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Land Use and Development

Land Use and Development

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Gibson Dunn’s land use attorneys represent clients in connection with virtually every type of land use and real property development issue.  Our attorneys specialize in the areas of entitlements and permitting; ground leases, development agreements and other transactional documents; California Environmental Quality Act /National Environmental Policy Act; public/private partnerships; waterfront development and the public trust doctrine; historic preservation and rehabilitation; and federal, state and local government laws.  Regardless of our client’s size or stage of development, we take the collective knowledge of our attorneys, who have handled the most complex transactions for some of the world’s preeminent companies, and make that expertise available to every client.

The firm’s land use practice has been recognized by many publications.  Chambers USA has consistently ranked Gibson Dunn in Tier 1 in California for Real Estate and ranks Gibson Dunn’s Land Use Practice as Tier 1 as well.  Practice group co-chairs Amy Forbes and Mary Murphy are ranked individually in Tier 1 in California for Zoning/Land Use, and were named to the Daily Journal’s 2014 list of California’s Top 50 Development Lawyers, featuring “top attorneys whose work in the development arena significantly impacted projects that are helping to shape the transformation of cities.”  Amy Forbes was named Best Lawyers® 2012 Los Angeles Land Use & Zoning Law “Lawyer of the Year” and Mary Murphy was named Best Lawyers® 2014 San Francisco Real Estate Law “Lawyer of the Year.”  Both co-chairs have also been cited as leading lawyers by numerous periodicals, including Super Lawyers, Legal 500, The Recorder and the San Francisco Business Times.

We have represented all sides of a development deal, including cities and government entities, developers, owners and project proponents.  In addition to numerous large and non-traditional projects, we have been major players in development projects that include office buildings; major infrastructure; regional transportation hubs; renewable energy; business and industrial parks; corporate campuses; housing projects, including all types and price levels; shopping centers, from regional malls to neighborhood and strip centers; golf courses; and other resort properties.  The team is among the most experienced in the state of California in negotiating and drafting development agreements and long-term ground leases.

