California Supreme Court Reports

CITY OF GOLETA v. SUPERIOR CT., S129125 (Cal. 12-21-2006)
CITY OF GOLETA et al., Petitioners, v. SUPERIOR COURT OF
GENERAL PARTNERSHIP, Real Party in Interest. S129125
Supreme Court of California Filed December 21, 2006

Appeal from the Superior Court of Santa Barbara County,
Super. Ct. No. 01111147.

Julie Hayward Biggs, City Attorney; Burke, Williams &
Sorensen, Brian A. Pierik, Geralyn L. Skapik, Amy E.
Morgan; Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, Rachel Hooper and
Ellison Folk for Petitioners.

Meyers, Nave, Ribak, Silver & Wilson, Peters S. Hayes,
Amrit S. Kulkami and Kyle W. LaLonde for League of
California Cities and City of Laguna Woods as Amici Curiae
on behalf of Petitioners.

Moscone, Emblidge & Quadra, G. Scott Emblidge and Rachel J.
Sater for Carmel Valley Association as Amicus Curiae on
behalf of Petitioners.

Law Offices of Donald B. Mooney and Donald B Mooney for
Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation and Santa Barbara Shores
Homeowner’s Association as Amici Curiae on behalf of

No appearance for Respondent.

Allen Matkins Leck Gamble & Mallory, Patrick E. Breen,
Anthony J. Oliva, Patrick A. Perry; Hollister & Brace,
Richard C. Monk, Marcus Bird; Lascher & Lascher and Wendy
C. Lascher for Real Party in Interest.

June Babiracki Barlow and Grant Michiaki Habata for
California Association of Realtors as Amicus Curiae on
behalf of Real Party in Interest.

Stoel Rives and James P. Corn for Consulting Engineers and
Land Surveyors of California as Amicus Curiae on behalf of
Real Party in Interest.

Stephen Shane Stark, County Counsel (Santa Barbara), Alan
L. Seltzer, Chief Assistant County Counsel, and Kelly A.
Casillas, Deputy County Counsel, as Amici Curiae on behalf
of Real Party in Interest.

California Rural Legal Assistance and Kirk Ah-Tye for
Kathryn Lubahn as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Real Party in

James S. Burling for Pacific Legal Foundation as Amicus
Curiae on behalf of Real Party in Interest.

Hill & Trager and Russell R. Ruiz for Goleta Water District
as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Real Party in Interest.

Richard Kelton for Bollenbacher & Kelton, Inc. as Amicus
Curiae on behalf of Real Party in Interest.

Reetz, Fox & Bartlett and Randall Fox for Coalition of
Labor, Agriculture and Business as Amicus Curiae on behalf
of Real Party in Interest.

Nick Cammarota for California Building Industry Association
and California Land Surveyors Association as Amici Curiae
on behalf of Real Party in Interest.

Bill Lockyer, Attorney General, Tom Greene, Chief Assistant
Attorney General, Mary E. Hackenbracht, Assistant Attorney
General, and Denise Ferkich Hoffman, Deputy Attorney
General, for Department of Housing and Community
Development as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Real Party in


Here we conclude that a newly incorporated city had
discretion to disapprove a final subdivision map when the
vesting tentative subdivision map had been approved by the
county. We also conclude that actions taken by the city did
not divest it of this discretion or subject it to estoppel.


The City of Goleta (Goleta or City) was created from
unincorporated territory within the County of Santa Barbara
(County). After the incorporation process began, Oly
Chadmar Sandpiper General Partnership (Sandpiper) submitted
a vesting tentative subdivision map to the County for a
multiunit residential project within Goleta’s proposed
boundaries. The County approved the vesting tentative map
after Goleta’s incorporation was approved by the electorate
on November 6, 2001. The sequence of these events is
significant because it bears on whether Sandpiper qualified
for the safe harbor provision of Government Code section
66413.5, subdivision (f).[fn1] (See post, at pp. 4-7.)

