California Court of Appeals, Second District, Third Division
CARL SCHAFER, Individually and as Trustee, etc. et al., Petitioners and Respondents,
CITY OF LOS ANGELES, Defendant and Appellant TRIANGLE CENTER, LLC, Real Party in Interest and Appellant.
APPEALS from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. BS137297 Joanne B. O’Donnell and Robert H. O’Brien, Judges.[*]
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Michael N. Feuer, City Attorney, Terry P. Kaufmann Macias, Assistant City Attorney, and Amy Brothers, Deputy City Attorney for Defendant and Appellant.
Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Mitchell, Benjamin M. Reznik and Matthew D. Hinks for Real Party in Interest and Appellant.
John A. Henning, Jr., for Petitioners and Respondents.
Triangle Center, LLC (Triangle Center) and the City of Los Angeles (City) appeal from a judgment in favor of Carl Schafer, individually and as trustee of the Schafer Trust dated October 3, 2000, and Elizabeth Leslie (collectively Petitioners). The trial court granted a peremptory writ of mandate directing the City to set aside a decision by the City’s planning commission that upheld a building permit allowing the restriping of a parking lot owned by Triangle Center and to reinstate a decision by the City’s zoning administrator that denied the permit. Triangle Center and the City contend the evidence supports the planning commission’s decision that the City is equitably estopped from disallowing use of the property as a parking lot, and the trial court erred by concluding that the circumstances here do not justify an equitable estoppel against the City.
We conclude that, regardless of whether the elements of equitable estoppel are satisfied, the circumstances here do not justify an equitable estoppel against the City. This is not one of the rare and exceptional cases in which denying equitable estoppel would result in grave injustice. Allowing Triangle Center to establish land use rights contrary to the zoning restrictions and despite its failure to comply with the normal land use approval process would adversely affect public policy and the public interest. That adverse impact outweighs any unfairness to Triangle Center resulting from the failure to apply equitable estoppel. We therefore affirm the judgment granting a writ of mandate in favor of Petitioners.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
1. Factual Background
Petitioners own two single family residences located at 3981 and 3985 South Meier Street in the City. Triangle Center owns real property located at 3984 and 3988 South Meier Street (lots 70 and 71) in the City that has been used for many years as a commercial parking lot. Across an alley from lots 70 and 71 lies property in the City of Culver City, including lot 69.
The City changed the zoning of lots 70 and 71 in 1956 from R4 (multiple dwelling) to R4P (multiple dwelling or parking) based on the planning commission’s determination that there was a need for additional off-street parking facilities in the area and that the property was “ideally situated for the proposed use since it is bounded on two sides by public streets and on the third by a public alley.”
Members of the Hochman family owned lots 69, 70, and 71 in 1957. They operated a retail market on lot 69. They entered into a written agreement with Culver City in December 1957 stating that they would use lots 70 and 71 for parking for the market as long as the market continued to operate. A certificate of occupancy was issued for the market on lot 69 in 1946, but no certificate of occupancy was issued for the parking lot on lots 70 and 71.
The City issued permits in 1978 and 1980 allowing the sale of Christmas trees on lot 71. The permits make no mention of the lot’s status as a parking lot. In 1987, the City issued an order to comply stating that lot 71 was being used illegally for a can crushing machine and a storage trailer. Someone – presumably a City representative – wrote the words “parking lot” on a line entitled “[a]pproved use.” The City’s Department of Building and Safety inspected the property, determined that use of the property for a can-crushing machine was legal but the storage trailer use was not, and closed the file after the storage trailer was moved to the Culver City side of the business.
In 1988, the City changed the zoning of lots 70 and 71 from R4P (multiple dwelling or parking) to R3 (multifamily residential).
The City issued another order to comply in 1996 stating that lot 70 was being used illegally for storage of abandoned vehicles and recyclable materials. Again, under “[a]pproved use, ” an inspector wrote “parking lot” (capitalization omitted). The Department of Building and Safety inspected the property, the items were removed, and the file was closed in 1997.
In 2000, the City issued a building permit for lots 70 and 71 allowing the restriping of the parking lot. The application for the permit stated under “Application Comments” (capitalization omitted), “Per Jeff McIntyre parking lot has deemed approved conditional use status based on covenant and agreement submitted indicating that parking is required for building in Culver City and zone change in 1957 to change zone to R4P. Zone has since been changed to R3. Restripe of parking lot ok provided number of stalls is not increased. Parking lot has been in existence since 1957.”
An architect hired by Petitioners complained to the City in 2009 that the property was being used as a parking lot without a permit. The City issued orders to comply for lots 70 and 71 in April 2009 stating, “The empty lot has been occupied without first obtaining the required Certificate of Occupancy.” The orders stated that the use must be discontinued without a required certificate of occupancy. In May 2009, the assigned inspector wrote that he had been told by a superior that because “the parking lot was built when this property was zoned R4P” and the Department had approved the restriping in 2000, the bureau ...