Friday, April 26, 2013

Happy Arbor Day!

A very happy Arbor Day to you.  Hug a tree today. Protect a forest. And speaking of sequestration. (You knew I'd get political, right?) how about some carbon sequestration, instead of more erosion causing, water sucking vineyards?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tree Clones - What do you think?

What do people think about tree clones?  A group is cloning ancient trees, some are being planted at the College of Marin. See story here:

Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day!

The first Earth Day was in 1970. I was there then, and all I remember was that soon thereafter it was all crunchy granola and living in harmony with the land. Good things, but it did dissipate the "movement" a little. 

By "movement" I mean the leftie radicals, who had spent the last few years fighting for civil rights, women's rights, to end the war, and you know, all that stuff. There was a spate of people (and police) behaving badly, and a lot of burned out activists. Women who couldn't get a boyfriend because the men were all scaredy chickens. Women who channeled their inner lesbian, and recipes for making your own granola on the cover of what had been a hard hitting news outlet for tracking movement actions at home and revolutionary actions abroad. 

Yes, I joined in myself, while lamenting the job I'd just lost writing pithy journalism (I did write a couple of feel good articles about personal growth and the whole "politics is personal" stuff). 

Still, politics is personal, but this is a land use news blog, so my intent was to say Happy Earth Day! Keep it green, keep it clean. Don't be frightened by apocalyptic tales of germs in your reusable cloth grocery bags. people have been carting groceries in bags, baskets and their wide skirts forever. Just another ploy by the plastics industry to get you to keep them in business churning out polluting bags to clog our landfills for the next million years. 

Words to live by - from your friendly neighborhood carbon sequestration system:

Monday, April 15, 2013

New Laws on Neighbor Disputes

This from a friend (and former intern) of mine. All good new stuff:

3 New Laws Affecting Neighbor Disputes

by John Corcoran

Few types of civil disputes can be as heated and rancorous as a neighbor fighting a neighbor.

It’s no wonder neighbors will spend a fortune fighting over a property issue - particularly in Marin.

Real estate in Marin sells at a premium, and one neighbor’s expanded deck or second story can mean a loss of tens of thousands in value for another neighbor.

For these reasons, neighbor disputes is a fertile area of law in Marin county.

In the past year, there were a number of changes in the law which affect common neighbor disputes. Here are three significant developments:

1.  Agreed Boundary Doctrine Requires Actual Agreement.

A common argument in neighbor vs. neighbor disputes is the “agreed boundary doctrine.”

The agreed-boundary doctrine is an exception to the general rule that the boundary between two properties is determined by deeds recorded with the county.

The doctrine provides that when two adjacent owners who are uncertain of the true position of the common boundary between the parcels agree to a common boundary, mark it on the ground or build it up, and occupy each side for a period equal to the statute of limitations, then such line becomes the boundary.

One neighbor may use this argument where a fence is located on another neighbor’s property and they have been making use of the neighbor’s land for some time.

In Martin v. Van Bergen (2012) 209 Cal. App. 4th, 84, Van Bergen argued that a fence marked the agreed-upon boundary. The Court of Appeal found that there was no evidence that the parties had entered into an actual agreement for a boundary along the fence line.  The court also noted that the actual boundary was ascertainable.

The case is significant because the court articulated the rule that there must be an actual agreement on an agreed boundary line for the Agreed Boundary doctrine to apply.

2.   New Easement Legislation

Another major area of neighbor vs. neighbor conflict is easements. Often two neighbors get into disagreements regarding who is responsible for maintenance costs of an easement, particularly when there is no written agreement to share costs.

Legislation signed into law during 2012 (AB 1927/Jones) authorizes the owner of a right-of-way easement to seek a judgment to determine the proportionate liability of each owner for maintenance costs.

Under the prior law, an owner of an easement was able to apply to a court for the

appointment of an arbitrator to apportion the costs.

This new law will make it easier for an owner of an easement to obtain a judgment in small claims or superior court for apportionment of maintenance costs rather than appointment of an arbitrator.

3.  Large Homes May Require CEQA Review

Ordinarily, large single family homes are not subject to CEQA review. That’s because CEQA contains a categorical exemption for single-family homes.

