finally, the Legislature laid to rest any argument that conversions from tenant occupancy to resident ownership are not subject to the provisions of the Coastal Act by its response to a trial court's ruling that a stock cooperative conversion was not subject to the act because it was not a "development." At the time of the trial court's ruling, Government Code section 66424, which generally lists the projects defined as "subdivisions" under the Subdivision Map Act, did not expressly refer to stock cooperative conversions. The trial court, reasoning a stock cooperative conversion was neither a defined "subdivision" nor a division of land, concluded it could not be a "development" for purposes of the Coastal Act. (California Coastal Com. v. Quanta Investment Corp. (1980) 113 Cal.App.3d 579, 595.) The Legislature responded by amending Government Code section 66424 to specifically recite " 'Subdivision', includes . . . the conversion of five or more existing dwelling units to a stock cooperative . . ." (Gov. Code, § 66424, as amended by Stats. 1979, ch. 1192, § 1, pp. 4691-4692; Quanta, at pp. 600-605 [quoting statute]), thus ensuring that stock cooperative conversions would be defined subdivisions and therefore would also be "developments" subject to the Coastal Act.

In short, all subdivisions, including mobilehome park conversions, are "developments" for purposes of the Coastal Act.

We also reject the notion that an owner seeking to convert a mobilehome park to resident ownership can avoid the reach of the Coastal Act by asserting that its particular conversion will have no impact on the density or intensity of land use. In the first place, that a conversion might not immediately alter use of land does not preclude the possibility it will lead to an increase in the density or intensity of use. Additionally, a conversion might lead to problematic design features as owners express their individuality by decorating or adding to their mobile homes. Nor is it impossible that owners would block public access to coastal areas or increase the number of residents in their units. In any event, the act accounts for the possibility a proposed project may not affect coastal resources by conferring authority on the executive director of the coastal commission, after a public hearing, to issue "waivers from coastal development permit requirements for any development that is de minimus." (Pub. Resources Code, § 30624.7.) As explained in Gualala Festivals Committee v. California Coastal Com., supra, 183 Cal.App.4th at pages 69-70: "Construing the Act to provide the Commission with both expansive jurisdiction to control even limited . . . development and the authority to exempt from the permit process development that does not have 'any significant adverse impact upon coastal resources' provides the Commission the necessary flexibility to manage the coastal zone environment so as to accomplish the statutory purposes." That a project specifically recognized as a "development" by the act is unlikely to affect density or intensity of land use may warrant a grant of exemption from the act's permit requirements, but it does not except the project from the act's jurisdiction.

We conclude the Coastal Act applies to all mobilehome park conversions to resident ownership.

B. The Mello Act (Gov. Code, §§ 65590, 65590.1)

The Legislature, as part of the housing elements law (Gov. Code, §§ 65580-65589.8), has declared that the "availability of housing is of vital statewide importance," and "decent housing and a suitable living environment for every Californian . . . is a priority of the highest order." (Id., § 65580, subd. (a).) Further, "[t]he provision of housing affordable to low- and moderate-income households requires the cooperation of all levels of government." (Id., subd. (c).) Each local government therefore is required to adopt a "housing element" as a component of its general plan. (Id., § 65581, subd. (b).) The housing element "shall consist of an identification and analysis of existing and projected housing needs and a statement of goals, policies, quantified objectives, financial resources, and scheduled programs for the preservation, improvement, and development of housing. The housing element shall identify adequate sites for housing, including rental housing, factory-built housing, mobilehomes, and emergency shelters, and shall make adequate provision for the existing and projected needs of all economic segments of the community." (Id., § 65583.)

The Mello Act supplements the housing elements law, establishing minimum requirements for housing within the coastal zone for persons and families of low or moderate income. (Gov. Code, § 65590, subds. (b), (k); Venice Town Council, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles (1996) 47 Cal.App.4th 1547, 1552-1553.) It does not require local governments to adopt individual ordinances or programs to ensure compliance with its provisions (Gov. Code, § 65590, subd. (h)(3)), but it prohibits local governments from authorizing "[t]he conversion or demolition of existing residential dwelling units occupied by persons and families of low or moderate income, . . . unless provision has been made for the replacement of those dwelling units with units for persons and families of low or moderate income." (Id., subd. (b); Venice Town Council, Inc., at p. 1553.)

The Mello Act expressly applies to most conversions of residential units within the coastal zone, and also expressly applies to the conversion of a mobilehome or mobilehome lot to a condominium, cooperative, or similar form of ownership. (Gov. Code, § 65590, subds. (b), (g)(1).)

C. The Subdivision Map Act (Gov. Code, §§ 66410-66499.37)

"The Subdivision Map Act is 'the primary regulatory control' governing the subdivision of real property in California." (Gardner v. County of Sonoma (2003) 29 Cal.4th 990, 996.) It has three principal goals: "to encourage orderly community development, to prevent undue burdens on the public, and to protect individual real estate buyers." (van't Rood v. County of Santa Clara (2003) 113 Cal.App.4th 549, 563-564.) It "seeks 'to encourage and facilitate orderly community development, coordinate planning with the community pattern established by local authorities, and assure proper improvements are made, so that the area does not become an undue burden on the taxpayer.' " (Gardner, at pp. 997-998.)

To accomplish its goals, the Subdivision Map Act sets suitability, design, improvement, and procedural requirements (e.g., Gov. Code, §§ 66473 et seq., 66478.1 et seq.). It also allows local governments to impose supplemental requirements of the same kind (e.g., id., §§ 66475 et seq., 66479 et. seq.). (The Pines v. City of Santa Monica (1981) 29 Cal.3d 656, 659.) Further, "[t]he Act vests the '[r]egulation and control of the design and improvement of subdivisions' in the legislative bodies of local agencies, which must promulgate ordinances on the subject." (Gardner v. County of Sonoma, supra, 29 Cal.4th at p. 997, fn. omitted.) The local entity's enforcement power is directly tied to its power to grant or withhold approval of a subdivision map. Thus, "[o]rdinarily, subdivision under the Act may be lawfully accomplished only by obtaining ...

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