In Pacific Palisades Residents Association, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles (2023) 88 Cal.App.5th 1338, the Second District Court of Appeal denied a neighborhood group’s challenge to a proposed eldercare facility under local zoning laws, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and the California Coastal Act.
The project applicant proposed constructing an eldercare facility on a vacant one-acre lot surrounded by both residential and commercial uses in Pacific Palisades. The lot, located about two and a half miles from the coast, within the coastal zone, had been zoned for commercial use since 1978 and, at the time of the lawsuit, consisted of bare flat dirt behind a chain link fence. The proposed facility included 82 residential rooms and a public bistro housed in a building that would be one story higher than the tallest nearby structure.
The City of Los Angeles undertook an extensive review process, which consisted of multiple public hearings and opportunities for public comment. The City’s Zoning Administrator, Planning Commission, Planning and Land Use Management Committee, and City Council all concluded that the project complied with the zoning code and was exempt from CEQA pursuant to the Class 32 exemption for infill development. The City Council issued a Coastal Development Permit and approved the project.
A group of neighbors acting as the Pacific Palisades Residents Association filed a petition for writ of mandate against the City and the Coastal Commission, challenging the project approval under the City’s zoning code, the Coastal Act, and CEQA.
The trial court denied the petition. Petitioner appealed.
Court of Appeal
Los Angeles Zoning Code
The court denied Petitioner’s claims under the City’s zoning code. Petitioner argued that the facility was larger than what was permitted under the code, but the court explained that the “plain English interpretation of the zoning code” foreclosed any argument that the facility was not permitted on the lot.
Request for Judicial Notice
In its arguments arising under the zoning code, Petitioner relied, in part, on extra-record evidence that was not presented to the trial court. Petitioner sought judicial notice of the additional evidence on two grounds, both of which were rejected by the court. First, Petitioner argued that the evidence was admissible because the City had raised an “incorrect” interpretation of its zoning code at trial, requiring additional research by appellant. The court disagreed, because “the neighbors’ time to research this trial issue was before or during trial”; Petitioner could not introduce the evidence for the first time on appeal. Second, Petitioner argued that extra-record evidence was admissible to resolve a future issue to avoid the need for a separate appeal of post-judgment matters. The court, however, declined this “unprecedented invitation to attempt to moot a future appeal in the name of judicial economy.”
With respect to CEQA, Petitioner argued that the Class 32 exemption did not apply because the proposed project was not architecturally compatible with the neighborhood and would impact views. The court explained that these “aesthetic judgments” are subjective findings that are appropriately reviewed for substantial evidence. As a result, the court was required to defer to the City’s aesthetic determinations so long as a reasonable person could have reached the same conclusions. Here, the court held, the City’s decision that the project was compatible with local plans was “eminently reasonable” because the neighborhood had been a subdivision of Los Angeles for decades and the area was not undeveloped seashores or wilderness. The court therefore upheld the City’s application of the Class 32 CEQA exemption.
The City issued a Coastal Development Permit pursuant to section 30600, subdivision (b) of the Coastal Act. Petitioner filed an appeal with the Coastal Commission, which determined that the appeal did not raise a “substantial issue.” Again applying a deferential standard of review, the court explained that it is for the Commission, not the court, to weigh conflicting evidence. Petitioner offered evidence in support of its complaints about the project, but it failed to show that the Commission’s decision was unsupported by substantial evidence. Thus, the court rejected Petitioner’s challenge.
– Elizabeth Pollock