Development Experience

  • Golden State Warriors.  Representing the Golden State Warriors in the negotiation, entitlement and CEQA review of a new arena and entertainment complex in San Francisco.
  • Treasure Island, San Francisco.  Representation of the developers in the negotiation and entitlement of the former U.S. Naval Base at Treasure Island with the City of San Francisco, and the Department of the Navy.  The development plans will create a new sustainable San Francisco neighborhood on Treasure Island, centered around a new ferry terminal, to provide convenient access to downtown San Francisco, with 8,000 residential units, 300 acres of open space and recreation, and 250,000-square-feet of retail space.
  • Fifteen Group, LLC, Los Angeles.  Lead counsel representing the company in its redevelopment of Wyvernwood Garden Apartments in Los Angeles, one of the largest privately owned housing complexes west of Chicago.  The existing housing complex consists of 1,187 multi-family units, on 68 acres.  As part of a community-based planning process, the entire site is being replanned and zoned.  Future development plans are anticipated to involve a $2 billion redevelopment of the site, with 4,400 units of housing and 300,000 square feet of mixed commercial/retail uses, and over 37 acres of open space and parks.
  • Endeavour Space Shuttle.  Pro bono counsel to the California Science Center Foundation, on all aspects of the acquisition and transportation of the Space Shuttle Endeavor from the Kennedy Space Center to its final destination at the Science Center’s location in Exposition Park.  It was the largest object ever transported on city streets.  Successfully obtained CEQA clearance and permits for the removal of 400 trees along the Shuttle’s route in two jurisdictions.  Also drafted and negotiated agreements with NASA, the City of Los Angeles, United Airlines and the City of Inglewood.  The tasks included securing the Shuttle’s title transfer, arranging the flight from the Kennedy Space Center -- including a spectacular Los Angeles flyover-- to LAX on the back of a modified Boeing 747 jetliner, temporary storage in a United Airlines hangar and a 12-mile parade on October 12, with the Shuttle on top of a specialized vehicle, through Los Angeles and Inglewood to the Science Center’s Samuel Oschin display pavilion.
  • Parkmerced, San Francisco.  Lead counsel to the developer in its proposed redevelopment of San Francisco’s Parkmerced, the largest residential project in San Francisco.  The project involves a $1.2 billion plan to transform the sprawling Parkmerced area from a car-centric neighborhood to a state-of-the-art sustainable neighborhood by replacing 1,500 rent-controlled town homes with 7,200 new energy-efficient units over the next 20 to 30 years.  
  • MidAmerican Energy Holdings, (a holding company controlled by Berkshire Hathaway).  Lead real estate and land use counsel in the acquisition of the $2 billion Topaz Solar Farm project from First Solar.  The transaction involves more than 20,000 acres and resource permits and conservation issues involving local, state and federal agencies.
  • Bay Meadows Land Company, San Mateo.  Since 1995, representation of the developer of the Bay Meadows Racetrack, valued in excess of $1.4 billion.  The first phase was completed in 2002, with over 2 million square feet of new development, including a 900,000 square foot office campus for Franklin Resources; 760 single-family and multi-family housing units; and a mixed-use complex including a market, health club, retail, live/work and office components.  The second phase of development received final approval in 2008 for more than two million square feet of additional mixed-use, transit-oriented development, including a possible office/campus component. 
  • Lucas Cultural Arts Foundation.  Representation of the Lucas Cultural Arts Foundation in its effort to create a new museum in the Presidio of San Francisco.
  • 75 Howard.  Represent the owners of 75 Howard in the entitlement and CEQA review of a new high-rise condominium development in San Francisco.
  • Moscone Center, San Francisco.  Representation of the Tourist Improvement District (a consortium of San Francisco Hotels) in the negotiation and entitlement of the public/private partnership with the City of San Francisco to expand the Moscone Center, the San Francisco Convention Center.
  • Universal Paragon Corporation.  Represent the owners of 700 acres in Brisbane, California in the redevelopment of a brownsfield site.
  • San Francisco Waterfront Partners.  Represent the developers of a proposed condominium project at 8 Washington Street in San Francisco in the rezoning, CEQA review and entitlement of the property, as well as the negotiations with the Port of San Francisco and California State Lands Commission.
  • Madison Square Garden.  Lead counsel representing Madison Square Gardens in their acquisition of the Forum in Inglewood and in negotiations in connection with permitting of its renovation as a premiere concert venue and rehabilitation loan from the City of Inglewood.
  • Hollywood Park, Inglewood, California.  Lead counsel in the successful master planning/redevelopment of Hollywood Park racetrack.  Final approvals were obtained in 2009.  The proposed project consists of the redevelopment of the 238-acre site and the construction of approximately 2,995 dwelling units, 620,000 square feet of retail, 75,000 square feet of office/commercial space, 4-acre civic site, and a 300-room hotel with approximately 25 acres of publicly accessible parks and open space.
  • El Toro/Heritage Fields, Irvine, California.  Lead counsel representing the equity investors (including Rockpoint) in Heritage Fields, the venture undertaking the redevelopment of the El Toro air base in Irvine.  The centerpiece of the development is the so-called “Great Park,” a more than 1,000 acre municipal park, to be constructed in part by fees and assessments on approximately 5,000 residential units planned for private development. 
  • Lucasfilm.  Represent Lucasfilm in its Northern California real property and land use matters. 
  • Ferry Building, San Francisco.  Lead counsel to the developers in their historic revitalization of the San Francisco Ferry Building, built in 1898, that included negotiating the ground lease and development agreement with the Port of San Francisco.  This project involved rehabilitating an important national historic landmark building, with federal historic tax credits and complicated multi-jurisdictional entitlement issues, into a vibrant waterfront destination with office and retail offerings.
  • 690 Market Street, San Francisco.  Represented the developer of 690 Market Street, San Francisco’s first skyscraper and the historic Old Chronicle Building.  The project included a vertical addition to and rehabilitation of this skyscraper into a 225,000-square-foot mixed-use high rise building, including residential condos and timeshare residences.
  • Historic Rehabilitation Projects.  Entitlement counsel for several historic rehabilitation projects including the Pacific Telephone & Telegraph Building, the original Bank of Italy Building, the Mutual Bank building, and the old San Francisco Chronicle Building, all located in downtown San Francisco, and the Forum in Inglewood and the Roosevelt Building in downtown Los Angeles.
  • Telecommunications.  Representation of various telecommunications companies with respect to use of City streets and State highways for telecommunication cables and other infrastructure.  Legal issues raised included permitting of individual telecommunication facilities and broader issues of telecommunication and franchising laws with respect to the utilization of public rights-of-way.
  • Mini-Med Campus, Northridge.  Representation of Mini-Med in the development of a 720,000-square-foot corporate campus on property owned by the California State University system.  Entitling the site involved a complex Joint Powers Agreement between the City of Los Angeles and the Cal State system, together with a ground lease from Cal State to Mini-Med.
  • City of Los Angeles/Playa Vista.  Advisory Counsel to the City of Los Angeles helping to create an incentive package to attract DreamWorks SKG to Playa Vista, and creating the jobs incentive program with respect to Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.
  • Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM).  Represent school in development of campus and adjacent public park in downtown Los Angeles, and in currently pending residential/school mixed-use high-rise building adjacent to Variety Arts Center.

