California’s Second District Court of Appeal recently affirmed that a shorter 90-day statute of limitations, and not a longer three- or four- year statute of limitations, applies to Political Reform Act (PRA) claims that challenge land use decisions. (AIDS Healthcare Foundation v. City of Los Angeles, B311144, December 14, 2022.) This ruling matters because it drastically limits the window in which PRA suits might impact discretionary real estate actions.
This case stems from corruption charges against Jose Huizar and Mitchell Englander, two former members of the Los Angeles (the City) City Council and planning and land use management (PLUM) committee, which plays a key role in deciding whether discretionary entitlements are approved in the City. The charges concerned certain development projects Huizar and Englander approved while on the PLUM committee.
On August 4, 2020, Plaintiff AIDS Healthcare Foundation (Plaintiff) sued the City alleging that Huizar and Englander’s alleged misconduct violated the PRA and requesting that the court block the issuance of building permits granted during Huizar and Englander’s time sitting on the PLUM committee. Plaintiff also brought a taxpayer action to prevent waste.
The City argued a 90-day statute of limitations applied, not the four-year statute of limitations under the PRA. The trial court ruled in favor of the City. The Second District Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s decision, holding that the 90-day limitation applies to a “broad variety of challenges to land use and zoning decisions.” Further, the court found that a 90-day limitation applied because the gravamen of the action was an attack on the PLUM committee’s decisions relating to permitting and project approvals. Finally, the court concluded that the “competing” policy considerations pitting the PRA’s anti-corruption objectives against the desire for certainty in real estate development did not override its statutory interpretation.
This case is significant because it affirms the broad scope of the 90-day statute of limitations for appeals and attacks on land use actions. It also clarifies that PRA challenges that would disturb land use actions may be considered attacks on land use decisions.