Ordinance Allowing Sequential Lot Line Adjustments Is Not Preempted By The Map Act

A court of appeal recently held a county ordinance that allows sequential lot line adjustments is consistent with exclusion of lot line adjustments from the requirements of the Subdivision Map Act (“Map Act”).  The court also held the ordinance was exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) because the ordinance contains a ministerial approval process for a lot line adjustment.  (Sierra Club v. Napa County Board of Supervisors (--- Cal.Rptr.3d ----, Cal.App. 1 Dist., April 20, 2012.)

Facts

The Legislature amended the Map Act in 1976 “to exempt from the procedures of the act any lot line adjustment between two or more adjacent parcels, where the land taken from one parcel was added to an adjacent parcel but no additional parcels were thereby created, and provided the lot line adjustment was approved by the local agency.”  As a result, there was no need to file a parcel map where only minor adjustments were made to lot lines located between two adjacent parcels.  This allowed for “friendly neighbor” adjustments to lot lines.  However, the Legislature enacted a bill fifteen years later to restrict the “scope of the exemption to lot line adjustments ‘between four or fewer existing adjoining parcels.’” 

This bill, codified at Government Code section 66412, subdivision (d), does not change the requirement that a lot line adjustment not create a greater number of parcels than originally existed before the adjustment.  Subdivision (d) also provides that a local agency or advisory agency must approve a lot line adjustment and such “approval shall be limited ‘to a determination of whether or not the parcel resulting from the lot line adjustments will conform to the general plan, any applicable specific plan, any applicable coastal plan, and zoning and building ordinances.’”

In 2002, the County of Napa (“County”) revised its local ordinance to conform to section 66412(d)’s provision that lot line adjustments involving four or fewer parcels are exempt from the Map Act.    The ordinance prohibited those lot line adjustments that would transform nonbuilding parcels into buildable ones.  The ordinance was silent on the issue of whether sequential lot line adjustments that affect four or fewer parcels are allowed.  In 2009, the Napa County Board of Supervisors adopted Ordinance No. 1331 (“Ordinance”) to clarify the sequential lot line adjustment issue.  The Ordinance provides that “[l]ot line adjustments shall include sequential lot line adjustments, in which parcels which have been previously adjusted are subsequently readjusted, provided that the prior adjustment has been completed and resulting deeds recorded prior to the sequential lot line adjustment application being filed.”  Pursuant to the Ordinance, all line adjustments are ministerial and are therefore not subject to CEQA.

The Sierra Club filed a lawsuit in which it alleged that the Ordinance violates the Map Act and CEQA.  At the Sierra Club’s request, the County stipulated to an order that extended the deadline for preparing the record.  Even though County stipulated to the extension of the deadline, it later asked the trial court to dismiss the case because the Sierra Club failed to effect summons within 90 days of the County’s decision on the Ordinance.  The trial court rejected the County’s challenge to the timeliness of the Sierra Club’s summons because County’s stipulation to extend the time to prepare the administrative record amounted to a general appearance and therefore, County waived any defense regarding the irregularities in the service of summons.  However, the trial court ultimately denied the Sierra Club’s petition on the merits and entered judgment in favor of County.

Decision

The court of appeal held that the trial court correctly concluded Sierra Club’s action was not time-barred because County’s stipulation to the extension of time to prepare the record was a general appearance and County waived all irregularities with that general appearance.  The court of appeal further held that the Ordinance does not violate either the Map Act or CEQA.

The Sierra Club asserted the Ordinance violated the Map Act because it negates the Act’s limited exemption for lot line adjustments.  It asserts that section 66412(d) preempts the Ordinance because the Ordinance facially conflicts with the statutory exclusion.  The court of appeal rejected this assertion because the plain language of section 66412(d) exempts lot line adjustments that involve four or fewer adjoining parcels that do not result in more parcels than originally existed and that are approved by the local agency.  The court found “[t]he Ordinance’s inclusion of sequential lot line adjustments within the definition of a ‘lot line adjustment’ does not run afoul of any of these criteria and hence should likewise be exempt from the Map Act.”  Pursuant to the Ordinance, “sequential lot line adjustments are only allowed in cases where a prior adjustment involving four or fewer adjoining parcels has been completed and approved; no new parcels have been created; and deeds reflecting the adjustment have been recorded prior to any sequential lot line application being filed.”  Furthermore, there can be no application for adjustment or actual subsequent adjustment until a prior adjustment has been made and the deeds evidencing the prior adjustment have been recorded. 

Section 66412(d) is not ambiguous because it is silent on the issue of sequential lot line adjustments.  “[I]f the Legislature had intended to bring all sequential lot line adjustments within the purview of the Map Act, it easily could have used alternative language to make that intention clear.”

The Sierra Club also asserted that approval of a sequential lot line adjustment is subject to CEQA because such approval is a discretionary act.  The court disagreed.  Ministerial projects are exempt from CEQA.  The Ordinance provides that lot line adjustments are ministerial acts.  The Napa County Code provides that if applications for lot line adjustments conform to 12 standards, they are deemed to conform with the general plan, specific plans, and zoning and building ordinances, and therefore must be approved.  Local agency review of a lot line adjustment application under the Map Act is limited to determining if the lots that result from the adjustment will conform to local general, specific, and coastal plans, and zoning and building ordinances.  The court found Napa County’s procedure for approving adjustments conforms to section 66412(d) and involves only ministerial acts.  Therefore, the approval of a lot line adjustment pursuant to the Ordinance is not subject to CEQA.

Questions

If you have any questions concerning the content of this Legal Alert, please contact the following from our office, or the attorney with whom you normally consult.

Jeffrey L. Massey, Leslie Z. Walker or Daniel J. O’Hanlon | 916.321.4500

Jon E. Goetz | 805.786.4302