CEQA & Land Use Expertise

Richard S. Zeilenga and James D. Vaughn are the partners heading up our firm’s land use and environmental practice. The firm represents a diverse group of developers and public agencies with respect to entitlement and environmental planning, approvals and related litigation.

Our CEQA and land use practice is unique, in that our attorneys are full-fledged real estate litigation attorneys who approach the planning and entitlement process with strong litigation defense in mind from day one of our involvement. In addition, our equal familiarity with defending or attacking proposed development projects makes us uniquely situated to anticipate the opposition’s likely tactics and strategy, and thus enables our firm to better represent our clients in defeating project opponents.

The following is a brief summary of our most significant representations and high profile litigation cases:

Institutional Clients:

  1. Mr. Zeilenga and Mr. Vaughn have represented Pulte Homes and Del Webb with respect to entitlements, CEQA compliance and other land use matters at development projects throughout Northern and Southern California. Our representation of Pulte and Del Webb has included the successful defense of EIRs for large multi-phase residential projects at Sun City Communities throughout the State of California. Our representation of Pulte also includes negotiating a variety of development agreements and infrastructure cost-sharing agreements with cities, counties and water districts.
  2. The firm represents Taylor Morrison with respect to entitlement and land use matters at development projects in both Southern and Northern California. Our representation has included acquisition due diligence, particularly with respect to CEQA, Coastal Act compliance, infrastructure obligations, and other entitlement-related risks, including for its recent Marblehead Coastal acquisition in San Clemente. We have also represented Taylor Morrison in litigation matters involving CEQA, compliance with CC&R requirements, various infrastructure reimbursement obligations, and challenges to the imposition of unauthorized and excessive infrastructure and fee obligations.
  3. Mr. Zeilenga and Mr. Vaughn have represented D.R. Horton on numerous projects throughout Southern and Northern California, with respect to land use entitlements, Development Agreement negotiations and CEQA compliance, including its Gateway Project in Bakersfield, its Minami Specific Plan Project in Guadalupe, and its 185-unit Rickey’s Way Project in Palo Alto, California. We have also represented D.R. Horton in various legal challenges to excessive fees and dedications imposed by counties and cities. For example, we concluded a successful statutory fee protest against Los Angeles County, recovering $4.8 million, out of $5 million, in excessive Bridge Fees imposed by the County’s Public Works Department. Similarly in 2010, we concluded successful litigation against the Oxnard School District, that had sought to impose more than $15 million in excessive land dedication and school fee requirements on D.R. Horton’s award winning Seabridge Project.
  4. For the past several years, on behalf of Federated Insurance Company, Mr. Zeilenga and Mr. Vaughn have directed entitlement processing and CEQA compliance for the creation of a new town at Travertine Point, along the northwest shore of the Salton Sea, in Riverside and Imperial Counties. Travertine is planned for 16,650 homes (43,000 residents) and 5 million square feet of commercial/industrial space, to be developed over 35 years, on 5,000 acres of privately held and tribal lands. The Riverside County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the Travertine Project in February 2012. The Imperial County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the Imperial County portion of the project in January 2013. Our firm successfully defended a CEQA lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity against the Riverside County approvals, which was dismissed, and is now overseeing the effort to obtain further state and federal implementing approvals, and the satisfaction of conditions of approval, including negotiation of a Tribal MOU with Riverside County and establishment of a Road and Bridge Benefit District to improve regional roads and highways.
  5. For the past several years, Mr. Zeilenga and Mr. Vaughn have served as Land Use, CEQA and real estate counsel for the Limoneira Company in Santa Paula, California. In 2011, Mr. Zeilenga and Mr. Vaughn successfully represented the Limoneira Company in defending its new master planned community in the City of Santa Paula. As a result of the firm’s efforts, the Environmental Defense Counsel (EDC) and its client, Keep Sespe Wild Committee, elected not to pursue a CEQA challenge to the project, including its annexation to the City of Santa Paula. We are currently assisting the Limoneira Company in obtaining additional entitlements for its residential/ commercial East Area 1 Project in Santa Paula, as well as negotiating agreements with the Ventura County Watershed Protection District, Caltrans, and the City of Santa Paula.

