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California Court of Appeal Finds the Density Bonus Act and Mello Act Are Both Subordinate to the California Coastal Act

The Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of a writ of mandate seeking to overturn the City of Los Angeles’s decision to disapprove a housing project in Venice. In reaching this conclusion, the court found that the petitioner had used the improper procedural vehicle to appeal the trial court’s decision under the Housing Accountability Act (HAA). The court also upheld the trial court’s determination that both the Density Bonus Act and the Mello Act are subordinate to the California Coastal Act, and therefore, held that the city’s disapproval of the project for not complying with the Coastal Act was proper despite the project’s compliance with those other statutes. [Kalnel Gardens, LLC v. City of Los Angeles, ___Cal.App.5th___, Case No. B264434 (2nd Dist. 2016).]

The court’s opinion demonstrates the importance of the Coastal Act. Even when there was an apparent conflict between the Coastal Act and the Mello Act, the court found that the protection of coastal resources was more important than awarding density bonuses for affordable housing. The court found that it had two choices; it could state that the Coastal Act took precedence over the Mello Act and uphold the disapproval of the project, or subordinate the Coastal Act to the Mello Act, which would allow low income housing projects to block coastal access, be built in environmental sensitive areas, or be visually incompatible with existing resources. The court found that these were all significant coastal resources, so the legislative mandate under the Coastal Act required it to subordinate the Mello Act. The Density Bonus Act was much easier to deal with because it had specific language that subordinates it to the Coastal Act.

The opinion also includes a discussion of the proper procedural vehicle for appealing a trial court decision under the HAA. Despite some ambiguity, the court found that the act required a separate appeal under a writ of mandate within 20 days of notice of entry of the order, even if other issues were decided that are directly appealable.

The opinion is available here:

(Nathan George and Chris Stiles)