When the incorporation became effective on February 1,
2002, the newly empowered City Council of Goleta adopted
the County ordinances. A newly created city is required to
“adopt an ordinance providing that all county ordinances
previously applicable shall remain in full force and effect
as city ordinances for a period of 120 days after
incorporation, or until the city council has enacted
ordinances superseding the county ordinances, whichever
occurs first.” (§ 57376, subd. (a).)

The manner in which the City Council undertook its action
is central to this litigation. The resolution adopting the
County ordinances replaced references to the County and its
Board of Supervisors with references to the City and its
City Council. (Goleta Ord. No. 02-01) The parties disagree
as to whether, in taking this action, the City bound itself
to approve Sandpiper’s final map. The gist of Sandpiper’s
argument is that, while Goleta would otherwise have had
discretion under section 66413.5 to reject Sandpiper’s
final map application, it divested itself of that
discretion by adopting the County ordinances in a way that
placed the Council in the shoes of the Board of Supervisors.
Thus, Sandpiper argues, the City was bound to give its
ministerial approval, just as the County would have been.

The following facts bear on the estoppel claim. On November
28, 2001, three weeks after the incorporation election,
Goleta’s Mayor-elect wrote to the County Board of
Supervisors expressing the City Council-elect’s concerns
about the Sandpiper project. On January 15, 2002, the Board
of Supervisors approved the vesting tentative map. On March
18, 2002, a City consultant notified a County planning
staff member that the City Council wished to be consulted
before the County made any other decisions affecting the
project. On June 4, 2002, the interim City Attorney
informed the same County staff member that the City’s
concerns were both jurisdictional and substantive. The City
states, and Sandpiper does not deny, that Sandpiper was
informed of these communications.

On May 13, 2002, the County approved a coastal development
permit for the project. Three weeks later the City
challenged that approval before the California Coastal
Commission. In its letter of appeal, the City stated it had
discretion under section 66413.5 to deny Sandpiper’s final

At several regularly scheduled meetings between August and
November 2002, the City Council reviewed Sandpiper’s plan
and identified a significant number of concerns.

On November 26, 2002, the City Surveyor wrote the City
Engineer that Sandpiper’s final map was “technically
correct.” The City does not dispute that the final map was
in “substantial compliance” with the vesting tentative map.
However, on January 6, 2003, the City Council denied
approval of Sandpiper’s final map, concluding that the
project’s design and improvements would be inconsistent in
specified respects with the general plan being prepared by
the City.[fn3]

The trial court granted Sandpiper’s writ petition and
ordered the City to approve the final map. The Court of
Appeal reversed the order by writ of mandate.

We affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal.


The Subdivision Map Act (Act) gives local agencies
authority to regulate subdivision development within their
boundaries. (§ 66411.) The agencies exercise their
authority by reviewing maps of a proposed subdivision. A
tentative map must, among other things, be consistent with
either the general local plan or an existing specific plan.
(§§ 66473.5, 66474.) Generally, a final map
must be approved if it substantially complies with a
previously approved tentative map (§ 66474.1) and
meets the requirements applicable to the subdivision when
the tentative map was approved (§ 66473).

“The Subdivision Map Act (Act) permits a subdivider to file
a `vesting tentative map’ whenever the Act requires a
tentative map. This procedure is intended to provide
greater statutory protection to subdividers than was
afforded under the common law vested rights doctrine.
[Citations.]” (Bright Development v. City of Tracy (1993)
20 Cal.App.4th 783, 792.) This case does not turn on the
fact that Sandpiper filed a vesting tentative map.

A. Section 66413.5

Before enactment of section 66413.5 (Stats. 1988, ch. 1330,
§ 1, pp. 4396-4398), it was unclear whether a newly
incorporated city had discretion to disapprove a final map
when the tentative map had been approved by the county. The
Attorney General found no case law squarely on point, but
concluded a city did not have such discretion. (Approval of
Tentative Subdivision Map, 63 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. 844
(1980).) The Legislative Counsel reached the same
conclusion. (Ops. Cal. Legis. Counsel, No. 15919 (July 15,
1985) Vesting Tentative Maps: Incorporation or Annexation,
p. 1.)

