close the loophole

 

December 16, 2017

On Thursday, December 7, our attorney filed an appeal of Sacramentans for Fair Planning vs. City of Sacramento with the Third District Court of Appeals. After much consideration, we decided that the precedent set by the decision was too dangerous to allow it to stand unchallenged. In effect, by stating that the city has the right to ignore its own general plan and zoning code, the city of Sacramento has no obligation to follow height or zoning limits anywhere in the city. The decision to appeal is not about a single project or an individual developer, but the city's decision to pursue this policy, and their contention that they can use "deviation" to ignore zoning codes and the city's General Plan based on the nebulous and undefined standard of "significant community benefit." Deviation is a recently adopted policy used by the City of Sacramento to allow minor exceptions to regular zoning codes, and the Yamanee project represented an apparent effort by city staff to test public response to a major deviation. The public response in opposition was loud and dramatic, but the city chose to ignore that response and approved the project, initiating our lawsuit.

When the previous decision was published, we thought that our efforts were not entirely in vain, because the city proposed a 20% maximum cap on deviations in Floor Area Ratio as part of its Downtown Specific Plan (recently renamed the Central City Specific Plan), seemingly in response to public outcry about their decision. This 20% cap was included in the plan's Environmental Impact Report and mentioned in public exhibits about the Plan held at City Hall on October 9, 2017, the week before the case was decided. A few days after the decision in the case was reached, we learned that the City of Sacramento decided to remove that maximum cap from the Central City Specific Plan, citing the resolution of our court case as justification for its removal.

Thus, it is clear that the city of Sacramento has ignored the concerns expressed in public meetings and public comment regarding this issue, and the concerns of  the real estate development community, who called for less ambiguity in Sacramento's planning process as part of the Central City Specific Plan. The City's position is that they choose more ambiguity, and have the unlimited right to break their own rules if they like a particular project, while others who are less favored have to follow the city's rules. This is unfair for builders and the people of Sacramento, and, we believe, in violation of state law. Use of this policy is completely unnecessary to allow significant growth and development in Sacramento using the current General Plan and zoning codes. We ask you to join us in calling for fair, equitable city planning standards for all Sacramentans, in a way that promotes growth and social equity, not speculation and ambiguity.

We will keep you updated about the case as we move forward, including a new fundraising effort and other news about our organization, in the coming weeks.

October 18, 2017

We have received the court's decision regarding Sacramentans for Fair Planning vs. City of Sacramento. Unfortunately, the decision was in favor of the City of Sacramento. At this point, we are considering our options, including the potential for an appeal of the decision. We will update you once that decision has been made. Attached is a copy of the complete court opinion document. 

Obviously, we are disappointed by the ruling, but there were some points made in our favor that raise potential for an appeal of the case; the court acknowledged that elements of the city's critique of our case were flawed. Because of the importance of this precedent-setting case and the danger of allowing the "deviation"/community benefits loophole to remain open, we remain confident that we made the right decision in moving forward with the case, and are grateful for your continued support and patience.

The decision to appeal the case to a higher court is one we do not take lightly, as it will require additional work and resources to move forward. Once a decision has been made regarding next steps, we will inform all of our supporters.

As usual, if you have any questions, please contact us at sacmidtown@gmail.com or call (916) 538-6674.

-       William Burg

October 2017

On Friday, September 22, Sacramentans for Fair Planning vs. City of Sacramento was heard in Sacramento Superior Court. Judge Timothy Frawley gave our attorney about 40 minutes to address the zoning aspect of the case, which a tentative ruling prior to the hearing had recommended disregarding. Because Sacramento is a "charter" city rather than a "general law" city, more latitude is given to city government regarding zoning. However, Sacramento is not a city like Houston, which has no zoning code. Because we have a zoning code, our attorney argued, the contract of zoning uniformity exists between the local government and the citizen; citizens are entitled to a predictable zoning scheme that cannot be arbitrarily altered or ignored based on the whim of staff. If Sacramento was not a charter city, the "deviation" would be a de facto variance, and more clearly illegal. Because Sacramento zoning code includes both variances and deviations, the standard is more complex--and without zoning uniformity, there is no standard at all. The arguments presented by our legal team are based on citizens' right to equal protection, and unlawful delegation of authority regarding zoning decisions.

Regarding the second aspect of our case, the CEQA issue of tiering the Sustainable Communities Environmental Assessment (SCEA) for Yamanee to the 2016 Metropolitan Transportation Plan, the tentative ruling was undecided. City staff responded briefly to the court, about ten or fifteen minutes, but no decision was rendered by Judge Frawley on the 22nd. Often, the tentative ruling becomes the final ruling, but this is not required; the judge could decide differently regarding either the zoning argument or the CEQA argument. The court has up to 90 days to provide a ruling. We will update you when we are informed of the court's decision.

