California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division
from an order of the Superior Court of San Diego County, No.
37-2012-00102270-CU-TT-CTL Timothy B. Taylor, Judge.
Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek and G. Scott Williams for Real
Party in Interest and Appellant Plaza de Panama Committee.
Brandt-Hawley Law Group and Susan Brandt-Hawley for Plaintiff
and Respondent Save Our Heritage Organisation.
appearance for Defendants and Respondents City of San Diego
McCONNELL, P. J.
de Panama Committee (the Committee) appeals from an order
denying its motion for attorney fees under Code of Civil
Procedure section 1021.5. The Committee filed the motion
after it successfully appealed a judgment granting a petition
for writ of mandamus filed by Save Our Heritage Organisation
(SOHO), in which SOHO challenged the approval by the City of
San Diego (City) of a site development permit for a
revitalization project in Balboa Park (the project). (See
generally Save Our Heritage Organisation v. City of San
Diego (2015) 237 Cal.App.4th 163 (Save Our Heritage
appeal presents two related issues: whether the Committee, as
a project proponent, may obtain a section 1021.5 attorney
fees award and, if so, whether the court may impose such an
award against SOHO. We conclude a project proponent may
obtain a section 1021.5 attorney fees award if the project
proponent satisfies the award's requirements. We further
conclude, while SOHO does not dispute the Committee satisfied
the award's requirements, SOHO is not the type of party
against whom the court may impose such an award because SOHO
did nothing to compromise public rights. (Adoption of
Joshua S. (2008) 42 Cal.4th 945, 958 (Joshua
S.); accord, Serrano v. Stefan Merli Plastering Co.,
Inc. (2011) 52 Cal.4th 1018, 1020 (Serrano).)
We, therefore, affirm the order.
Committee was founded to shepherd the project through the
design and review process. (Save Our Heritage
Organisation, supra, 237 Cal.App.4th at p.
170.) The project involved closing off parts of Balboa Park
to vehicle traffic and diverting the traffic via a new bridge
to a new pay-parking structure. (Id. at pp.
169-171.) After the City approved the project, SOHO filed a
petition for writ of mandamus against the City, as
respondent, and the Committee, as real party in interest,
challenging the City's decision on multiple grounds
related to the project's effects on the environment,
historical resources, and land use. The superior court
granted the petition on some of the grounds and entered a
judgment directing the City to rescind the project approval.
(Save Our Heritage Organisation, supra, 237
Cal.App.4th at p. 172.)
City did not appeal the judgment. However, the Committee and
SOHO each appealed aspects of it. (Save Our Heritage
Organisation, supra, 237 Cal.App.4th at pp.
169, 188.) We rejected SOHO's arguments and reversed the
judgment because SOHO had not established the City abused its
discretion in approving the project. (Id. at pp.
172-173, 179, 181-182, 188, 192.)
Committee subsequently filed a motion in the superior court
for an award of attorney fees under section 1021.5 for the
time its counsel spent working on the appeal and on the fee
motion. The Committee argued it satisfied the
award's requirements because it was the successful party,
the project approval it vindicated conferred a substantial
benefit on the general public, its efforts were necessary to
vindicate the project approval because the City did not
appeal the judgment, and the cost of securing the appellate
result transcended the Committee's nonexistent pecuniary
interest in the project.
opposed the motion, arguing attorney fees awards under
section 1021.5 are not available to project proponents
because awarding such fees to project proponents conflicts
with section 1021.5's intent to encourage public interest