By enacting subdivision (a) of section 66413.5 the
Legislature specifically provided that a newly incorporated
city must approve a final map where the tentative map has
been approved by the county and the final map meets all of
the conditions of the tentative map and the requirements of
the Act.[fn4]

However, subdivision (a) of section 66413.5 is qualified
by subdivision (f) of the same section. Under subdivision
(f), the new city is only compelled to approve a final map
if two temporal conditions are met: (1) the application for
the tentative map or vesting tentative map was submitted
before the first signature was placed on the incorporation
petition; and (2) the county approved the tentative map
before the incorporation election.[fn5]

The original legislation had no time constraints. (Sen.
Bill No. 186 (1987-1988 Reg. Sess.) as introduced Jan. 16,
1987.) However, the Legislature came to recognize that the
prospect of an incorporation often resulted in a “run” on
development rights. To prevent such “runs,” the bill was
amended to incorporate the temporal conditions set out in
section 66413.5, subdivision (f). (See, e.g., Sen. Com. on
Local Gov., 3d reading analysis of Sen. Bill No. 186
(1987-1988 Reg. Sess.) as amended Aug. 10, 1988.)

The trial court correctly found that the vesting tentative
map here did not satisfy either of section 66413.5,
subdivision (f)’s temporal conditions. Therefore, as
Sandpiper concedes, the mandatory approval obligation of
subdivision (a) does not apply.

The Court of Appeal agreed with the City that, under these
circumstances, “the plain language of section 66413.5 gives
the City discretion to deny Sandpiper’s final map.”
Sandpiper does not dispute that conclusion.[fn6] However,
it contends that Goleta was, nevertheless, required to
approve its final map. It argues the City surrendered its
statutory discretion by adopting a County ordinance that
provided for ministerial approval of a final map that
conforms with an approved tentative map.

B. The Effect of Goleta’s Ordinances

As noted (ante, at p. 2), in compliance with section
57376, subdivision (a), the Goleta City Council adopted the
County’s subdivision ordinances. The resolution adopting
the County ordinances substituted references to the City
and its City Council for references to the County and its
Board of Supervisors. (Goleta Ord. No. 02-01.) The parties
disagree on the substitutions’ legal effect.

Sandpiper contends Goleta was obliged by section 21-10 of
its adopted ordinances to give ministerial approval to the
final map. Section 21-10 read in pertinent part: “When the
[City] Surveyor is satisfied that the map is technically
correct, conforms to the approved tentative map or any
approved alterations thereof and complies with all
applicable laws and regulations, the [City] Surveyor will
notify in writing the licensed land surveyor . . . who
prepared the map and request delivery of the original
tracing of the final or parcel map. . . . In the case of a
final map . . . the [City] Surveyor will transmit the same
to the Clerk of the [City Council] for filing and approval.
The [City Council] shall approve the map at its next
regular meeting if it conforms with all the requirements of
applicable laws and regulations made thereunder.” (Emphasis

Goleta responds that when section 21-10 of its Municipal
Code is read in light of section 21-6, it is clear that the
City was obligated to grant ministerial approval to final
maps only when it, not the County, had given initial
approval to the tentative map. Section 21-6, subdivision
(b) identifies the City Council as the decision maker for
all tentative maps submitted to the City for land use
projects within the City’s jurisdiction.[fn7] Section 21-6,
subdivision (m) provides that the decision maker, i.e., the
City Council, shall approve, conditionally approve, or
disapprove all tentative and final maps.[fn8]

Sandpiper labels Goleta’s position “nonsensical.” It states
its argument as follows. The City’s theory “would require a
finding that after February 1, 2002, when the City adopted
all [of the] County’s Ordinances and inserted the name
change, there no longer was a vesting tentative map as
defined in the City’s [Subdivision Map Act] ordinances.
[] The City’s own actions belie its reasoning. The
City’s Resolution concerning the Project . . . states, `The
City Surveyor notified the City Engineer of the City of
Goleta by letter dated November 26, 2002, that the proposed
Final Map for the Sandpiper Project was technically
correct, consistent with the requirements of the Subdivision
Map Act, and ready for filing with the City Council.’ If
the vesting tentative map had never been approved by an
authorized entity, then the final map arising from it was
not consistent with the Subdivision Map Act and not ready
for filing with the City.”

