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California Court of Appeal Holds Redevelopment Agencies Have Broad Authority Under State Community Redevelopment Law to Impose Design and Development Controls to Implement Redevelopment Plans

In September 2007, the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles (CRA/LA) after much public debate adopted comprehensive design guidelines for redevelopment in the North Hollywood Project.

These design guidelines adjusted the allowable densities, building sizes, floor area ratios, and other development and design criteria, in the project area to concentrate higher densities near mass transit, to preserve the character of the NoHo neighborhoods, and to provide opportunities for density bonuses in exchange for community benefits that furthered the goals of the redevelopment plan. A local developer, JSM, represented by Jeffer Mangels, sued the CRA/LA and the City of Los Angeles, alleging that the design guidelines were a de facto zoning ordinance because they altered the allowable zoning characteristics for the area (density, floor area ratio and building height). Based on this assertion, JSM insisted the design guidelines were not properly adopted pursuant to state zoning and planning laws. JSM also argued that the reduction in base density to allow the CRA/LA to provide density bonuses violated the mandates of state density bonus law.

The trial judge rejected all of JSM’s allegations, finding the design guidelines were implementing a lawfully adopted redevelopment plan and laws governing the adoption of zoning ordinances did not apply and that there was no conflict with state density bonus law. The trial judge also found JSM’s CEQA claim to be time barred. JSM appealed. The Court of Appeal, in an unpublished opinion issued less than a week after oral argument, affirmed the trial court in full. The Court explained that the actions of the CRA/LA implementing the redevelopment plan carry out the mandates of state, not local, laws. The Court found that the redevelopment plan itself reduced the maximum allowable densities in the redevelopment project area from those in the City’s zoning code and directed the CRA/LA to adopt design guidelines to further refine the specific development criteria necessary to achieve the goals and policies of the redevelopment plan. Since the design guidelines implemented the policies of the redevelopment plan, the CRA/LA was acting within its authorities under state redevelopment law. This was a key holding in the opinion because the Court expressly rejected the developer’s argument that actions taken to adopt and implement state redevelopment law cannot impact the zoning in the redevelopment plan area.

The Court also rejected JSM’s claims that reducing allowable density in a redevelopment area in order to provide density bonuses in exchange for community benefits violates state density bonus law. First, a redevelopment agency has the authority to provide a density bonus in addition to that mandated under state law, which is what the CRA/LA had done in this instance. Second, in a redevelopment area, maximum densities may be lowered from those set forth in the zoning code; therefore, the densities provided by the redevelopment plan establish the base densities for purposes of determining state mandated density bonuses.

This opinion is a resounding victory for redevelopment agencies seeking to adopt and implement redevelopment plans to revitalize their communities. For further information, please contact Deborah Fox.