Santa Barbara County’s denial of a subdivision application to build two homes in the coastal zone presents a ripe claim for taking private property without payment of just compensation, even though the applicant never sought approval to build the single home that the County said might be allowed. Dunn v. County of Santa Barbara (2006 Daily Journal D.A.R. 2203, 36 Envtl. L. Rep. 20,022, Cal.App. 2 Dist., Jan. 25, 2006)
In reversing the trial court’s dismissal of a landowner’s claim as not ripe, the Court of Appeal for the Second District held that “the primary question to be answered in resolving this issue is whether the landowner obtained a final decision from the agency determining the permitted use for the land.” The Court reasoned that because the County had clearly stated that it would not permit the landowner to subdivide the land for construction of two homes, its final decision was clear. However, the Court agreed with the trial court’s ruling that the County’s application of environmental regulations in support of the subdivision denial did not cause a “physical taking” of private property requiring just compensation.
In this case, David Dunn (“Dunn”), the owner of a six-acre parcel of coastal property in an unincorporated area of Santa Barbara County (“County”), applied to subdivide his property into two three-acre lots and to build single family homes on each lot. Since the property is located in the coastal zone, it is subject to the California Coast Act (“CAA”), and the County’s Local Coastal Plan (“LCP”).
In reviewing Dunn’s application, the County identified two areas on the property as “wetlands” requiring preservation under the CAA and LCP. The County also determined that those areas could not be preserved if the parcel were subdivided and two houses were built, because of the location of the wetlands and the various set-back and buffer zone requirements. Consequently, the County Planning Commission denied Dunn’s application, and the Board of Supervisors upheld the denial. However, the County stated that the wetlands could be preserved if only one house were built on the property.
Dunn filed a lawsuit alleging, among other things, that the County’s regulations had taken his property without compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, that the County’s findings were not supported by the evidence, and that the County had not proceeded in accordance with the law.
The trial court found that the evidence supported the County’s decision to deny Dunn’s subdivision application, and there was no evidence that the County acted contrary to law. The trial court granted the County’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, dismissing Dunn’s claims of physical and regulatory takings. The trial court held that Dunn failed to state a claim for physical takings, “and that his claim for a regulatory taking was not ripe for review because he had not yet sought a final determination from the County regarding the extent of development that will be allowed on his property.” Dunn appealed.
On the issue of sufficiency of the evidence in the administrative record, the Court found the County’s decision to deny Dunn’s application for a subdivision of his property was supported by substantial evidence in the record, and there was no evidence that the County, in making their decision, failed to proceed in the manner required by law. The Court also found that Dunn’s challenges to the County’s decision all involved factual disputes that had been resolved against him in the administrative proceedings. As to the judgment on the physical takings claim, the Court found it “was plainly correct because Dunn cannot allege that the County took physical possession of his property or otherwise occupied it.”
However, the Court reversed the trial court ruling that the regulatory takings claim was not ripe for lack of a final decision on the scope of development allowed on the property. Citing Palazzolo, 533 U.S. 606, at 620 (2001), the Court held “While a landowner must give a land-use authority an opportunity to exercise its discretion, once it becomes clear that the agency lacks the discretion to permit any development, or the permissible uses of the property are known to a reasonable degree of certainty, a takings claim is likely to have ripened.” Here, the Court held that the County made it clear that the County’s regulations limit the development of Dunn’s property to one residence. Thus, Dunn’s takings was ripe for court review, even though he had not sought permission to build that one residence.
The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s ruling on the regulatory takings claim. That reversal on ripeness applied by extension to Dunn’s related claims for violation of substantive due process, denial of equal protection and violation of the Civil Rights Act. The remainder of the trial court’s judgment was affirmed.
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