Coalition Advocating Legal Housing v. City of Santa Monica

Decision Date13 March 2001
Citation105 Cal.Rptr.2d 802,88 Cal.App.4th 451
Parties(Cal.App. 2 Dist. 2001) COALITION ADVOCATING LEGAL HOUSING OPTIONS et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. CITY OF SANTA MONICA, Defendant and Respondent. B135879 Filed
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County.

(Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BS 053199)

Robert H. O'Brien, Judge. Reversed and remanded with directions.

Isaacs Clouse & Crose, James B. Isaacs, Jr. and John A. Crose, Jr. for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Marsha Jones Moutrie, City Attorney, Barry A. Rosenbaum, Senior Land Use Attorney, and Cara E. Silver, Deputy City Attorney, for Defendant and Respondent.


This lawsuit, brought by the Coalition Advocating Legal Housing Options and Lou Moench, challenges the constitutionality of a Santa Monica zoning ordinance. The ordinance allows the creation of "second units" in single-family residential zones, but only if the person occupying the second unit is the property owner or his/her dependent, or a caregiver for the property owner or dependent. Since the ordinance's distinction among permissible users of second units violates both privacy and equal protection rights under established constitutional principles, the judgment upholding the ordinance must be reversed.


A second unit is an attached or detached unit that provides complete independent living facilities for one or more persons. The zoning ordinance under review was passed because of a state law encouraging local agencies to permit the creation of second units in single- and multiple-family zones. The statute authorizes such local ordinances, and indeed requires local agencies to permit second units meeting state-set standards unless the locality either (1) passes its own ordinance providing for such units which may have requirements stricter than the state standards, or (2) totally precludes them in single-family or multiple-family zoned areas. (Govt. Code, 65852.2.) But a locality cannot totally preclude second units unless its ordinance contains findings that the ban is justified by specific adverse impacts on the public health, safety and welfare that would result from allowing second units. (Id. at subd. (c).)

The state's statute on second units was originally enacted in 1982, with legislative findings that, inter alia, there was a tremendous unmet need for new housing and many benefits associated with creation of second-family residential units on existing single-family lots. These included providing a cost-effective means of serving development of housing through use of existing infrastructures, providing relatively affordable housing without public subsidy, providing a means for purchasers to meet payments on high interest loans, and providing security for homeowners. (Stats. 1982, ch. 1440, 1.)

The statute was amended in 1994. The amendment's legislative history indicates that local governments had responded to the existing law either by embracing second units as a source of affordable housing, or by discouraging their creation through complicated and expensive application procedures or other means. (Assem. Com. on Housing & Community Development, Analysis of A.B. 3198 (1993-1994 Sess.) as amended May 4, 1994, p. 4.) The amendment imposed new requirements on local jurisdictions, including limits on the size and parking requirements that could be imposed for second units. (Govt. Code, 65852.2, subd. (d) & (e).) It also specifically declared the Legislature's intent that "any second-unit ordinances adopted by local agencies have the effect of providing for the creation of second units," and that provisions of such ordinances "are not so arbitrary, excessive, or burdensome so as to unreasonably restrict the ability of homeowners to create second units in zones in which they are authorized by local ordinance." (Govt. Code, 65852.150.)

The City of Santa Monica (the City) received its first application for a second unit in June 1996, 13 years after the initial state law went into effect. Under state law, the City then had 120 days to pass its own ordinance, either providing for creation of second units or totally precluding them. Alternatively, the City would be required to grant a permit for the second unit if the application complied with state statutory requirements. (Govt. Code, 65852.2, subd. (b)(1).)

The staff of the City Council recommended that the Council direct the staff to prepare an ordinance creating local standards regulating second units. The staff's report advised that the City's then-current prohibition on second units in R-1 single family

districts "does not meet the requirements of State law."1 The report said that the staff did not believe that specific findings justifying a prohibition could be made.2 The staff's report also included a copy of a 1990 publication from the State Department of Housing and Community Development, indicating that a local ordinance limiting occupancy to persons related to the owner would be susceptible to legal challenge.