The reason for this is single-family residences are usually relatively small and do not individually have major environmental impact. Requiring each new single family home builder to go through the rigorous and expensive CEQA process would cause undue burdens and expense.

It is also for this reason that neighbors opposing new construction or remodels of large homes often argue that applicants should be required to produce an Environmental Impact Report as required by CEQA, under a theory that the home is so large an exception should be made to the exemption.

A new case will give those neighbors new ammunition.  In Berkeley Hillside Preservation v. City of Berkeley 203 Cal.App.4th 656 (2012), the Court of Appeal held that the extremely large size of a proposed Berkeley home constituted an “unusual circumstance” which made the project ineligible for existing exemptions under CEQA.

The Berkeley project proposed a 6,478 square foot home with an attached 10 car, 3,394-square foot garage. Given this is well within the range of many larger size homes in Marin, it is likely that opponents of new proposed similarly-sized single family homes will use Berkeley Hillside Preservation as an argument for full CEQA review.

John Corcoran is an attorney with the Corcoran Law Firm, P.C., in San Rafael, where he practices real estate/land use and works with small business owners. He is also a member of the Tiburon Planning Commission. He may be reached at

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

CEQA Applies to Infill Projects too says Federal Magistrate

This oped was in the Mercury News on April 8.

 We all like the concept of infill housing, but let's do it right. No caving to profit-hungry developers.

CEQA: Milpitas case shows how the rush to reform is unwise

Updated:   04/08/2013 07:39:36 PM PDT

Business interests are pushing to make major changes to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The main complaint is that this landmark environmental law is abused by those with "not in my backyard" interests. 

But changing CEQA in a way that meets business concerns without gutting its key protections is a tricky business. Exempting whole classes of projects that are deemed to be "green" simply because they fit into a generic category will have significant unintended consequences for public health and the environment.

Take the lawsuit against the city of Milpitas' Transit Area Specific Plan. A recent column in this paper claimed that NIMBY interests were behind this litigation and that the petitioners did not have legitimate environmental concerns.

The plan fast-tracked approval of several large projects, including a 732-unit residential development close to the planned Milpitas BART station. A group of concerned neighbors and workers came together to challenge this project. The lawsuit was based on serious environmental and public health grounds.

The California Environmental Protection Agency determined that the building site was heavily contaminated with toxic, carcinogenic chemicals. These toxins were found at levels that far exceed residential standards and could have exposed construction workers to unsafe conditions while excavating contaminated soil. Recent tests show toxic chemical vapors in soil that could
expose future residents. 
Milpitas exempted the project from environmental review in order to encourage transit-friendly development. But this exemption inadvertently put at risk the health of thousands of workers and future residents. The city also risked exposing taxpayers to liability should these people fall ill from toxins when the city could have -- and should have -- known that proper mitigation was required.
Workers, conservationists and business interests agree that transit-friendly development is a good idea. Business leaders support it because it promotes economic growth. Conservationists support it because it reduces environmental impacts from sprawl. Construction workers are happy to do good work.

But unlike business leaders, conservationists and workers are looking at more than just the bottom line. They are looking at the health of the larger environment and at how every phase of the project affects public health.

CEQA forces these messy issues into the open and requires public agencies to wrestle with them. It does not prevent projects from moving forward. No matter what happens in this lawsuit, there will be residential development near the Milpitas BART station. But shouldn't the project be built in a way that respects the health of the people who build it and the families who will occupy it?

A recent report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency puts San Jose as the top city in the nation in building residential infill development. Los Angeles and San Francisco are second and fourth on that list. This rapid rate of infill development goes on with CEQA in place. Aggressively streamlining environmental review would fix an imaginary problem while causing a whole host of public health and environmental risks -- all for the benefit of large developers and other business interests.

The public participation and environmental protections CEQA provides make projects better. They may marginally increase the cost, but removing key environmental protections comes at a cost for all Californians, including business interests.

California is golden because it is green. And California is green because of CEQA.
Richard Drury is a partner in the law firm Lozeau Drury, and is counsel for the plaintiffs in May v. Milpitas. He was legal director of Communities for a Better Environment for a decade and has twice been named attorney of the year by California Lawyer magazine. He wrote this for this newspaper.