In an unpublished decision, Lookout Point Alliance v. City of Newport Beach, (2014) Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 4214, the Court of Appeal for the Fourth District upheld the trial court’s denial of a petition for a writ of mandamus challenging the City of Newport Beach’s approval of a merger of two residential lots.
In July 2011, John and Julie Guida applied to merge two lots in the Corona Del Mar community of Newport Beach. The Guidas sought to demolish the existing two homes on the lots and construct a single new home on the merged lot. The City Council approved the lot merger and found that the merger qualified for three separate CEQA exemptions. Petitioner Lookout Point Alliance opposed the merger.
Petitioner first contended that the merger violated the density requirements of the City’s Coastal Land Use Plan (CLUP), which required a population density for the community between 6.0 and 9.9 dwelling units per acre. Petitioner argued that the CLUP therefore limited the maximum lot size to 7,260 square feet and because the proposed lot merger would result in a 13,678 square-foot lot, approval of the merger violated the CLUP. The court, however, agreed with the City’s interpretation that density is not determined on a lot-by-lot basis, but rather applied over the entire area. The court explained that it would be illogical if the density requirements were enforced on a lot-by-lot basis because doing so would result in maximum lot sizes in some neighborhoods that violated the Newport Beach’s zoning ordinance.
The court next addressed the City’s finding that the lot merger satisfied the Class 5 exemption for minor alterations in land use, Class 15 exemption for division of property in urban areas zoned for residential use, and Class 3 exemption for construction of limited numbers of small structures, including single-family residences in a residential zone. Petitioner argued the Class 5 exemption was inapplicable because the merger significantly changed the population density. The court explained that the density was within permissible limits, and even if the Class 5 exemption did not apply, the other exemptions were unchallenged and could be relied upon.
Notwithstanding the applicability of the categorical exemptions, Petitioner claimed that the historical resources exception applied and that CEQA review was required to address potential impacts to two historic structures on the lots. While declining to address the appropriate standard of review for exceptions to CEQA exemptions, the court found that Petitioner could not even make a fair argument based on substantial evidence that the exception applied. The court found the issue was moot because the houses had already been demolished under a valid demolition permit. Further, the only support for Petitioner’s argument was a statement by its attorney that the structures were “Eichler style” and a statement by a hired archeologist that one of the structures “was likely the work of a quality designer or architect.” The court found these statements insufficient to support even a fair argument that the historical resources exception applied.
Finally, the court rejected Petitioner’s arguments that the lot merger violated the City’s lot merger ordinance and the California Coastal Act. The court stated that the lot merger ordinance claim was “completely unsupported by any citation to legal authorities or any cogent analysis” and that the Coastal Act claim was “devoid of any legal analysis or citation to authority.” As a result, the court found the City had properly allowed the merger of the two lots and upheld the trial court’s denial of the petition.