Does a vesting tentative map lock in only local laws, or does it vest state and federal laws as well? Charles A. Pratt Construction Co., Inc. v. California Coastal Commission, — Cal.Rptr.3d —, 2008 WL 1976615, Cal.App. 2 Dist., May 8, 2008, held that a vesting tentative map does not lock in state or federal laws, regulations or policies. In reaching its decision, the court also held that a project denied on the grounds that the water supply is insufficient is not a taking.
In 1973, San Luis Obispo County (“County”) approved Charles A. Pratt Construction Co., Inc.’s (“Pratt”) tentative map for Phase I and II. Phase I was a 25-acre parcel; Phase II was an 81-acre parcel.
The County denied the final map for Phase I. The County found that Pratt had no vested right to the subdivision but had a vested right to complete the offsite improvements because of the substantial investment Pratt had made for those improvements.
In 1982, the Court of Appeal ruled that Pratt did not have a vested right to the tentative map because Pratt failed to satisfy the map conditions. Nevertheless, the court held that because Pratt was allowed to complete the offsite improvements, Pratt could complete the subdivision.
In 1985, Pratt submitted a new vesting tentative map that contemplated the subdivision of Phase I into 40 lots with a remainder parcel of 81 acres (Phase II). The County approved the application, and the final map was recorded in 1989.
In 1990, Pratt applied for a new vesting tentative map for Phase II, plus an additional 40 acres for open space. The County approved the map in 1999.
On appeal to the California Coastal Commission (“Commission”), the Commission rejected Pratt’s vested rights claim to Phase II and denied the coastal development permit.
The trial court upheld the Commission and dismissed Pratt’s taking claim.
The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court. The Court of Appeal held that a vesting tentative map does not lock in state or federal laws, regulations or policies. The court explained that Government Code § 66498.1(b) provides that approval of a vesting tentative map confers a vested right to proceed in accordance with the regulations, policies and standards in effect when the tentative map application was complete. But Government Code § 66498.6(b) reveals that such vesting applies only to the regulations, policies and standards imposed at the local level. The court suggested that local agencies do not even have the discretion to lock in state or federal laws, regulations, or policies, even if they want to.
Next, the court determined that Pratt’s takings claim was not ripe. The court recited the familiar rule that a takings claim is not ripe if the applicant never submitted a proposal that contemplates a reduction in the size, scope, configuration or density of the project. Here, Pratt never submitted such a proposal. The Commission decided only that a 41-unit subdivision would be inappropriate. The Commission did not decide that a less intense project could never be approved. While Pratt had been trying to develop the property since 1973, this was the first time that the Commission had reviewed the project, the court stressed.
Finally, the court examined the merits of Pratt’s takings claim, even though the claim was not ripe. The court announced that a project denied on the grounds that the water supply is insufficient is not a taking. Although a government regulation may not deprive property of economically viable use, here it was really the lack of water, not a regulation, which prevented the property from enjoying economically viable use, the court concluded.