Court of Appeal Holds that Subdivision Map Act Limits Time that Vesting Tentative Maps Can Be Extended Due to Development Moratoria, and that Filing of an Admittedly Nonconforming Phased Final Map Does Not Extend the Life of the Tentative Map
In Ailanto Properties, Inc. v. City of Half Moon Bay, the First Appellate District clarified two issues of longstanding ambiguity under the Subdivision Map Act, Government Code section 66410 et seq.
First, the Court addressed the issue of the amount of time that the life of a vesting tentative map may be extended due to development moratoria. Government Code section 66452.6(b)(1) extends the life of a vesting tentative map for any period of time during which a development moratorium is in existence, but states that “the length of the moratorium shall not exceed five years.” In this case, the City of Half Moon Bay approved a vesting tentative map for the developer’s project, but subsequently imposed a sewer moratorium that lasted eight years. The developer argued that the statute limits to five years the length of time that a development moratorium could be imposed, not the length of any moratorium-related tolling of the expiration of the vesting tentative map. The City, in contrast, argued that the statute imposes a five-year limit on the length of the period during which the life of a vesting tentative map may be tolled as a result of development moratoria.
The Court of Appeal agreed with the City’s interpretation, holding that the length of any moratorium-related tolling of the expiration of a vesting tentative map was limited to five years. The Court found the plain language of the statute to be ambiguous, but that resort to the larger statutory scheme and the legislative history demonstrated that the five-year limitation applies to the length of the moratorium-related tolling. The Court also relied on “reason, practicality and common sense” to confirm its conclusion, noting that interpreting section 66452.6(b)(1) to mean that development moratoria would expire after five years, regardless of whether the reasons for the moratoria were still in effect, would lead to absurd practical results. The Court also rejected the developer’s arguments that multiple moratoria could lead to multiple tolling periods, and that the City was estopped from asserting the five-year limit by the substantial amount of money the developer had spent financing public improvements.
The second issue under the Subdivision Map Act was whether the developer’s filing of a phased final map with the city engineer constituted an effective filing entitling the developer to a 36-month extension of its vesting tentative map under Government Code section 66452.6(a)(1), where the phased final map did not conform to the requirements of the vesting tentative map and was not in a form that could be approved by the City. The Court held that section 66452.6(a)(1) was unambiguous, and that delivery of an admittedly nonconforming phased final map to the city engineer does not extend the life of the tentative map.