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State Supreme Court Will Rule Validity of Antiquated Subdivision

The state Supreme Court will review an appellate court ruling that subdivision maps recorded prior to the first version of the Subdivision Map Act in 1893 do not create legal parcels. In January, all seven of the state's high court justices voted to review the decision in Gardner v. County of Sonoma (see CP&DR Legal Digest, November). The ruling on the validity of a lot map from 1865 was the clearest decision ever on the legal standing of antiquated subdivisions. The First District Court of Appeal found that the grandfather provision of the Subdivision Map Act did not apply to pre-1893 maps. "The Legislature intended the grandfather clause to apply to subdivisions approved under prior versions of the Act, i.e., to exempt from the current Act those subdivisions established in compliance with or exempt from laws then in effect," the court held. "The Legislature, with its strenuous emphasis on local control and approval of subdivisions, did not intend the grandfather clause to apply to the pre-1893 legal ‘State of Nature' when no subdivision statute was in existence." Planners and landowners have disagreed for years over the validity of "paper subdivisions." Planners argue that that recognizing the parcels now would be unfair and would hamper good development practices. An estimated 1 million paper lots exist in California. Some of those parcels are as small as 1,250 square feet. Many were created with no provisions for access and without consideration of topography. Still, landowners contend the lots were legitimately created under rules in effect at the time and government officials cannot ignore recorded maps. The state Supreme Court has not yet set a date for oral arguments. The case is Gardner v. County of Sonoma, No. S102249. It was originally published on October 11, 2001 at 01 C.D.O.S. 8793, and 2001 DJDAR 10909.