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Land Use Battles a Blight on City Budgets

The recent bankruptcy of the California city of Mammoth Lakes - brought on by a $43 million court decision in favor of a developer - is an extreme example of the cost of land use disputes. But it's indicative of a widespread problem in the state.
September 10, 2012, 8am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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You may be familiar with a spate of recent municipal bankruptcies in California. But in Mammoth Lakes, "It was not pensions or plummeting property values or questionable accounting practices that pushed the tiny mountain resort town over the edge: It was a $43-million court judgment in a lawsuit brought by a developer after the town tried to back out of an agreement," note Abby Sewell and Jessica Garrison.

Unfortunately, the case of Mammoth Lakes is becoming less the exception, and more the rule, as the financial peril caused by land use disputes becomes a common drain on city finances throughout California.

"Peacocks, radio antennas, strip clubs and landslides have all sparked high-profile cases, as well as the more common suits - such as the one in Mammoth Lakes - by developers who were denied approval for a project or neighbors and environmentalists trying to stall big-box stores or large residential projects on sensitive land," report Sewell and Garrison. 

"These cases often drag on for years, sometimes consuming millions of dollars in legal bills even before the issues are resolved. A Times review found that in several Los Angeles County cities, land-use litigation amounted to the lion's share of their legal bills."


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Published on Sunday, September 9, 2012 in Los Angeles Times
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