Specific Development Projects:

  1. In 2014, Mr. Vaughn successfully represented the owner of the Hummingbird Nest Ranch, in Simi Valley, in obtaining entitlements for a 5-star resort and conference center on the 126-acre ranch. The project faced an aggressive CEQA attack by an adjacent developer, and our firm helped successfully resolve the issues raised without any material delay in the City’s approval of the project, and without the opponent filing the threatened CEQA lawsuit.
  2. In the fall of 2013, Mr. Zeilenga and Mr. Vaughn worked on the entitlement team that obtained unanimous approval of the $1 billion dollar Brown Field airport redevelopment project in the City of San Diego. Our work involved peer review of the project’s CEQA compliance for a host of EIR issues, including Green House Gas and species mitigation strategies.
  3. The firm represented Laing-Sequoia LLC in overseeing CEQA compliance and entitlement processing for various California Inland Empire projects, including the successful approval by Riverside County of its 2,800 unit McCanna Hills Specific Plan Project, near Perris, California.
  4. The firm represented John Laing Homes on projects in Southern California, including the successful defense of the Supplemental EIR for its 2,400 unit Southerly Specific Plan Project, in Lake Elsinore, California.
  5. The firm obtained approval of the 264 unit Eden Rock Project at PGA West, in La Quinta, California, the last infill development project in that master planned community. This Project also included the successful negotiation of a Development Agreement with the City of La Quinta, that deleted the City’s annual homeowner mitigation fee, imposed upon Tourist/Commercial areas of the City.
  6. The firm obtained entitlement approvals for a controversial expansion of the historic La Quinta Resort in La Quinta, California, and successfully defended those approvals at trial against a CEQA challenge by project opponents.
  7. The firm assisted Stamko Development in obtaining entitlement approvals for a new super-sized JC Penney store in La Quinta, California, at Stamko’s large commercial Specific Plan area in the City. Previously, we successfully represented Stamko Development Company in obtaining approval of the first 225,000 square foot Wal Mart Supercenter store in California. Although new Wal Mart stores are frequently challenged by unions on CEQA grounds, in this case, an innovative CEQA compliance strategy prevented union opposition from causing any delay of Wal Mart’s new Supercenter in La Quinta.
  8. Mr. Zeilenga successfully obtained entitlement approvals for a controversial Embassy Suites Hotel Project in La Quinta, California, that had previously been the subject of lengthy delays caused by a CEQA lawsuit. After substituting in as new legal counsel, the firm obtained the Hotel’s approvals within 60 days of application, and without further CEQA challenge.
  9. Mr. Zeilenga and Mr. Vaughn successfully represented the City of La Quinta in several litigation matters between La Quinta, Riverside County and the neighboring City of Indio, principally involving the defense of La Quinta’s EIR for a large auto mall/shopping center project on Highway 111. As part of this dispute, the firm filed a CEQA lawsuit against Riverside County, challenging the County’s competing Desert Cities auto mall project. The firm successfully obtained a preliminary injunction against the County’s auto mall project, and blocked any injunctive relief against the City of La Quinta’s auto mall project.
  10. Mr. Zeilenga represented Ryland/Brock Homes in challenging the City of Corona’s imposition of excessive sewer impact fees. As a result of the administrative protest filed by Mr. Zeilenga, and the threat of imminent litigation, the City agreed to refund several hundred thousand dollars in excessive sewer impact fees.
  11. Mr. Zeilenga conducted litigation challenging the validity of Measure V, a growth control initiative adopted by the voters of the City of Rancho Mirage. Measure V barred any City Council action to permit further development in the City’s “mountainous lands” without holding a referendum election, and obtaining approval by two-thirds of those voting in the election. The California Court of Appeal sustained our challenge to Measure V, finding that Measure V violated our client’s Development Agreement with the City.
  12. Mr. Zeilenga successfully defended the City of Palm Desert’s entitlement approvals for a controversial 400 acre golf course/estate home project (now part of the Bighorn Country Club), adjacent to a breeding facility for the Peninsular Bighorn sheep. This representation included the successful defense of Palm Desert’s General Plan, applicable zoning, and EIR, against challenges by Riverside County, California Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  13. Mr. Zeilenga successfully represented the J.W. Marriott Hotel, Century City, California, in its efforts to avoid the adverse impacts of the Twentieth Century Fox Studio Expansion Project. With the specter of potential litigation challenging its EIR, Fox agreed to substantially revise its development plans adjacent to the Hotel, thereby eliminating aesthetic and view impacts on the Hotel.
  14. Mr. Zeilenga successfully represented the Friends of Indian Wells in litigation challenging the City of Indian Wells’ new entitlement approvals and EIR for the Sunrise Company’s proposed Sunterra Project. The Sunterra Project was planned as a one billion dollar facility, with five hotels, a convention center, two golf courses and a manmade 80-acre lake. During trial, Sunrise agreed to a favorable settlement that barred development of the Sunterra Project, and restricted all future development to low density residential. The site is now Indian Ridge Country Club.