Sandpiper’s characterization of the City’s position is
overbroad. Sections 21-6 and 21-10 can be reconciled as
stating the City’s intention to retain discretion over
final maps when the County approved the tentative maps, but
to defer to the general rule of ministerial approval for
final maps when the City, itself, has approved the
tentative maps.

We conclude the City had discretion under section 66413.5
to disapprove the final map because it had not approved the
tentative map.

C. Estoppel

Sandpiper contends in the alternative that the City was
estopped from disapproving the final map.

“The doctrine of equitable estoppel is founded on concepts
of equity and fair dealing. It provides that a person may
not deny the existence of a state of facts if he
intentionally led another to believe a particular
circumstance to be true and to rely upon such belief to his
detriment. The elements of the doctrine are that (1) the
party to be estopped must be apprised of the facts; (2) he
must intend that his conduct shall be acted upon, or must
so act that the party asserting the estoppel has a right to
believe it was so intended; (3) the other party must be
ignorant of the true state of facts; and (4) he must rely
upon the conduct to his injury. (City of Long Beach v.
Mansell (1970) 3 Cal.3d 462, 488-489.)” (Strong v. County
of Santa Cruz (1975) 15 Cal. 3d 720, 725; see Hughes v.
Board of Architectural Examiners (1998) 17 Cal. 4th 763,
794 (Hughes).)

Equitable estoppel “will not apply against a governmental
body except in unusual instances when necessary to avoid
grave injustice and when the result will not defeat a
strong public policy. (Bib’le v. Committee of Bar Examiners
(1980) 26 Cal. 3d 548, 553; Hock Investment Co. v. City and
County of San Francisco (1989) 215 Cal.App.3d 438, 449.)”
(Hughes, supra, 17 Cal. 4th at p. 793.)

Sandpiper has not established the elements of estoppel
against a private party, much less against a governmental
body. As the Court of Appeal observed, “There is no
evidence in the record that any official, employee or agent
of the City made any express representation that the City
would approve the map. To the contrary, the undisputed
evidence shows that City officials publicly voiced their
concerns about the project both before and after the
incorporation became effective.”

City authorities began voicing concerns about the project
from virtually the moment of the City’s creation. The City
Council-elect informed the County Board of Supervisors of
its reservations in November of 2001. After the County
approved the vesting tentative map, City representatives
continued to voice concerns in March and June of 2002. The
City appealed the County’s grant of a coastal development
permit, and during the appellate process, asserted the
City’s discretion to withhold final map approval.[fn9] The
City Council continued to identify problems with
Sandpiper’s plan at its meetings in August through November
of 2002. In light of this history, the City’s decision to
disapprove the final map should not have come as a surprise
to Sandpiper.

Sandpiper contends that Goleta’s adoption of the County
subdivision ordinances created a reasonable expectation on
Sandpiper’s part that its final map would receive
ministerial approval. We conclude above that the City’s
action did not entail this result. (Ante, at pp. 7-9.)
Therefore, this lynchpin of Sandpiper’s estoppel argument

Sandpiper also claims it relied on the fact that Goleta
exempted its project when it extended a moratorium on
development. On February 11, 2002, Goleta adopted an
ordinance placing a 45-day moratorium on approval of
development proposals. On March 25, 2002, the City extended
the moratorium for the 10 months and 15 days permitted under
section 65858, subdivision (a). As a multifamily housing
project, the Sandpiper proposal was exempted from the
moratorium extension by operation of law. The City did not
make the finding required by section 65858, subdivision (c)
that continued approval of the project would have a
“specific, adverse impact upon the public health or
safety.”[fn10] Exempting the project from the extended
moratorium in this fashion could not reasonably be
understood to imply that it would eventually receive

Finally, Sandpiper claims it relied on the fact that the
City “worked extensively with [Sandpiper] to clear the
County-imposed conditions from the vesting tentative map at
considerable expense to [Sandpiper].” However, as the Court
of Appeal held, estoppel may not be based on expenditures
made before a building permit or its functional equivalent
has issued. (Shea Homes Limited Partnership v. County of
Alameda (2003) 110 Cal.App.4th 1246, 1269-1270.)


We affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal.[fn11]


[fn1] Undesignated statutory references are to the
Government Code.

[fn2] The Coastal Commission ultimately decided not to
determine the substantive merits of the appeal.

[fn3] Section 65360 provides in pertinent part: “The
legislative body of a newly incorporated city or newly
formed county shall adopt a general plan within 30 months
following incorporation or formation. During that 30-month
period of time, the city or county is not subject to the
requirement that a general plan be adopted or the
requirements of state law that its decisions be consistent
with the general plan, if [specified conditions] are met.”

[fn4] Section 66413.5, subdivision (a) now provides: “When
any area in a subdivision or proposed subdivision as to
which a tentative map meeting the criteria of this section
has been approved by a board of supervisors is incorporated
into a newly incorporated city, the newly incorporated city
shall approve the final map if it meets all of the
conditions of the tentative map and meets the requirements
and conditions for approval of final maps as provided in
Article 4 (commencing with Section 66456), and other
requirements of this division.”

[fn5] Section 66413.5, subdivision (f) now provides: “Except
as otherwise provided in subdivision (g), this section
applies to any approved tentative map or approved vesting
tentative map that meets both of the following

“(1) The application for the tentative map or the vesting
tentative map is submitted prior to the date that the
first signature was affixed to the petition for
incorporation pursuant to Section 56704, regardless of the
validity of the first signature, or the adoption of the
resolution pursuant to Section 56800, whichever occurs

“(2) The county approved the tentative map or the vesting
tentative map prior to the date of the election on the
question of incorporation.”

Subdivision (g) of section 66413.5 is not applicable here.
It provides: “This section does not apply to any territory
for which the effective date of the incorporation is prior
to January 1, 1999.” Goleta’s incorporation became
effective on February 1, 2002.

[fn6] The California Department of Housing and Community
Development filed an amicus curiae brief supporting
Sandpiper. It contends that a new city has discretion to
deny a final map when section 66413.5, subdivision (f)’s
temporal conditions have not been satisfied, but only if
the new city has enacted an ordinance governing the exercise
of such discretion. We agree with the Court of Appeal.
“There is nothing in section 66413.5 requiring the City to
adopt legislation to implement the statute. It is not the
court’s prerogative to add what the Legislature has
omitted. [Citation.]”

In its amicus curiae brief, the Pacific Legal Foundation
argues that development rights should not be “abrogated by
a change in governmental structure.” In enacting section
66413.5, the Legislature gave a nuanced answer to this
assertion, and we are not free to disregard it.

[fn7] Section 21-6, subdivision (b) provides: “The [City
Council] shall be the decision-maker for all final maps
bearing the [City] surveyor’s statement [and] all tentative
maps including tentative parcel maps which are companion to
other discretionary cases under the approval jurisdiction
of the [City Council]. . . .”

[fn8] Section 21-6, subdivision (m) provides: “The
decision-maker shall approve, conditionally approve, or
disapprove the subdivision map, both tentative and final
and parcel maps . . . within the time allowed by the
applicable provisions of the California Government Code . .
. or within any additional time agreed to by the

[fn9] When the County was considering the vesting tentative
map, County Counsel advised the board of supervisors that
any approval would not occur in time for Sandpiper to
qualify for section 66413.5’s safe harbor provision.

