Land users, please read the California Court of Appeal's opinion in Woody's Group, Inc. v. City of Newport Beach, No.G050155 (Jan. 29, 2015), which starts off with this straightforward summary:
The language of the law is replete with synonyms for fairness: due process, equal protection, good faith, harmless error are all ways of expressing our commitment to fairness. The City Council of Newport Beach violated at least two basic principles of fairness in overturning a permit application approved by the city’s planning commission. It should come as no surprise, then, that their action also violated California law.
First basic principle: You cannot be a judge in your own case. In this case Councilmember Mike Henn, having already voiced his “strong” opposition to Woody’s application, was allowed to appeal the approval of Woody’s application to the very body on which he sits, where he did his best to convince his colleagues to vote with him against the application.
Second basic principle: You cannot change the rules in the middle of the game. The Newport Beach Municipal Code requires appeals from the city’s planning commission to the city council be brought by “interested part[ies],” who pay a filing fee and submit their appeal on a form provided by the city. (Newport Beach Mun. Code, § 20.64.030.) The Newport Beach Municipal Code makes no provision for appeals by council members acting in their role as council members. The city council violated its own municipal code by entertaining Henn’s appeal even though he didn’t follow the procedures laid out in the code, and then retroactively tried to justify that violation by claiming the city has a custom of extending such lenity to council members.
As we explain in detail below, two cases requiring municipal governments to play fair are directly on point and require reversal here. Cohan v. City of Thousand Oaks (1994) 30 Cal.App.4th 547 invalidated a city council decision to reverse a planning commission decision after the council appealed the planning commission’s decision to itself. Cohan held dispositive the fact the city council’s initiation of an appeal from the planning commission decision was in violation of the city’s own municipal code. Nasha v. City of Los Angeles (2004) 125 Cal.App.4th 470 held the prehearing bias of one planning commission member was enough, by itself, to invalidate a planning commission decision that had overruled a city planning director’s approval of a project. Reading those two cases together we can only conclude the trial court erred in not granting Woody’s request for an administrative writ of mandate restoring the original planning commission’s grant of its application.
Slip op. at 2-3 (footnote omitted).