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California Must Pay Back $331 Million to Help Homeowners Hurt by Foreclosures

Gov. Jerry Brown has an accounting problem.

When California received $410 million as part of a settlement with banks accused of abusive foreclosures, the state used most of the money to offset state deficits. Now an appeals court says the state must return the funds to help homeowners hurt by the foreclosures -- like it was supposed to do in the settlement.

The Third District Court of Appeal said the money was "unlawfully diverted" in National Asian American Coalition v. Brown.

California's controversial Waterfix project, estimated to cost over $16 billion, is facing a new legal challenge from a few cities and counties as well a environmental groups. The Waterfix project will basically reroute water from the Sacramento river delta all the way down to the Bay Area and even to Southern California.

The project involves diverting water and constructing two massive aqueducts, each 30 miles long and 40 feet in diameter. Naturally, environmental and agricultural groups in northern California are none too pleased about the plan as the state has been facing critical water shortages and droughts. But rather than speaking to those concerns, the lawsuit alleges that the responsible agencies have colluded behind closed doors, to the detriment of the public, to ensure the project will move forward.

Requiring New Buildings to Display Art Isn't Free Speech Violation

Don't be surprised if Oakland developers display anti-establishment artwork in their building lobbies.

A federal judge said the building industry is bound by a city law that requires commercial and residential developers to display art publicly or pay a fee. At a cost of up to one percent of their budgets, the builders will have to pay for some pricey artwork.

Although they lost in Building Industry Association - Bay Area v. City of Oakland, at least the judge said they get to choose the art.

Airbnb Defeats Landlord's Lawsuit in California

Airbnb is not liable for information that users post in breach of their leases, a federal judge said in Los Angeles.

U.S. Judge Dolly Gee said that the web-based service is protected by the Communications Decency Act, which shields internet service providers from liability for user content.

"Here, what allegedly makes the listings 'unlawful,' 'illegal,' or 'offending' is that they advertise rentals that violate Aimco's lease agreements," Gee said. "Airbnb hosts, not Airbnb, are responsible for providing the actual listing information."

Groundwater Pumping Fees Aren't Taxes

Groundwater and taxes.

If it were a class in law school, it would be cancelled for lack of interest. Just add a constitutional issue, however, and you get case law worth reading.

In City of San Buenaventura v. United Water Conservation District, the California Supreme Court said water district fees for groundwater conservation are not prohibited taxes under the California Constitution. The decision clears the way for water agencies to charge for conservation services, and gets around voter-approved tax restraints on real property.

Vinod Kholsa, one of the founders of Sun Microsystems, and a Silicon Valley billionaire, just lost in court again. Kholsa isn't losing in court on anything tech related, but rather, he is losing his private beach.

The California Court of Appeal denied Kholsa's appeal and ordered the beach-restricting-billionaire to reopen public access. The beach in question is called Martins Beach, which is located just south of Half Moon Bay, which is about 30 minutes south of San Francisco along the Pacific coast. Although the beach used to have public access, Kholsa, who purchased the property for $37 million, closed it down in 2009.

Environmental Review for CA Bullet Train Reinforced by State High Court

Federal railway laws do not categorically preempt the California Environmental Quality Act, the state Supreme Court said, slowing down a Northern California train pending an environmental review.

The Court said CEQA applies to the state North Coast Railroad Authority -- just like any other state agency -- on its projects. The Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act, a federal law that regulates public rails, does not displace state laws in carrying out those projects.

"This decision clears the way for the courts below to begin considering the merits of plaintiffs' CEQA claims, which the courts had previously found to be preempted by the ICCTA as a categorical matter," Justice Leondra Kruger wrote in a concurring opinion in Friends of Eel River v. North Coast Railroad Authority.

Real estate agents can represent both the seller and buyer of a property in California, despite the potential conflicts of interest, so long as the parties consent and it is disclosed that the agent owes a fiduciary to both.

But do the same dual fiduciary duties arise when two agents, both operating under one broker's license, represent both parties in a transaction? Does the seller's broker, acting as an associate licensee, owe a fiduciary duty to the buyer and vice versa? Yes, the California Supreme Court ruled on Monday, in a case that could bring greater protections to California real estate buyers.

In many cities throughout California, developers must either include a certain percentage of affordable housing in large, new developments, or pay an in lieu fee, which is used to fund affordable housing construction elsewhere. Under this scheme, if you want a new condo tower to go up in San Francisco, San Jose, or West Hollywood, you either offer a few units at a below market rate or pay for those units to be built somewhere else. Many, many developers chose in lieu fees.

And there's nothing wrong with that, an appeals court in California ruled recently. The Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District, Division One, rejected a West Hollywood developer's argument that such fees were an unconstitutional taking. The court's ruling comes a year after the California Supreme Court upheld a similar inclusionary housing scheme in San Jose.

Yosemite National Park may be one of the world's most impressive landscapes, with its granite cliffs, towering waterfalls, and ancient sequoia groves. But while the beauty of the valley and surrounding mountains is a product of 10 million years of geologic shifts and slow evolution, the park itself is a legal creation, and a very important one at that. Yosemite became the nation's first parkland set aside for preservation when Congress passed the Yosemite Grant Act, signed into law by Abraham Lincoln on June 30, 1864. That act planted the seed that would grow into the National Parks System, or, as the writer Wallace Stegner described them, "America's best idea."

Now, Yosemite is growing larger still, with the addition of 400 acres of meadowland and ponderosa pine, the park's largest expansion in two generations.