The California Court of Appeals issued a significant property rights ruling last December in Avenida San Juan Partnership v. City of San Clemente. In that case, the plaintiff owned an undeveloped 2.85 parcel of land in the city of San Clemente, which was located squarely within a residential zoning area. This area allowed the owner to build up to four dwellings per acre. However, the city later imposed a “residential, very low” (RVL) set of land use restrictions on the parcel, which allows for only one dwelling per 20 acres. The trial court concluded that the RVL designation was illegal “spot zoning” because it was directed only to the property owner’s parcel of land and directed the city to allow for the construction of four homes. The essence of spot zoning is “irrational discrimination.” The court gave the city the option of allowing construction to proceed, or compensating the property owner 1.3 million in damages for the value of the land taken by the RVL restrictions.
The Court of Appeal confirmed that the RVL designation was illegal spot zoning. The court also held that the RVL designation was a taking of property under the Fifth Amendment. The owners bought the parcel in 1980 before the RVL designation and therefore had a reasonable investment backed expectation that four homes per acre could be developed.
Congratulations to the property owner for this victory and kudos to the court of appeal for taking a stance in support of constitutional property rights. The opinion was drafted by Justice Rylaarsdam and was joined by Justices Moore and Aaronson.