York v. City of Los Angeles: Just Because You Can’t Build the Mansion You Want Doesn’t Mean There Was A Regulatory Taking

In York v. City of Los Angeles , the Second Appellate District applied the well-established substantial evidence standard to deny petitioner’s writ of mandate and uphold respondent’s judgement on the pleadings that no taking had occurred.  The City’s determination did not preclude any development; it simply denied the permit for this proposed development.

Petitioners applied for permits to build an 8,000 square foot house, 1,300 square foot guest house, driveway, swimming pool, tennis court, storage, and wine caves that would together require 79,700 cubic yards of grading.  The City ultimately approved most of the construction, but not the grading, which sought approval for 24 times the “by right” grading threshold.  The City determined that the necessary findings for so much grading could not be made.  In particular, it could not find that “the project will enhance the built environment in the surrounding neighborhood or will perform a function or provide a service that is essential or beneficial to the community, city, or region.”  After all, the application was for a private home on a site located on a prominent ridge, bordered on three sides by public open space. 

Petitioners sought a writ of mandate overturning the denial, arguing that the City had abused its discretion without appropriate evidence.  The trial and appellate courts squarely rejected these claims.  The courts denied the writ of mandate due to the “extensive findings” of the zoning administrator. 

The court upheld judgment on the pleadings for respondents because, pursuant to the documents for which petitioners sought judicial review, the takings claim was not ripe.  Under MacDonald, Sommer & Frates v. Yolo County (1986) 477 U.S. 340, 351-53, a claim is not ripe when “only one intense type of residential development” is denied because there is still a possibility “that some development would be permitted.”  In fact, the City here did approve some development, so clearly it had not banned all development.  The City decision makers had indicated that they may approve a different proposal, which involved less grading, but that they were denying the only proposal before them, for nearly 80,000 cubic yards of grading.  In other words, denying an application for 24 times the legal by-right quantity of grading is not a regulatory taking.  There was no evidence that it would have been futile for applicants to submit revised plans. 

It is somewhat disappointing to see a case like this litigated and published.  With so many critical policy issues on the plates of City administrators and the justice system, it seems unfair to spend so much time and public resources to debate the appropriateness of denying a huge grading permit that would benefit only one family.  The resources would have been better spent refining the application to better meet the zoning standards and protect the region’s scenic resources. 

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Corinne CalfeeComment