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Cresta Bella, LP. v. Poway Unified School District

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division

July 31, 2013

CRESTA BELLA, LP, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
POWAY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant and Respondent.

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of San Diego County No. 37-2009-00103450- CU-MC-CTL, Lisa A. Foster, Judge.

McNeill Law Offices and Walter P. McNeill for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Best Best & Krieger, James B. Gilpin, Tyree K. Dorward and Matthew L. Green for Defendant and Respondent.

HALLER, J.

Poway Unified School District (the District) imposed school impact fees on Cresta Bella, LP (Cresta Bella) for a residential development project involving the demolition of an existing apartment complex and construction of a new, larger apartment complex. Cresta Bella petitioned for writ of mandate in superior court seeking a partial refund of the fees based on a claim that it was improperly charged for the entire square footage of the new apartment complex, rather than only for the increased square footage created by the development. On the same grounds, it also alleged an unconstitutional taking and requested declaratory relief. The court denied the mandate petition and entered judgment in favor of the District on all claims. Cresta Bella appeals.

We hold that under the statutory scheme applicable to school impact fees, the fees should not be imposed for the square footage already in existence at the time of the new development project, absent a study that reasonably supports that reconstruction of preexisting square footage increases student population. The District's school impact fee study did not make this showing. Accordingly, Cresta Bella is entitled to a refund of the portion of the fees derived from the preexisting square footage in its project. We reverse the judgment and remand the matter to the trial court with instructions to grant the mandate petition and order the refund. Given our holding providing relief under the mandate petition, we need not reach the constitutional taking and declaratory relief claims.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

To pay for the construction of school facilities necessitated by student population increases, school districts are authorized to impose school impact fees for new residential construction. The fees are subject to statutorily-defined maximum amounts for each square foot of the new residential construction. (Ed. Code, § 17620, subd. (a); Gov. Code, § 65995.) There are several alternative statutory formulas for calculating the maximum fee per square foot (Gov. Code, §§ 65995, 65995.5, 65995.7), which are commonly known as Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 fees. Relevant here, in July 2008 a consulting firm retained by the District prepared a district-wide school facilities needs analysis (SFNA) in which it calculated that the maximum Level 2 fee for the District was $3.89 per square foot of new residential construction. Based on the SFNA, in August 2008 the District passed a resolution which adopted a school impact fee of $3.89 per square foot, and which applied the fee to the entire square footage of a development project, including preexisting square footage (i.e., existing footage that was demolished and reconstructed).

Cresta Bella owned an apartment complex consisting of 248 units and 258, 169 square feet. It demolished this complex and built a new apartment complex consisting of 368 units and 371, 612 square feet. Thus, the new apartment complex had 120 more units and 113, 443 more square feet than the complex being demolished. The District charged Cresta Bella school impact fees based on the entire square footage of the new apartment complex (i.e., 371, 612 square feet multiplied by $3.89, totaling $1, 445, 570.60).

In June 2009, Cresta Bella paid the school impact fees under protest. Cresta Bella argued it should not have to pay fees for the preexisting square footage in the project because the District did not evaluate whether preexisting footage in new residential construction impacts school facilities by increasing student population. It claimed the District had improperly charged fees for the entire square footage of its project, resulting in $1, 004, 277.40 in excess fees.[1]

After exhausting its administrative remedies, in May 2010 Cresta Bella filed a petition for writ of mandate in superior court seeking a refund of the alleged excess fees. It also pleaded causes of action alleging an unconstitutional taking and requesting declaratory relief. To refute Cresta Bella's challenge to the imposition of fees for the preexisting square footage, the District argued there was no improper fee calculation because in an attached exhibit (Exhibit H) the SFNA considers the impact of preexisting units in new residential construction.

After considering the parties' evidentiary presentations and arguments, the trial court, citing Exhibit H of the SFNA, concluded that the District had not imposed an improper or unconstitutional fee. Accordingly, the court denied the writ petition and entered judgment in favor of the District on all claims.

DISCUSSION

To review Cresta Bella's challenge to the school impact fees, we first summarize the statutes and case authority governing school impact fees. We then set forth information in the SFNA and other matters relevant to the District's imposition of the fees and the trial ...


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