In a ruling being hailed as a victory for property owners across the state, a San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge ordered Pismo Beach to set aside any fines levied against a homeowner after the city cited him in an attempt to make him comply with a permit condition requiring the recording of an open-space easement over his property.
Mike Spangler claims Pismo Beach imposed unlawful zoning conditions on his Shell Beach Road property that he says required city officials to record a deed restriction giving the city "near limitless control over private property."
The city has argued the zoning conditions existed when Spangler bought the 2.5-acre property in 2002, and that he agreed to meet those conditions but never did.
City officials began levying a $500-per-day fine against Spangler in July last year after he refused the deed restrictions to be imposed on his property.
The following month, officials posted a "do not occupy" notice on Spangler's home and also disconnected the water, electricity and gas services, which prompted him to take legal action against the city.
"Today's ruling is a win for ordinary citizens everywhere who are routinely pushed around by the people elected to represent them," said Paul Beard, an attorney with Alston & Bird's Environmental, Land Use & Natural Resources Practice Group in Sacramento.
Beard represented Spangler in his legal action against the city.
Judge Dodie Harman wrote in her June 28 ruling that Pismo Beach was clearly using its administrative powers "to bully Spangler into recording an open-space easement."
"This case is unique in that the city issued an administrative fine after allowing the condition to remain unfulfilled for over 10 years," Harman wrote. "The city must have been aware that Spangler would refuse to execute the agreement."
In November last year, Judge Ginger Garrett granted Spangler a temporary restraining order against Pismo Beach, allowing him to return to his home and forcing the city to reconnect his utilities.
At that time, Beard said Garrett's ruling was possibly the first-ever restraining order by a resident against a city in the state of California.