Gaviota Coast Conservancy v. Santa Barbara Local Agency Formation Commission, No. B215836 (Cal. App. 4/29/2010), B215836.

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtYegan
PartiesGAVIOTA COAST CONSERVANCY etc., et al, Plaintiffs and Respondents, v. SANTA BARBARA LOCAL AGENCY FORMATION COMMISSION, Defendant and Appellant. GOLETA WATER DISTRICT, MAKAR PROPERTIES, L.L.C., CPH DOS PUEBLOS ASSOCIATES, L.L.C., Real Parties in Interest and Appellants.
Docket NumberNo. B215836.,B215836.
Decision Date29 April 2010

Page 1

GAVIOTA COAST CONSERVANCY etc., et al, Plaintiffs and Respondents,
No. B215836.
Court of Appeals of California, Second District, Division Six.
Filed April 29, 2010.

Appeal from the Superior Court of Santa Barbara County, No. 1303129, Thomas P. Anderle, Judge.

Dennis Marshall, County Counsel, County of Santa Barbara and William M. Dillon, Senior Deputy, for Santa Barbara Local Agency Formation Commission, Defendant and Appellant.

Richard, Watson & Gershon, a Professional Corporation; Steven H. Kaufmann and Ginetta L. Giovinco. C. E. Chip Wullbrandt and Susan M. Basham; Price, Postel & Parma. Frances Farina; De Lay & Laredo, for Goleta Water District, et al., Real Parties in Interest and Appellants.

Ellison Folk; Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger. Marc Chytilo and Ana Citrin, Law Offices of Marc Chytilo, for Gaviota Coast Conservancy and Surfrider Foundationl, Plaintiffs and Respondents.


YEGAN, Acting P.J.

Santa Barbara Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), Goleta Water District (GWD), Makar Properties, L.L.C., and CPH Dos Pueblos Associates, L.L.C. appeal from a judgment invalidating the annexation of 130 acres of undeveloped land into the Goleta Water District. The trial court found that an annexation condition — written consent by the landowner — was not satisfied and that a 1998 resolution approving the annexation expired and was abandoned as a matter of law. Respondents, Gaviota Coast Conservancy (GCC) and Surfrider Foundation, were awarded $185,800+ attorney fees. We reverse the judgment and vacate the award for attorney fees. The annexation is valid.

1998 Resolution to Annex 130 Acres

This appeal arises out of a 1998 resolution (Resolution 98-11) by LAFCO approving the annexation of 130 acres into the GWD.1 The land is part of a 208 acre site on the Gaviota Coast, three miles west of Goleta. Formerly an oil and gas production facility, ARCO sold the property to CPH Dos Pueblos Associates LLC (CPH) to build a golf course with coastal trails (the Golf Links project). Makar Properties L.L.C. (Makar) purchased the property from CPH and is the current owner.

In 1993, County of Santa Barbara certified a Final Environment Impact Report (FEIR) for the Golf Links project and approved a conditional use permit. The FEIR stated that GWD would provide potable and reclaimed water to the project.

The conditional use permit was appealed to the California Coastal Commission. Coastal Commission denied the appeal and granted a coastal development permit, subject to the condition that 20+ antiquated lots (the Naples lots) be merged into two large parcels to prevent residential development. The Coastal Commission decision was upheld by the trial court and this Court in an unpublished opinion. (Surfrider Foundation v. California Coastal Commission, B101510.)

In July 1998, ARCO and CPH requested that GWD annex the 130 acres so there would be water for construction. The rest of the project site (78 acres) was already in the water district.

On July 28, 1998, the GWD Board of Directors adopted a resolution to initiate proceedings for annexation and consented to a waiver of conducting authority proceedings. (Former Gov. Code, 56029.) ARCO, CPH, and GWD entered into a Water User Agreement providing that CPH would pay GWD approximately $4.5 million for improvements to deliver reclaimed water to the golf course.

September 2, 1998 LAFCO Hearing

After GWD submitted the annexation application, LAFCO Executive Officer Bob Braitman prepared a staff report for a September 2, 1998 LAFCO hearing. This report stated: "To avoid including potentially buildable parcels within the GWD, the staff proposes that if the annexation is approved, it be conditioned on the concurrent merger of the[] lots. The annexation would, therefore, not be recorded until the merger of lots is also recorded." It also stated: "At the time of this writing not all of the property owners have given written consent to the annexation to [GWD], however such written consent is anticipated in the near future."

On September 2, 1998, Attorney David Fainer, Jr. sent a letter to LAFCO and Braitman stating that his clients, the "project sponsors," consented to the annexation. Fainer and Whitt Hollis appeared on behalf of ARCO and CPH at the September 2, 1998 hearing and provided testimony expressing landowner support for the annexation.

