On April 4, 2017, in Young v. City of Coronado, __ Cal. App. 5th __ (2017) (Case No. D070210), the Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District affirmed a trial court decision denying a challenge to the City of Coronado’s designation of a small cottage as a historic local resource.
The cottage owners sought a permit to demolish the structure, built in 1924, but the City’s Historic Resource Commission reviewed the property before issuing the permit and designated the cottage a historic resource under the Coronado Municipal Code. Under the Code, a resource that is at least 75 years old and meets at least two of five criteria may be designated historic. City staff identified evidence that the cottage met two of the criteria, and the Commission agreed.
The owners appealed the Commission’s decision to the City Council, which conducted an appeal hearing and adopted a resolution denying the appeal and upholding the Commission’s designation of the property as a historic resource. The resolution indicated that it was based on relevant staff reports, the appeal, oral testimony, and additional information provided by the owners, and it concluded the cottage met two of the criteria by reciting the language of the Code. The Council’s decision effectively denied the owner’s demolition permit application.
The owners then filed a petition for writ of mandate under Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5 to void the historic resource designation. They argued that the Council resolution contained no record evidence or support for the findings and that the City failed to apply its own “Historic Designation Criteria Guidelines” as part of the decision. They also argued that the allegedly inadequate findings were not supported by substantial evidence. The trial court found that the City’s findings were supported by substantial evidence and denied the petition.
The Court of Appeal began its analysis with an extensive discussion of Topanga Assn. for a Scenic Community v. County of Los Angeles, the leading case on non-legislative findings, in which the California Supreme Court held that agencies must provide findings that “bridge the analytic gap between the raw evidence and the ultimate decision or order.” The Court noted, however, that the nature of the statute, ordinance, or rule being applied by an agency is relevant to the analysis of the adequacy of the agency’s findings. In addition, following Topanga, “appellate courts have concluded that when a zoning ordinance authorizes an agency to approve a conditional use only upon making specified factual findings, Topanga does not prevent the agency from stating those findings in the language of the ordinance, nor does it require that the agency support those findings with subfindings.”
The Court thus rejected the owners’ arguments that the Council’s resolution was conclusory, failed to state any reasons or facts to support the decision, and merely parroted the language of the Code. The Court held that the Code’s “requirement that the City make specific findings of fact in order to designate a resource as historically significant, a resolution that incorporates findings that reflect the ordinance’s language could sufficiently inform the parties of the analytical path adopted by the administrative agency in reaching its ultimate conclusion.”
The Court also rejected the owners’ argument that the City failed to apply its Guidelines in making the decision to designate the cottage a historic resource. The Court reasoned that there is no requirement that anyone involved in the historic designation process expressly state that the Guidelines are being applied and the fact that they were not referred to by name does not mean the Guidelines were not applied.
Finally, the Court rejected the owners’ argument that the City’s findings were not supported by substantial evidence. The Court cited various portions of the administrative record and held that there was abundant evidence to support the findings. The fact that the owners submitted evidence to contradict the City’s findings does not undermine the sufficiency of the evidence to support the City’s decision. The City was free to weigh the evidence before it and decide that some evidence was more significant than other evidence.