Santa Monica Lookout
B e s t   l o c a l   s o u r c e   f o r   n e w s   a n d   i n f o r m a t i o n

Supreme Court Ruling on Development Will Have Little Impact on Santa Monica, Experts Say

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark


Rusty's Surf

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

June 28, 2013 -- A Supreme Court decision Tuesday that expanded Constitutional protections for landowners who want to develop their land will have little impact on Santa Monica, local experts said Thursday.

There has been much buzz about the potential impacts of the 5 to 4 ruling that the St. Johns River Water Management District couldn't withhold a permit allowing Florida landowner Coy Koontz to build on his property if he didn't pay to improve public land several miles away.

But exactly how will that decision come home to Santa Monica, where developers are regularly asked by City officials to help pay for bike lanes, affordable housing, sidewalk improvements and many other public amenities in exchange for the right to build on private property?

Los Angeles-based land use attorney Dale Goldsmith says that California, and Santa Monica especially, will feel little impact from this ruling.

“Some folks would lead you to believe this is... the zombie apocalypse,” said Goldsmith, who has worked on major projects in Santa Monica and Los Angeles, including the overhaul of Santa Monica Place and the Rand Corporation's headquarters across from the Santa Monica Civic Center.

“I think it's much ado about nothing,” he said.

Since the majority of Santa Monica's large-scale development is done by negotiating development agreements (DAs) with individual developers -- and not through issuing land-use permits -- not a lot will change.

The DA process “is a bargaining process, as opposed to the City imposing something that is designed to remedy the harm of a project,” Goldsmith said.

The City Attorney's Office agreed. DAs “are considered voluntary contracts under California law not subject to the state’s Mitigation Fee Act or the requirements of nexus and rough proportionality,” the City Attorney's Office said in a statement Thursday.

Even outside of the DA process, City officials believe there will be little impact.

“We do not think that Koontz will require changes in the manner in which Santa Monica handles land use matters, since the City is already doing what Koontz requires,” City Attorney officials said in an official statement issued Thursday.

For years, governments have been able to require property owners to offset the impact of developments on their land, but “there has to be a connection between the harm (done by the development) and the solution,” said Goldsmith.

That standard was set when, in 1987, the Supreme Court ruled in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission that the Commission could only require the Nollan family -- who wanted to build a three-story house along the beach -- to dedicate part of their property to public beach access only if “the proposed development would have an adverse impact on public access to the sea," according to the majority opinion.

The Koontz decision extends that logic to making developers pay money -- rather than dedicate property -- to offset the impacts of their projects.

“What the court has done has said that the rule for exactions for the entire country needs to be the rule that California and about 25 other states already follow,” said Jonathan Zasloff, professor of law at UCLA.

“We've been following that rule for nearly 20 years,” said Zasloff, who specializes in land use law.

“There's a lot I'm happy to criticize this court for," he said, but not this decision.

Lookout Logo footer image copyrightCopyright 1999-2013 All Rights Reserved. EMAIL