In an unpublished decision in Concerned Residents of Benedict Canyon v. City of L.A., 2015 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 989, the California Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s decision and held no actual case or controversy existed after the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) recommended that the Los Angeles Planning Department determine a developer met a secondary access requirement for a private road and the Planning Department ignored the recommendation.
In the late 1990s, the owner of three parcels on the private Tower Lane sought to comply with Los Angeles (City) regulations requiring all lots front an approved street for at least 20 feet. The owner adjusted the boundaries of the parcels accordingly and in 2000 the Planning Department approved the modification pending compliance with several conditions. According to the 2000 conditional approval, if the conditions were not satisfied in three years, the conditional approval would become void. However, in 2003 the City issued a Certificate of Compliance even though not all of the conditions were satisfied.
One of the conditions required secondary access to Tower Lane. After purchasing the three parcels in 2009, the developer proposed a staircase that would connect Tower Lane to the property below instead of developing a secondary access road. In 2012, LAFD recommended the Planning Department clear the condition. However, the Planning Department declined to follow the recommendation and informed the developer that the City would not issue any building permits until the condition was properly satisfied.
Petitioners challenged the LAFD recommendation alleging LAFD violated the City’s Fire Code and the California Environmental Quality Act. The court rejected the argument and held no actual controversy existed. The court explained there was no relief to grant because the Planning Department had already rejected the LAFD recommendation and put the project on hold until the developer satisfied the condition. Whether or not LAFD properly exercised its discretion to approve the alternative access method was inconsequential because the decision led to no action. As the court stated, “[a] communication between two city departments that results in no action gives rise to no duty and causes no hardship and no controversy.”
The court next rejected petitioner’s argument that the 2000 conditional approval expired in 2003 when the conditions were not satisfied after three years. The court held that to the extent the conditions were not satisfied, they were waived when the City issued a Certificate of Compliance in 2003. The right to challenge the approval did not extend with the subsequent implementation of the conditions.
The court lastly held that whether the project’s plans were sufficient for a complete plan check under the City’s Municipal Code was a matter within the City’s discretion. As a result, the court declined to compel the City to exercise its discretion in a particular way.