[fn10] The exemption policy set out in Goleta Ordinance No.
02-15 provided in pertinent part: “Development projects for
which no extension of the 45-day moratorium imposed by
Ordinance No. 02-13 is permitted under the provisions of
California Government Code Section 65858(c)(1).”

Section 65858, subdivision (c) provides in pertinent part:
“[A]ny interim ordinance adopted pursuant to this section
that has the effect of denying approvals needed for the
development of projects with a significant component of
multifamily housing may not be extended except upon written
findings adopted by the legislative body, supported by
substantial evidence on the record, that all of the
following conditions exist:

“(1) The continued approval of the development of
multifamily housing projects would have a specific,
adverse impact upon the public health or safety. As used
in this paragraph, a `specific, adverse impact’ means a
significant, quantifiable, direct, and unavoidable impact,
based on objective, identified written public health or
safety standards, policies, or conditions as they existed
on the date that the ordinance is adopted by the
legislative body.

“(2) The interim ordinance is necessary to mitigate or
avoid the specific, adverse impact identified pursuant to
paragraph (1).

“(3) There is no feasible alternative to satisfactorily
mitigate or avoid the specific, adverse impact identified
pursuant to paragraph (1) as well or better, with a less
burdensome or restrictive effect, than the adoption of the
proposed interim ordinance.”

[fn11] Four requests for judicial notice were filed. (1) The
request by Sandpiper filed March 15, 2005 is denied. (2)
The request by the City filed April 22, 2005 is granted.
(3) The request by amicus curiae Coalition of Labor,
Agriculture, and Business filed June 7, 2005 is denied. (4)
The request by the City filed June 30, 2005 is denied.


I dissent for the reasons given below.

The majority opinion has three holdings: First, it
concludes that under Government Code section 66413.5[fn1]
the developer here was not entitled to approval of its
final subdivision map because its application for a vesting
tentative subdivision map was not made within the statutory
time constraints. The developer, however, conceded this
point in its opening brief to this court, as it did below.
Accordingly, the majority’s holding pertaining to section
66413.5 is irrelevant to a resolution of this case.

Second, the majority holds that the city in question is not
equitably estopped by its conduct — participation in
and encouragement of the developer’s efforts to clear
conditions imposed on the tentative map — from
withholding final subdivision map approval. Because of my
conclusion that the city was required under section 66474.1
to approve the developer’s final map, I need not reach the
estoppel issue.

Third, the majority concludes that the city, after its
incorporation and notwithstanding its adoption and
readoption of the county’s land use regulations, retained
discretion to withhold ministerial approval of the
developer’s final subdivision map. I disagree. In my view,
the city lacked such discretion.


The property in dispute consists of 14.46 acres within the
coastal zone of the County of Santa Barbara (County). In
1993, the County adopted the Goleta Community Plan, which
designated the parcel as lying within an affordable housing
zone. Two years later, the County approved development of
the site with 105 residential units, half of them
affordable housing. The County prepared and certified a
final environmental impact report for the proposed
development. The proposed development, however, was never

In June 1999, Oly Chadmar Sandpiper General Partnership
(Sandpiper) bought the parcel. On July 4, 1999, a petition
to incorporate Goleta as a city received its first

On November 18, 1999, Sandpiper submitted to the County its
vesting tentative map application calling for construction
of 109 residential units, with 20 per cent affordable
housing. The County deemed the map application complete on
January 1, 2000.

On November 6, 2001, voters residing within the boundaries
of the proposed city passed a measure to incorporate

On January 15, 2002, the County board of supervisors
approved Sandpiper’s development plan and its vesting
tentative map for the 109-unit project.

On February 1, 2002, Goleta’s incorporation as a city took
effect. Under section 57376, the County’s subdivision
ordinances automatically became the city’s subdivision
ordinances for 120 days. The city council did not adopt
superseding ordinances, and the only textual change it made
to the county ordinances was to substitute “City of Goleta”
for “County of Santa Barbara” and “City Council” for “Board
of Supervisors.” Ten days later, the City of Goleta imposed
a 45-day moratorium on approvals of all developments,
including this one. Thereafter, the City of Goleta, on
March 25, 2002, exempted Sandpiper from the moratorium
because its project included affordable housing and based on
a finding that the project posed no threat to public
health, safety or welfare. (§ 65858, subd. (c)(1).)