At the conclusion of the hearing, LAFCO approved the annexation request and adopted Resolution No. 98-11 which stated in pertinent part: "If satisfactory proof is given to the Executive Officer that . . . all landowners within the affected territory have given their written consent to the proposal ..., the conducting authority proceedings are waived, otherwise, the conducting authority [GWD] is authorized to proceed."2 The annexation was notconditioned on lot merger. (See infra, pp. 10-14.)

Project Time Extensions

Under the Cortese-Knox Act of 1985, the annexation was not effective until a certificate of completion was recorded. (Gov. Code, § 57202, subd. (c).) Braitman mistakenly believed that he was not to record the certificate of completion until the 20+ lots were merged and the lot merger was recorded. Based on Braitman's representation that the annexation was subject to a lot merger condition, GWD and CPH requested and were granted time extensions in 1999 and 2001 to address project delays involving permit review by other agencies and the discovery of red-legged frogs (a threatened species) at the project site.

In December 2002, Coastal Commission denied permit approval of the Golf Links project. CPH and its successor in interest, Makar, sued for mandamus relief and inverse condemnation. (CPH Dos Pueblos Associates, LLC, et al. v. California Coastal Commission, Santa Barbara County Sup. Ct., Case No. 01111661.)

In July 2003, GWD requested a third extension to complete the annexation. Braitman wrote back that the LAFCO Chair was not inclined to call a special LAFCO meeting until the Coastal Commission dispute was resolved. Braitman's letter stated: "If the approved reorganization lapses, it is the Chair's preference that it be resubmitted as a new project when the underlying permit issues are resolved."

'2007: Resubmitted Annexation Application

Following Braitman's instructions, GWD resubmitted the annexation application in 2007. The application stated that the Golf Links project was "on hold" because of litigation with the Coastal Commission.3 Makar [CPH's successor] had an alternative proposal to construct two single family homes on two parcels known as "the ranch lots," measuring 77.65 and 65.01 acres respectively. GWD opined that Makar could, without amending the Water User Agreement, use the property for agricultural purposes and construct two single family homes and accessory structures incidental to the agricultural use.

Surfrider Foundation claimed that the ranch lots proposal was a "new project" under CEQA and required an environmental impact report (EIR). It urged LAFCO not to consider the annexation application until County certified an EIR for the project.

GWD withdrew the application and requested that LAFCO record a certificate of completion based on Resolution 98-11 (Goleta Water District annexation) as adopted. In a June 30, 2008 letter to LAFCO, GWD stated the "District [GWD] and Makar's predecessor [CPH] followed Mr. Braitman's instructions for five years, requesting extensions of time to certify and record the annexation under a law that they discovered in 2003 was not even applicable. Neither the several requests for extension nor Mr. Braitman's refusal to grant another extension in 2003 have any legal significance, since no extension was required in the first place."

LAFCO Directive to Braitman

On August 7, 2008, LAFCO met in closed session, reviewed Resolution 98-11 and all of the evidence, and by unanimous vote approved the filing and recordation of a certificate of completion. The Commission found that "the 1998 [annexation] approval did not expire because LAFCO Resolution 98-11 waived the conducting authority proceedings. . . ." It directed LAFCO Executive Officer Braitman to execute and record the certificate of completion which was done August 11, 2008.

Validation Action

Respondents Surfrider Foundation and Gaviota Coast Conservancy filed a validation action (Gov Code § 56103) and a mandamus petition alleging violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA; Pub. Resources Code, § 21000 et seq.) After extensive briefing and argument, the trial court found there was no written landowner consent for the annexation, that conducting authority proceedings were not completed, and that "the annexation approval expired as a matter of law . . . and must legally be deemed abandoned." The trial court further found that the merger of the 20+ lots was a prerequisite to completion of the annexation and that the lots were never merged. The court declined to rule on the CEQA cause of action because it was mooted by the order invalidating the annexation.

Standard of Review

As a quasi-legislative administrative agency, LAFCO's decision to complete the annexation and record the certificate of completion is reviewed by ordinary mandamus. (Code Civ. Proc., § 1085; San Miguel Consolidated Fire Protection Dist. v. Davis (1994) 25 Cal.App.4th 134, 152.) "In any action or proceeding to review any determination made by a [LAFCO] commission or by a legislative body the sole inquiry shall be whether there was fraud or a prejudicial abuse of discretion. Prejudicial abuse of discretion is established if the court finds the determination or decision is not supported by substantial evidence in light of the whole record." (Morro Hills Community Services...

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