Court finds zoning administrator’s approval of Wal-Mart Supercenter is a zoning decision subject to 90-day statute of limitation.

Stockton Citizens for Sensible Planning v. City of Stockton

No. C067164 (012 DJDAR 15431)(3rd Dist.)(November 13, 2012)

A citizens group filed an action challenging the city of Stockton’s claim of categorical exemption when approving a Wal-Mart Supercenter. The group filed a claim under CEQA, which the city argued was too late because it was filed more than 35 days after the Notice of Exemption was filed. That matter went up to the Supreme Court, which agreed with the city.

On remand for non-CEQA claims, the group challenged the action of the zoning administrator under the Government Code. The city claimed, again, the group’s claims were barred by failing to comply with the statute of limitations. The trial court and Court of Appeal agreed with the city.

The Court concluded the group’s action was barred because it was filed more than 90 days after the city’s approval of the project, which was in the form of a letter to the real party in interest. Government Code section 65009 requires a challenge to be filed within 90 days. The group contended that section did not apply because that concerns variances and permits issued after a decision by a legislative body. The Court disagreed with the argument because the city’s Community Development Director was exercising the role of city zoning administrator, using powers granted by local ordinance. As such, his actions fell within the scope of the above provision. Similarly, the Court disagreed with the group’s claim that the letter approval (which was allegedly kept secret) failed to comply with administrative procedures because the administrator acted within the scope of authority granted to him. The issuance of the NOE should have, at the very least, put the group on inquiry notice that some action had been taken.

Prepared by John Reaves

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