In June 2002, after the statutory 120 days had elapsed and
the City of Goleta had not enacted its own subdivision
ordinances superseding those of the County, it readopted
the County’s subdivision ordinances without change.
(§ 57376.) In November 2002, a County employee acting
as the city’s agent submitted Sandpiper’s final subdivision
map to the Goleta City Council for its approval, having
found the map to be technically correct and consistent with
the city’s subdivision ordinance, which provided that the
city “shall approve the map at its next regular meeting.”
The city council held four regular meetings, and then
denied final map approval on January 6, 2003. Its
resolution denying final map approval stated, “There is not
a reasonable probability that the project will be
consistent with the [city’s] general plan,” then still in


The issue presented is simple: Did the newly incorporated
City of Goleta have discretion to deny approval of the
developer’s final subdivision map that substantially
complied with a tentative vesting map previously approved
by the County? The answer is “No.”

In 1998, the Legislature enacted section 66413.5, as part
of the Subdivision Map Act (§ 66410 et seq.; Map
Act), in response to uncertainty as to what rights were
retained by a developer who had obtained county approval of
a tentative vesting subdivision map once the acreage of the
proposed subdivision became part of a newly incorporated
city. (Off. of Local Gov. Affairs, Enrolled Bill Rep. on
Sen. Bill No. 186 (1987-1988 Reg. Sess.) Aug. 24, 1988, p.
3; Sen. Coms. on Local Gov. and Housing & Urban Affairs,
Joint Hearing Rep. on New Cities and Land Use (Nov. 1987)
Background, pp. 24-25.) In 1980, an Attorney General’s
opinion had concluded that under general provisions of the
Map Act a new city’s approval of a final conforming map was
a purely ministerial duty. (63 Ops.Cal.Atty.Gen. 844, 848
(1980).) In 1985, the Legislative Analyst reached a similar
conclusion (Legis. Analyst, Vesting Tentative Maps:
Incorporation or Annexation, Opn. No. 15919 (July 15, 1985)
p. 8), in an analysis prepared for Senator Joseph Montoya,
who later authored the bill that became section 66413.5.
(Sen. Bill No. 186 (1987-1988 Reg. Sess.) § 1.)

Section 66413.5, as signed into law, only partially
addresses the approval duty a newly incorporated city has
as to tentative vesting maps approved by the county before
the city’s incorporation. Under that statute, when the
county has approved a tentative vesting map both before a
petition to incorporate a new city receives its first
signature and before an incorporation election has been
held, the newly incorporated city must approve a final
conforming map. Section 66413.5 thus provides a so-called
safe harbor for only those projects receiving county
approval within a limited time frame. Notably the
Legislature did not expressly state what incorporation
meant for projects falling outside the safe harbor of
section 66413.5. (See § 66413 [on annexation to a
city of area included in a tentative vesting map that has
not yet received county’s final map approval, “all
procedures and regulations . . . of the annexing city shall
be deemed to commence as of the effective date of the
annexation”].) Therefore, section 66413.5 is irrelevant
here, as the developer has consistently maintained.

The majority reasons that because Sandpiper does not come
within the safe harbor created by section 66413.5, Goleta,
once its incorporation took effect, had absolute discretion
to deny approval of Sandpiper’s final map even though the
final map conformed to its county-approved tentative
vesting map. The majority reaches that result by relying on
the County’s subdivision ordinances as adopted by the City
of Goleta. I read section 66474.1 to control the
application of those ordinances.

