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La Mirada Avenue Neighborhood Association of Hollywood v. City of Los Angeles

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Second Division

May 3, 2018

LA MIRADA AVENUE NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION OF HOLLYWOOD et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents,
v.
CITY OF LOS ANGELES et al., Defendants and Appellants TARGET CORPORATION, Real Party in Interest and Appellant.

         CERTIFIED FOR PARTIAL PUBLICATION [*]

          APPEAL from orders of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County Nos. BS140889, BS140930. Richard L. Fruin, Jr., Judge. Affirmed.

          Michael N. Feuer, City Attorney, Terry Kaufman Macias, Assistant City Attorney, Kenneth Tom Fong and Kimberly Ai-Hua Huangfu, Deputy City Attorneys; Burke, Williams & Sorensen and Anna Corinne Shimko for Defendants and Appellants City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles City Council.

          Morrison & Foerster, Miriam A. Vogel; Shoreline Law Corporation, Andrew S. Pauly and Damon A. Thayer for Real Party in Interest and Appellant Target Corporation.

          The Silverstein Law Firm, Robert P. Silverstein and David E. Wright for Plaintiff and Respondent La Mirada Avenue Neighborhood Association of Hollywood.

          The Law Offices of David Lawrence Bell and David Bell for Plaintiff and Respondent Citizens Coalition Los Angeles.

          HOFFSTADT, J.

         Under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5, [1] a trial court may award attorney's fees to the “successful party” in a lawsuit that “has resulted in the enforcement of an important right affecting the public interest” if, among other things, the lawsuit confers “a significant benefit” upon “the general public or a large class of persons.” If a party is “successful” and has conferred a “significant benefit” by prevailing at trial and obtaining a judgment that a construction project violates the zoning laws in existence at the time, is that party precluded from obtaining attorney's fees under section 1021.5 because the losing party gets the zoning laws changed and the project's validity under the changed law has yet to be finally determined? We conclude that the answer is “no.” Consequently, and because we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in fixing the amount of attorney's fees, we affirm the awards of attorney's fees.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         I. Facts

         Real party in interest Target Corporation (Target) wants to build a retail store on the corner of Western Avenue and Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California.

         For purposes of zoning, that location is subject to the Los Angeles Municipal Code as well as to a more specific Station Neighborhood Area Plan (SNAP), which for this location is the Vermont/Western Transit Oriented District Specific Plan. Within the geographic area covered by the SNAP, the location falls within Subarea C. Under the law in effect at the time, commercial buildings in Subarea C (other than hospitals and “mixed use” buildings (that is, part commercial and part residential)) (1) could not exceed 35 feet in height, (2) were required to incorporate certain aesthetic design elements aimed at avoiding the look of a “big box” store, (3) could not have more than 390 parking spaces, (4) were required to limit the hours during which they accept deliveries, and (5) if the square footage exceeds 40, 000 square feet, were required to offer free delivery to local residents.

         Target submitted two plans to defendant the City Council of the City of Los Angeles (the City or City Council). Initially, Target sought to build a retail store that complied with the above stated requirements of the Municipal Code and the SNAP. Subsequently, however, Target submitted a new proposal to build a Super Target retail store. The Super Target store would be nearly 75 feet in height, complete with a transit plaza, an above ground parking lot with 458 parking spaces, and 163, 862 square feet of retail space (the Project).

         Because the Project did not comply with the SNAP, the City Council granted eight variances (called “exceptions”) from the SNAP pursuant to Los Angeles Municipal Code section 11.5.7.F.2. These variances excepted the Project from the SNAP's height restrictions, many of its design element requirements, its parking space limit, its delivery time restrictions, and its free delivery requirements.

         II. Procedural Background

         A. Writ Petitions

         Plaintiffs La Mirada Avenue Neighborhood Association of Hollywood (La Mirada) and Citizens Coalition Los Angeles (Citizens) (collectively, plaintiffs), both of which are “community association[s]” that “advocate for residential quality of life issues, ” filed separate petitions for a writ of mandate against the City (and naming Target as the real party in interest). In their operative first amended petitions, plaintiffs generally alleged “a substantial interest in ensuring that the City's decisions are in conformity with the requirements of the law.” More specifically, one or both of those petitions alleged: (1) the Project violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (Pub. Resources Code, § 21000et seq.) because the Project's environmental impact report was deficient; (2) the Project violated the Los Angeles Municipal Code because the eight variances from the SNAP were not supported by substantial evidence; (3) the City Council denied plaintiffs a fair hearing; and (4) the City did not comply with the laws governing open meetings. With respect to the alleged violation of the Municipal Code, plaintiffs sought (1) “to vacate and set aside the actions approving the [SNAP] exceptions for the Project, and [to have] the Court invalidate the exceptions”; (2) to “enjoin the City... from granting any authority, permits or entitlements... pursuant to the [SNAP] exceptions”; and (3) to “enjoin... any activities or construction pursuant to the [SNAP] exceptions.”

         B. Trial Court's Partial Grant of the Writ Petitions

         Following full briefing, the trial court issued a 28-page order partly granting and partly denying plaintiffs' writ petitions. The court denied the writs insofar as they alleged violations of CEQA and the denial of a fair hearing. And plaintiffs had by that time already abandoned their claim that the City Council had violated the open meeting laws. However, the court concluded that six of the eight SNAP variances violated the Los Angeles Municipal Code because they were not supported by substantial evidence; of the variances alleged to be invalid, the court only upheld the variance for the number of parking spaces and the waiver of the home delivery requirement. In July 2014, the trial court entered judgment for plaintiffs on the writs invalidating six of the eight Municipal Code variances, enjoining any actions “in furtherance of” those variances, and “immediately... restrain[ing]... all construction activities.” The judgment also authorized plaintiffs to seek attorney's fees.

         C. Appeals of Writ Petitions (La Mirada I)

         Both Target and La Mirada appealed the judgment.

         While the appeals were pending, and at Target's urging, the City Council amended the SNAP to create a new Subarea F, to delineate Subarea F's geographical boundaries to include the Project, and to define Subarea ...


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