Deviations and Sustainable Communities Environmental Assessments are very new, so there are few legal precedents to draw on for either case. This means that the decisions in this case are likely to set legal precedent, making their outcome even more important for our community. Thank you once again for your support in this effort.

As usual, if you have any questions, please contact us at sacmidtown@gmail.com or call (916) 538-6674. Thanks again for your support and perseverance in this effort.

September 2017

In short…

Our case is based on the contention that the city's project is contrary to zoning law; it violates the doctrine of zoning uniformity, does not ensure equal treatment for owners of property, the city's land use policy for "deviation" is overly vague, and the city's overall plan for zoning uniformity is undermined by the project approval. It is based on application of a section of the General Plan that was supposed to be followed up by specific standards to define community benefits for deviations, but those standards were never created. This left a loophole that gave city officials unlimited ability to decide what projects may ignore zoning limits, which is contrary to law.

The case also contends that the project violates CEQA in that it is not consistent with the density and building intensity of the 2015 Metropolitan Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy, and the environmental review document wrongly tiers to prior Environmental Impact Reports to avoid cumulative impact analysis, even though none of those EIRs considered the cumulative impact of allowing projects to evade Midtown zoning standards. Based on the above reasons, we are requesting that the Court order the city to set aside its decision approving the project.

September 2017

We have a time and place for the hearing of our Petition for Writ of Mandate

Friday, September 22nd, 2017 at 10:00 AM in Department 29 at Sacramento County Superior Court

July 2017

We have a court date for Sacramentans for Fair Planning vs. City of Sacramento, the lawsuit regarding the Yamanee project. The trial is scheduled for September 22, 2017, in Sacramento Superior Court. The presiding judge for the case is Timothy Frawley. We will provide more details closer to the date, as they become available, and inform you if there is a change of date or venue.

Again, thank you for your contribution, and thank you for your support in this effort to ensure fair and equitable planning principles in the city of Sacramento. If you have any questions, please contact us at sacmidtown@gmail.com or call 916.538.6674.

January 2017

Email to Supporters –

A few months ago, in the summer of 2016, your generous contributions supported a lawsuit filed against the City of Sacramento by Sacramentans for Fair Planning. The purpose of the suit is to close the undefined 'deviation' loophole in the City's General Plan that this project has exposed. This loophole allows developers to sidestep city zoning regulations, and this project opens the door for more like it. As we try to close the loophole, we are also challenging the City's approval of the 15-story tower resulting from the loophole. In the meantime, the project is moving through the city's building department, although no finalized plans have yet been submitted as of this writing.

In June 2016, SFP requested documents necessary to prepare the administrative record from the City of Sacramento. After repeated efforts to obtain the necessary information, the City provided these documents in late December. We are now completing the administrative record and submitting them to our legal team. Once this is done, the opposing side will have 30 days to respond. We hope to have a hearing date by early March.

On a parallel track, the opposing side is challenging the legal sufficiency of the case, a standard tactic used in many lawsuits. We plan to challenge this claim. In the coming months we will keep you updated of significant developments, such as any milestones achieved or hearings scheduled. Thank you for your contribution to this effort. We will send another update once there is more information to relay. Should you have questions please feel free to contact us at sacmidtown@gmail.com or call (916) 538-6674.

August 2016

Despite enormous community opposition, the City of Sacramento recently approved a 15 story condominium in Midtown called “Yamanee”, in a commercial corridor zoned for a maximum of six stories and surrounded by neighborhoods zoned for three stories.

This decision was possible due to a loophole in the city’s General Plan and Planning & Development Code, called a “deviation”, that lets builders ignore height and density limits anywhere in the city, when coupled with vague and undefined “community benefits”. This allowed the city to approve a building more than 100 feet higher than the allowed height limit, and three times the density, without an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

This loophole endangers sustainable growth of thriving neighborhoods, hinders recovery of our most struggling neighborhoods, and prioritizes short term profits over long term stability. Immediate impacts that will degrade the livability of the neighborhood include loss of sunlight, trees, views and neighborhood character.  Longer term risks include threats to historic districts, land speculation and demolition by neglect.

WE NEED YOUR HELP to fund a lawsuit filed on July 14th that seeks to close this loophole, eliminate ambiguity, and restore accountability to the city's planning process. We are not anti-development; we want the City to follow fair planning practices that value the voice of the community.

 

Sacramentans for Fair Planning

questions or comments:

William Burg or Karen Jacques         sacmidtown@gmail.com         916.538.6674