The Council held a public hearing on August 13, 1996, and accepted the staff's recommendation, and directed staff to prepare an ordinance regulating second units. The staff did so, and presented it to the Council at its meeting on September 24, 1996, again stating its view that there was not sufficient evidence to adopt the findings necessary for a ban of second units. The Planning Commission had also voted unanimously to recommend an ordinance legalizing second unit creation in R-1 zones.

Some 24 members of the public spoke at the September hearing, the majority opposing the proposal and supporting a ban on second units. The speakers opined that second units would mean more congestion, air pollution, noise, traffic, and on-street parking; would add to the burden on the water supply, trash disposal, and schools; and would divert police resources from other areas to handle the increased crime in R-1 neighborhoods.

After discussion, the Council rejected the staff's recommendation and instructed the staff to prepare new recommendations for adoption of an ordinance that would prohibit rental units in the R-1 area, with the appropriate findings. The staff was also asked to evaluate whether any limited hardship exceptions should be included in such an ordinance.

The Council held a hearing on October 8, 1996, on a revised ordinance. The proposed ordinance prohibited second units in R-1 districts, with a limited exception for second units used for the owner's child or parent in cases of substantial hardship. There were 20 speakers, and again most opposed second units. Two speakers asked for a modification to expand the exception to include relatives and household help.

After discussion, the Council voted four to three to adopt Interim Ordinance 1866, allowing second units only for use by dependents/caregivers rather than only parent/child, with a requirement for a demonstration of substantial hardship and a specific prohibition against renting the unit. The following month the ordinance was extended for 18 months.

A similar interim ordinance (Ordinance No. 1916) was introduced and passed four to three on June 9, 1998. It eliminated the hardship requirement, permitting second units intended and used solely for occupancy by dependents or caregivers. The ordinance also contained regulations governing lot size, density, maximum and minimum unit size, parcel coverage, parking requirements, design standards and other requirements for second units.

Before the scheduled expiration in June 1999 of Interim Ordinance No. 1916, the Planning Commission recommended that the Council take a different approach to second units by controlling them through either density or concentration regulations. At the Council's meeting on April 27, 1999, the staff presented alternative ordinances for the Council's consideration, one to extend the interim ordinance temporarily, and the other to enact the same standards permanently. The staff recommended that the Council extend the interim ordinance to allow the opportunity to explore the alternatives proposed by the Planning Commission.

Again, most of the speakers at the Council's meeting opposed second units, and the Council adopted the permanent ordinance (Ordinance No. 1942) on May 11, 1999, by a five to two vote. 3

Meanwhile, in September 1998, shortly after the adoption of Interim Ordinance No. 1916, the Coalition and Moench, a member of the Coalition and former member of the Planning Commission, filed a petition for writ of mandate. The petition sought a writ requiring the City Council to cease enforcement of the dependent/caregiver provision of Ordinance No. 1916 or to adopt an ordinance eliminating it, and to process otherwise eligible permit applications without regard to intent or use of the second unit. After the trial court indicated that alternative forms of relief might be more appropriate, the petition was amended to add a claim for declaratory and injunctive relief. The petition was later deemed amended so as to challenge the permanent ordinance (Ordinance No. 1942) upon its enactment.

The matter was heard on July 9, 1999, after filing of supplemental papers, including lengthy transcripts of the public hearings. After brief oral argument, the court took the matter under submission, and a few days later issued a minute order denying the petition, without analysis.

This appeal followed.


A.The municipal affairs doctrine does not apply.

The City argues as a preliminary matter that, as a charter city, it is not required to comply with the state statute on second units, under the "municipal affairs" doctrine. That doctrine says that a charter city's ordinances relating to purely municipal affairs prevail over state laws on the same subject.

The City is incorrect. In the first place,...

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1 cases
  • Coalition Adv. V. City of Santa Monica
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • 13 Marzo 2001
    ... 105 Cal.Rptr.2d 802 ... 88 Cal.App.4th 451 ... COALITION ADVOCATING LEGAL HOUSING OPTIONS et al, Plaintiffs and Appellants, ... CITY OF SANTA MONICA, Defendant and ... ...

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