In language that could not be any clearer, section 66474.1
states: “A legislative body shall not deny approval” of a
final subdivision map “if it has previously approved a
tentative map for the proposed subdivision and if it finds”
the final map “is in substantial compliance with the
previously approved tentative map.” When all the conditions
pertaining to the tentative map have been met, approval of
the final map is a purely ministerial duty. (Youngblood v.
Board of Supervisors (1978) 22 Cal.3d 644, 648
(Youngblood); Great Western Sav. & Loan Assn. v. City of
Los Angeles (1973) 31 Cal.App.3d 403, 410 [“governing body’s
function is administrative, ministerial and mandatory where
the final tract map” complies with local laws and
conditions imposed on tentative map].) In Youngblood, “we
held that a county lacked discretion under the Map Act to
deny a final subdivision map if the application showed the
development substantially conformed to the tentative map and
its attendant conditions.” (City of West Hollywood v.
Beverly Towers, Inc. (1991) 52 Cal.3d 1184, 1190-1191.) The
rationale underlying the statutory scheme at issue is that
once a “tentative map is approved, the developer often must
expend substantial sums to comply with the conditions
attached to that approval,” which “will result in the
construction of improvements consistent with the proposed
subdivision, but often inconsistent with alternative uses
of the land.” (Youngblood, supra, 22 Cal.3d at p. 655.)

The majority here concludes that because it was the County,
acting through its board of supervisors, that approved
Sandpiper’s tentative subdivision map, Goleta’s city
council is not subject to section 66474.1’s mandate that
“the legislative body” may not deny approval of a final map
“if it has previously approved a tentative map for the
proposed subdivision.” (Maj. Opn. at pp. 6-8.) The
majority’s conclusion might have force had the City of
Goleta not put itself in the shoes of the County by
adopting and readopting the County’s subdivision
regulations as its very own, a point I discuss in detail

A newly incorporated city that comprises formerly
unincorporated land is required by statute, “immediately
following its organization and prior to performing any
other official act, [to] adopt an ordinance providing that
all county ordinances previously applicable shall remain in
full force and effect as city ordinances for . . . 120 days
after incorporation, or until the city council has enacted
ordinances superseding the county ordinances.” (§
57376.) California’s Map Act permits local ordinances to
supplement its statutory procedures. “Of course, if a local
ordinance supplements procedures in the Map Act, and does
not conflict with them, the local ordinance does not
`modify’ the Map Act.” (Griffis v. County of Mono (1985)
163 Cal.App.3d 414, 425, fn. 14, italics omitted.) Here
Goleta, by operation of state law, adopted the County’s
subdivision ordinances as its very own the day after its
incorporation as a city took effect. Four months later,
Goleta readopted the County’s subdivision ordinances. When
Goleta denied approval of Sandpiper’s final, conforming
subdivision map on January 6, 2003, some 11 months after
Goleta’s incorporation took effect, it had not enacted
subdivision ordinances of its own, as it could have
(§ 57376), either to supersede those it took over
from the County or to supplement the state law procedural
requirements imposed by the Map Act.

Nor did the City of Goleta seek to avail itself of an
urgency provision in the Map Act permitting a local public
entity that has approved a vesting tentative map to
“condition or deny” final approval on findings that “[a]
failure to do so would place the residents of the
subdivision or the immediate community, or both, in a
condition dangerous to their health or safety.” (§
66498.1, subd. (c)(1), italics added.)

Only on January 6, 2003, when the City of Goleta denied
approval of Sandpiper’s final subdivision map, did the city
council give a nod to this urgency provision, citing the
project’s potential inconsistency with Goleta’s “future
general plan.” Such potential inconsistency, the council
concluded, “would be detrimental to the health, safety, and
general welfare of the City of Goleta.” But a mere assertion
of detriment does not comply with the urgency provision’s
requirement of danger to the health or safety of the
residents of the subdivision or the community. Moreover,
Goleta’s concern about detriment to the health and safety
of its residents was a complete “about-face.” Nine and a
half months earlier, on March 25, 2002, when the City of
Goleta exempted Sandpiper’s project from the moratorium on
development approvals, the city had concluded that the
project posed no threat to public health, safety or

For the reasons stated above, I would reverse the judgment
of the Court of Appeal.

[fn1] All further statutory references are to the Government