Project Name: Ridgeline

Project Location: City of Orange

Lead Agency: City of Orange

Threat: The applicant proposed building 38 homes on 51 acres.

Description of the Issues: California planning law would have been set back to square one if the appellate court’s decision on Ridgeline was allowed to stand. General Plans would become meaningless because the public and developers would no longer be able to accept them at face value and would always be wondering whether a document might mysteriously appear at the last moment. Zoning would become a moving target, which would be problematic both for developers and for concerned residents.  Additionally, the question of: do voters have the right to use the referendum process to challenge local land use decisions was asked.

Lead Organization: Orange Park Association and Orange Citizens for Parks and Recreation

FHBP’s Position/Involvement:

  • In August 2013 FHBP co-authored an Amicus Curiae Letter in Support of Petition for Review. In May 2014 an Amicus Curiae brief was filed.

Project History:

  • The City of Orange’s General Plan has for decades designated Ridgeline as “open space,” which provided regional recreational opportunities. In 2006, a developer purchased the property and proposed a General Plan amendment to re-designate the land for houses.
  • In 2011, the City Council approved that amendment over broad community opposition. Orange Park Association and Orange Citizens for Parks and Recreation promptly referended that decision, and City voters in 2012 overwhelmingly rejected the General Plan amendment.
  • The developer had meanwhile sued the City, first attempting to keep the referendum off the ballot but also claiming that the referendum didn’t matter because its property was already designated for residential use. The developer argued that the City and the Court should ignore the current General Plan because, 40 years ago, a prior City Council had intended to amend a prior General Plan to designate the property for residential use. Amazingly, even though this theory contradicted fundamental principles of California planning law, both the City and the lower courts sided with the developer.
  • In 2013, the California Supreme Court was asked to review the case, and it received strong letters in support from local and statewide environmental groups, some of the state’s leading urban planners, and a handful of courageous cities.

Last Decision:

  • Oral arguments were heard before the Supreme Court on September 29, 2016. The unanimous decision was made December 2016 that reaffirms decades of well-established planning law and supports the right of voters to use the referendum process to challenge local land use decisions. View the video of the hearing. (This is an MP4 file)
  • The Supreme Court has not issued a significant decision on California planning law in two decades. This case reaffirms that General Plans mean what they say and cannot be ignored simply because a City Council favors a particular development proposal.


Decision History:

  • In 2011 Orange City Council voted 4-1 to approved project.
  • In 2011 citizens qualified ballot measure. Citizens were successful as the 2012 Orange ballot measure overturned the approvals. Citizens lost in trial and court of appeals. 2013 the State Supreme Count agreed to hear the case. On September 29, 2016 the Supreme Court heard the oral arguments.
  • S212800 – ORANGE CITIZENS FOR PARKS AND RECREATION v. S.C. (MILAN REI IV) Briefs and Oral arguments start at 3 hours – 12 minutes – 35 seconds