Land Use

If it relates to the use of land, Downey Brand’s attorneys cover it all – whether it involves existing uses, planned development, the permitting process, or litigation.

Downey Brand’s land use attorneys advise private clients and public agencies on a broad range of issues related to zoning, entitlements, exactions, dedications, environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and more.
 
We routinely handle housing, retail, commercial, industrial, mining, energy, and public infrastructure projects.  We help clients navigate the land use permitting process at the local, regional, state and federal levels – from project conception to completion, and every step in-between. We understand that clients can sometimes be frustrated by the complexity of land use permitting and administrative hurdles, so we provide our clients with a road map for achieving their development goals.
 

Land Use Approvals

Downey Brand attorneys have extensive expertise in representing both public and private clients in navigating administrative processes related to conditional use permits, zoning amendments, design review, general plans and specific plans, coastal development permits, tentative and final subdivision maps, and State Lands Commission leases. We advise clients with projects from beginning to end, including due diligence related to property acquisition, local, state, and federal permitting and associated environmental review, permit amendments or modifications, building permits, and certificates of occupancy.
 

CEQA and NEPA

Our attorneys regularly develop and implement CEQA and NEPA compliance strategies that keep projects on track and legally defensible. We are often called upon to evaluate the appropriate level of environmental review for a given project and to assess alternative compliance strategies. We routinely evaluate exemption determinations, negative declarations, environmental impact reports, and environmental impact statements for legal adequacy, and revise those documents as needed to ensure compliance and to minimize litigation risk.
 

Fees, Exactions, Dedications

We assist clients in interpreting, negotiating, and if necessary, challenging the imposition of fees, exactions, and dedications imposed on development projects by local agencies.
 

Reimbursement Agreements and Assessment Districts for Public Improvements

When significant public infrastructure improvements are required as part of a development project, we assist our clients in understanding financing mechanisms, drafting and negotiating reimbursement agreements, and guiding clients through the process of formation of various types of assessment districts.
 

Development Agreements and Vested Rights

We assist clients with the drafting and negotiation of development agreements, and counsel clients on issues pertaining to vested rights law.
 

Affordable Housing

Downey Brand supports the development and redevelopment of affordable rental and for-sale housing projects, including major mixed-income and mixed-use developments, throughout the entitlement process.  We advise clients on compliance with density bonus and inclusionary laws, the Housing Accountability Act, and provisions of the California Planning and Zoning Law that provide additional protections to affordable housing projects.
 

Land Use Litigation

Downey Brand attorneys have substantial experience representing clients at both the federal and state level in regulatory compliance, administrative actions, and litigation at both the trial and appellate levels.  Our deep understanding of the entitlement process and experience defending land use approvals against legal challenges allows our attorneys to counsel clients on the most effective path for legal compliance, reduction of litigation risk, and getting projects built.

Experience

  • Represented appellant City of Manhattan Beach and amici curiae California League of Cities (League) and California State Association of Counties (CSAC) in appeal involving CEQA’s fair argument standard.  Prevailed on appeal to the California Supreme Court.  Save the Plastic Bag Coalition v. City of Manhattan Beach, 52 Cal.4th 155 (2011)
  • Represented solar developers in multi-state Solar Energy Development Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement.  Improved requirements and findings for client solar energy companies through comments and meetings 11,000-page draft PEIS for BLM’s proposed program governing the development of utility-scale solar energy projects on BLM-administered lands in California, Nevada and New Mexico.
  • Defended a case filed against San Bernardino County, including a cause of action under the Brown Act and the County’s Sunshine Ordinance.  (Ninth Cause of Action).  The petition for writ of mandated was denied on all grounds. Delaware Tetra Technologies v. County of San Bernardino, Orange County Superior Court Case No. 30-2013-00635125. 
  • Defended City of Fremont against challenge to City’s denial of an application to subdivide under 1094.5.  We prevailed both on Petitioner’s motion to augment the record (which was denied), and at trial (writ denied in full).  Wang v. City of Fremont, Alameda County Superior Court Case No. FG10512677.
  • Defended City of Napa against action challenging City’s easement rights in a public utility easement over private property.  Obtained dismissal of entire action against City on demurrer.  Young v. Young, Napa County Superior Court Case No. 26-51036.
  • Defended City of Napa against action challenging City’s use of City property burdened by a non-exclusive easement for adjacent property owner.  Uno Fratelli LLC v. City of Napa, Napa County Superior Court Case Nos. 26-53259, 26-55770. 
  • Represented solar developers in multi-state Solar Energy Development Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement.  Improved requirements and findings for client solar energy companies through comments and meetings 11,000-page draft PEIS for BLM’s proposed program governing the development of utility-scale solar energy projects on BLM-administered lands in California, Nevada and New Mexico.
  • Represented shopping center developer in Redding in negotiations with Regional Water Quality Control Board for Clean Water Act 401 certification and with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Clean Water Act 303 permit, as well as in discussions with the City about project conditions.
  • Represented numerous reclamation districts in levee construction projects dealing with project management, various agency approvals, and resolving archeological issues related to Native American burial sites.
  • Represented the Modesto Irrigation District in 20 separate eminent domain actions involving the acquisition of property for a 230 kV transmission line.
  • Represented Three Rivers Levee Improvement Authority  in a case against Danna Investment Company resulting in a verdict that was substantially lower than the pre-litigation offer and deposit of probable compensation, which resulted in a judgment requiring the landowner to return some of the deposit to the public agency.

Selected Experience
  • Represented appellant City of Manhattan Beach and amici curiae California League of Cities (League) and California State Association of Counties (CSAC) in appeal involving CEQA’s fair argument standard.  Prevailed on appeal to the California Supreme Court.  Save the Plastic Bag Coalition v. City of Manhattan Beach, 52 Cal.4th 155 (2011)

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