City’s Building Moratorium Does Not Extend Validity Of Developer’s Project Map More Than Five Years

In Ailanto Properties, Inc. v. City of Half Moon Bay, (— Cal. Rptr.3d —, 2006 WL 2497996, Cal.App. 1 Dist., Aug. 30, 2006), a California Court of Appeal considered a dispute between a developer and a city over how delays in a housing tract development, caused in part by city-imposed water and sewer service moratoria, affected the time period for which the developer’s tentative map remained valid.

The Court ruled that under the Subdivision Map Act, a city-imposed moratorium extends the validity of the map for no more than five years, and ruled further that the delivery to the city engineer of a final map that does not conform to the requirements of the tentative map does not extend the life of the tentative map.


In 1987, Ailanto Properties, Inc. (“Ailanto”) applied to the City of Half Moon Bay (“City”) for a vesting tentative map for a 228-lot housing subdivision on a 114-acre parcel located in the City. In 1990, the map was approved with several mitigating conditions, including a requirement that Ailanto obtain approval of water and sewer connections from the appropriate agencies, and that a coastal development permit be obtained from the California Coastal Commission (“Commission”).

At that time, however, the area was subject to a moratorium on water connections imposed by the Coastside County Water District, due to inadequate water supplies, which had been in effect since 1976 and would remain so until 1994. Then in 1991, the City imposed a moratorium on new sewer connections due to the limited capacity of the City’s sewer treatment plant.

Following the end of the sewer moratorium in 1999, the City approved Ailanto’s application for a coastal development permit, but opponents of the project appealed to the Commission. The Commission finally approved the coastal development permit in 2001, subject to a number of special conditions. However, Ailanto disputed the legality of those conditions and in a separate action, sued the Commission, and therefore never obtained its final permit from the Commission.

Ailanto then delivered to the City Engineer its final map, but the City Engineer rejected it, claiming that it failed to conform to the tentative map approved in 1990, due to the lack of a final coastal development permit. Ailanto sued the City in Superior Court with three causes of action: 1) that the water and sewer moratoria extended the life of the tentative map through 1999; 2) that a separate moratorium existed during the time the City and Commission processed its development permit application, which further extended the life of the map; and 3) that the filing of the map is final upon delivery of the map to the city engineer, triggering an additional three-year extension. If Ailanto prevailed on all three points, its 1990 map would have remained valid through at least 2001.

The trial court ruled for the City on the first two causes of action, and Ailanto appealed. It ruled for Ailanto on the third cause, and the City appealed.


The Court determined that the dispute centered on the parties’ differing interpretations of Government Code Section 66452.6, subdivision (b)(1), which states that the period of validity of a tentative map “shall not include any period of time during which a development moratorium, imposed after approval of the tentative map, is in existence. However, the length of the moratorium shall not exceed five years.”

The last sentence cannot be construed as a time limit on all building moratoria, the court said, and is instead referring to the maximum time period for which a moratorium may extend a map’s validity. The Court found no reference in the legislative record of intent to curb local governments’ power to control development. Therefore, the moratorium extended validity of Ailanto’s tentative map by no more than five years.

The Court also rejected Ailanto’s second cause, saying it found nothing in the language of the statute to suggest multiple moratoria could extend the five-year limit. There would be no need, the Court ruled, for the Legislature to spell out the five-year limit “unless it sought to place an outer limit” on the expiration of the tentative map.

Turning to the City’s Appeal, the Court ruled that Ailanto’s delivery to the city engineer of a final map that did not conform to the conditions of its tentative map, did not satisfy the requirements of Section 66452.6, subdivision (a)(1), that the life of a tentative map is extended by 36 months upon the filing of a final map. Quoting McPherson v. City of Manhattan Beach, (2000) 78 Cal App. 4th 1252, the Court ruled that any other interpretation would defeat the purpose of the statute. “To hold otherwise would permit a developer to secure tentative vesting rights in perpetuity, simply by submitting the map to the city engineer,” while otherwise failing to obey the city’s conditions.

The appellate court therefore ruled for the City on all three causes, upholding the trial court on the first two and reversing it on the third.

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