CEQA Litigation Practice

Gibson, Dunn has extensive CEQA litigation experience, representing both the Real Party in Interest as well as the Plaintiff/Petitioner in cases involving challenges to negative declarations and environmental impact reports (EIR).  A representative sample of cases includes:

  • ALARM v. County of Los Angeles.  Represented Lillian B. Disney in the successful defense of the EIR certified by the County of Los Angeles for the Walt Disney Concert Hall. 
  • BA Studios v. City of West Hollywood.  Represented new owners of the Warner Hollywood Studios in challenge of an EIR for the La Brea Gateway redevelopment project.  Related litigation involved enforcement of an existing Development Agreement with the City of West Hollywood and defense of an eminent domain proceeding.  The litigation resulted in a favorable settlement for the client that enabled the redevelopment project to proceed while honoring the pre-existing Development Agreement.
  • California Farm Bureau Federation v. California Wildlife Conservation Board, et al. (Colusa County Superior Court).  Successfully represented the California Farm Bureau in this matter in Colusa County, California, regarding the State’s acquisition of prime agricultural land for conversion to habitat without any environmental review under CEQA or any compliance with the Williamson Act, a California statute designed to promote the preservation of agricultural land.  The California Third District Court of Appeal unanimously affirmed a lower court ruling finding the State of California in violation of CEQA by exempting a proposed wetlands project from environmental review.  The Appellate Court also affirmed an attorney fees award of $240,000 and ordered the decision to be published. 
  • Citizens Association for the Sensible Development of Warland Center v. Warland Investments Co.  Successfully defended a mitigated negative declaration prepared for Warland’s 500,000 square foot carpet warehouse in the City of Cypress.
  • Hacienda La Puente Unified School District, et al. v. County Sanitation District No. 2 of Los Angeles County.  Represented the school district in successful challenge of the EIR for the expansion of the Puente Hills Landfill.
  • Ladbroke Racing.  Representing the owner of Golden Gate Fields Racetrack in Albany, California in development of a card club facility.  Defended CEQA and constitutional legal challenges to project entitlements.
  • National Parks and Conservation Assoc. v. County of Riverside et al.  Gibson, Dunn, along with co-counsel Jan Chatten-Brown, represented the petitioner in a challenge to the County of Riverside’s certification of an EIR and approval of a Conditional Use Permit for the Eagle Mountain landfill proposed by Mine Reclamation Corp., a Kaiser entity.  The litigation resulted in a judgment overturning the County’s approvals and recovery of attorneys’ fees. 
  • Parkmerced.  Represent the developers of the Parkmerced project in a challenge to the Environmental Impact Report for the project filed in San Francisco Superior Court.
  • Pioneer Electronics Technology, Inc. v. City of Pomona.  Represented an international stereo speaker and television manufacturer in challenge of the City of Pomona’s approval of a mitigated negative declaration and related land use approvals for a 1,000 ton per day trash transfer facility.  The litigation resulted in the City’s withdrawal of all approvals.
  • San Antonio Winery v. City of Los Angeles.  Represented Real Party in Interest United Parcel Service in successful defense of a mitigated negative declaration prepared for UPS’ major new truck distribution hub on North Main Street.


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