Building Industry Association v County of Stanislaus

Court of Appeals of California, Fifth District, No. F058826, Filed November 29, 2010: Upholds the facial validity of the County’s Farmland Mitigation Program provision that conversion of farmland to residential development requires the grant of an agricultural conservation easement over an equivalent area of comparable farmland, with some exceptions.

Stanislaus County adopted the Farmland Mitigation Program (FMP) under which the County will not give final approval to a residential development project until the developer provides permanent protection of one acre of other farmland for every acre of farmland converted to residential use. The Building Industry Association (BIA) challenged the facial validity of the FMP.

The Court first noted (1) the standard that a generally applicable requirement imposed as a condition of development, like the FMP, is subject to a “reasonable relationship” level of judicial scrutiny, as opposed to the heightened scrutiny applied to the imposition of land-use conditions in individual cases as outlined in Nollan v. California Coastal Comm’n (1987) 483 U.S. 825 and Dolan v. City of Tigard (1994) 512 U.S. 374; and (2) a claim of facial invalidity has to establish that the FMP’s provisions must inevitably pose a present total and fatal conflict with applicable constitutional prohibitions, rather than that in some future hypothetical situation problems may possibly arise as to the particular application of the FMP.

The Court held the FMP mandates bear a reasonable relationship to the loss of farmland to residential development and meets the requirement of rough proportionality between the mitigation measure and the impact of the development project. BIA asserted the easements required by the FMP violate the provision of California Civ. Code, § 815.3, subdivision (b), that prohibits the County from conditioning “the issuance of an entitlement for use on the applicant’s granting of a conservation easement”.  The Court agreed that the section applies to the FMP but held that it does not violate the section because the “applicant” affected by the FMP is the developer, and the developer is not required to grant the easement. “Rather, the FMP allows the applicant to arrange for a third party to voluntarily convey an easement to a land trust or the County. The section specifically limits the conservation easement prohibition to the applicant’s granting of a conservation easement.”

Decision is available at http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/F058826.PDF.

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