Law School Case Brief
Save Our Specific Plan v. Cty. of Orange - No. G046416, 2013 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 592 (Jan. 25, 2013)
The "General Plan" functions as a constitution for all future developments in Orange County, California, and land use decisions must be consistent with the General Plan and its elements. A project must be compatible with the policies and objectives of the General Plan, but perfect conformity is not required. A governing body's conclusion that a particular project is consistent with the relevant General Plan carries a strong presumption of regularity that can be overcome only by a showing of abuse of discretion. An abuse of discretion is established only if the agency has not proceeded in a manner required by law, its decision is not supported by findings, or the findings are not supported by substantial evidence.
Real party in interest Chad Kearns, whose property had long housed commercial stables, sought a conditional use permit from defendant County of Orange, California, to allow him to have wine tastings and special events on his property in the Modjeska Canyon area. Although a large number of neighbors supported the plan, not all the inhabitants of the area were supportive. The opposition was spearheaded by plaintiffs Save Our Specific Plan and Sherry Meddick. The Orange County Planning Commission ("Commission") denied the conditional use permit, but Kearns prevailed on his appeal to the Orange County Board of Supervisors ("Board") after he modified his application. Plaintiffs thereafter filed a petition for writs of both ordinary and administrative mandamus (Code of Civ. Proc., §§ 1085, 1094.5), seeking to overturn the Board's decision to issue the conditional use permit. The superior court denied the petition. Plaintiffs appealed, claiming the permit violated the Silverado-Modjeska Specific Plan ("Specific Plan") and the Orange County General Plan ("General Plan").
Was the conditional use permit inconsistent with the Specific Plan or the General Plan?
The appellate court found that, contrary to plaintiffs' contentions, the use permit was not inconsistent with the Specific Plan or the General Plan. The court explained that the General Plan functioned as a constitution for all future developments, and land use decisions must be consistent with the general plan and its elements. A project must be compatible with the policies and objectives of the general plan, but perfect conformity is not required. A governing body's conclusion that a particular project was consistent with the relevant general plan carried a strong presumption of regularity that could be overcome only by a showing of abuse of discretion. An abuse of discretion was established only if the agency failed to proceed in a manner required by law, its decision was not supported by findings, or the findings were not supported by substantial evidence. A court could neither substitute its view for that of the local agency, nor reweigh conflicting evidence presented to that body. Judicial review was highly deferential to the local agency, recognizing that the body that adopted the General Plan policies in its legislative capacity had unique competence to interpret those policies when applying them in its adjudicatory capacity. Because policies in a General Plan reflected a range of competing interests, the governmental agency must be allowed to weigh and balance the Plan's policies when applying them, and it had broad discretion to construe its policies in light of the plan's purposes. A reviewing court's role was simply to decide whether the agency or government officials considered the applicable policies and the extent to which the proposed project conformed with those policies. In the instant case, after reviewing the record and the County's response to the permit application, the court ruled that issuance of the permit was consistent with the General and Specific Plans.
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