Land Use, Entitlements and CEQA
McKenna Long & Aldridge (MLA) attorneys have a long history of experience and success in handling entitlements for major landmark developments, master-planned communities and mixed-use historic and redevelopment projects, in addition to the day-to-day land use and zoning matters related to the operation and renovation of real estate assets.
For decades, developer, land owner, tenant and investor clients have looked to our team’s strategic results-oriented approach to handling land use matters ranging from simple variance requests to rezoning, master and general plan adoptions and amendments and federal, state, and local environmental and natural resource protection compliance.
Compared to other areas of law, land use occupies a decidedly public realm. Knowing that it demands a broad understanding of disciplines, all of our group members—while accomplished land use attorneys—also possess the unique perspectives and skills that come from experience in other fields, such as architecture, city planning, politics and journalism. An integrated perspective enables our group to flourish as lawyers, strategists and counselors.
Our government affairs background makes us extremely sensitive to the political and administrative staff-level realities that arise in the ordinary course of land use work. Through an abundance of long-standing associations, MLA enjoys cooperative working relationships with federal, state and local governmental authorities. Historically, these relationships have helped establish a solid foundation of credibility and trust in the course of advancing our clients' interests and finding the strategic “win-win” solutions that are essential to our clients’ success.
MLA land use attorneys excel in providing a wide range of services to our clients in all aspects of land use practice, including:
- Land use approvals such as general plan and zoning amendments, specific plans, conditional use permits and variances.
- Horizontal and air space subdivision tract maps, parcel maps, vesting tentative tract maps and lot line adjustments.
- Preparation and processing of environmental impact reports, addendums to negative declarations, and other environmental documents to assure compliance with CEQA and NEPA.
- Negotiation and preparation of mitigation agreements, reimbursement agreements and subdivision improvement agreements.
- Preparation of easements, covenants, conditions and restrictions, and affordable housing covenants.
- Negotiation and preparation of development agreements and disposition and development agreements.
- Advice regarding public financing of subdivision and infrastructure improvements, along with community facilities.
- Advice regarding annexation matters, including pre-annexation agreements and LAFCO processing.
- Advice regarding land use referenda and initiatives.
- Trial and appellate litigation on all land use matters, including: defending or challenging CEQA/NEPA approvals; defending or challenging general plans, specific plans, zoning ordinances, development agreements and other land use permits or entitlements; defending or challenging development fees, dedications or other “exactions;” and defending and prosecuting inverse condemnation actions resulting from direct and regulatory government actions under the California Constitution and the Federal Civil Rights Act.
Over the years, we have established relationships with many premier architectural, engineering and environmental firms, and we assist our clients with assembling a team of design professionals and consultants tailor-made for the particular challenges at hand.
Knowing that the issuance of a land use permit or environmental review document is the culmination of an often lengthy and painful process of negotiation and consultation with a series of government agencies, our technical expertise enables us to plot a roadmap for our clients at the earliest stages—preventing unforeseen contingencies and exposing latent roadblocks. Our careful guidance helps clients through every step of the process, including:
- Pre-purchase due diligence on the existing land use constraints and opportunities
- Preparation and submission of development applications with the jurisdictions
- Negotiation and preparation of complex development agreements
- Preparation of NEPA and CEQA environmental review documents
- Meetings with staff from relevant local, state and federal government agencies
- Community group meetings and media coverage
- Meetings with elected officials and other decision-makers
- Presentation of the project to the decision-making body at a public hearing
Another defining feature of land use is that technical experience alone does not guarantee success. Most of the governmental approvals we seek for our clients are discretionary in nature. This means that while a project may meet all of the applicable legal and regulatory requirements, it still must be able to muster a majority of votes from the decision-making body for approval. Our teams’ most senior attorneys possess the historical perspective and political savvy that can only be acquired with time. We work with clients to effectively design and position development projects to anticipate and alleviate potential opposition, and respond to the concerns of appointed and elected officials. Through participation in public forums, regular meetings with decision-makers and established relationships with government agency staff, we are in touch with the pulse of local and state politics, and the unwritten policies and rules that oftentimes ultimately determinate a project's fate.
California Land Use Group
MLA’s California land use team was among the first firms in California to specialize in land use law. A number of our attorneys are well-versed in all aspects of this practice, including experience in zoning, dedications, exactions, impact fees and mitigations; the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and related environmental statutes; the Ralph M. Brown (“Open Meeting”) Act; and the Permit Streamlining Act. MLA attorneys are skilled in representing clients, both public and private, before planning commissions, city councils and boards of supervisors to obtain necessary permits and entitlements.
We also consult with other regulatory bodies such as the California Coastal Commission, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Toxic Substances Control, Regional Water Quality Control Boards, Department of Health Services, South Coast Air Quality Management District and regional planning and regulatory agencies.
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