Cleveland Nat’l Forest Found. v. Cty. of San Diego, No. D073744, 2019 WL 3334421 (Cal. Ct. App. July 25, 2019)
Real party in interest and respondent Genesee Properties, Inc. (Genesee) sought tentative map approval from respondent County of San Diego (the County) for a 24-lot subdivision on 1416.5 acres of land in San Diego County known as the Hoskings Ranch (the property). The property is within a County-designated agricultural preserve and a majority of it is subject to a Williamson Act (also known as the California Land Conservation Act of 1965; Gov. Code, § 51200 et seq.) contract requiring that the land be restricted to agricultural and compatible uses. The County Board of Supervisors (the Board) adopted a resolution conditionally approving the tentative map, finding in part that the subdivision “will not result in residential development not incidental to the commercial agricultural use of the land” pursuant to section 66474.4 of the Subdivision Map Act (§ 66410 et seq.; the Map Act). Plaintiffs and appellants Cleveland National Forest Foundation and others (collectively, Cleveland) unsuccessfully petitioned for a writ of mandate, as well as injunctive and declaratory relief, challenging the legality of the Board’s approval. On appeal, Cleveland contends the County’s approval of the tentative map violates section 66474.4 and undermines the Williamson Act by permitting a residential, rather than agricultural, subdivision on the property and giving the property developers a valuable residential entitlement while they are still receiving a taxpayer subsidy intended for those who maintain the land in agricultural or compatible nonurban uses.
The County and Genesee jointly respond first that Cleveland’s failure to exhaust administrative remedies effectively negates the appeal, and that Cleveland has improperly raised new arguments that it did not make in the trial court during the administrative process. They argue the subdivision complies with the Map Act, Cleveland has not overcome the legal presumption that the project will sustain agricultural uses, and substantial evidence otherwise supports the Board’s findings.
Construing section 66474.4 in keeping with the land preservation goals and intent of the Williamson Act, whose principles the Legislature incorporated into that section, we conclude the Board’s finding is not supported by substantial evidence in light of the whole record. As a result, the County’s conditional approval of the proposed tentative map does not comply with the Map Act, and constitutes an abuse of discretion. The Court reversed the judgment and remanded with directions set forth below.
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