City of Los Angeles v. Gage, California Court of Appeal (1954)

Facts: In 1930, the defendant Gage acquired adjoining lots 220 and 221 in Los Angeles. On lot 221, Gage constructed a two-family residential building, renting the top floor out for solely residential purposes. On the bottom floor, one room was used as an office from which Gage established a wholesale and retail plumbing supply business; the remainder was used as a residence for himself and his family. Further, the garage on this parcel was used for the storage of plumbing supplies and materials. On lot 220, Gage constructed racks, bins and stalls for the open storage of plumbing supplies.

In 1930, lots 220 and 221 were classified as in the "C" zone, which permitted Gage's use of the parcels. Shortly after, they were modified to "C-3", which continued to expressly permit Gage's use. In 1936, the city passed Ordinance 77,000 containing a comprehensive zoning plan for the city, which continued the same classifications. In 1941, the city passed Ordinance 85,015; this allowed the use of a residential building for the conduct of an office in connection with the business, but it prohibited the open storage of the plumbing materials in the way that Gage utilized lot 220. However, Gage's use of the parcel was allowed to continue as a nonconforming use, because it was already established at the time of the ordinance.

In 1946, the city council passed Ordinance 90,500, reclassifying the zone including lots 220 and 221 as "R-4" (Multiple dwelling zone). Under this classification (and all other "R" zones), established nonconforming uses (such as Gage's plumbing business), were to be discontinued within five years of the ordinance.

Procedure: The trial court found in favor of the defendant, declaring Ordinance 90,500 "void insofar as it affects Gage's use of the property in that it deprives him of a vested right to use the property for the purpose it has been used continuously since 1930 and deprives him of property without due process of law."

Issue: Is the mandatory discontinuance of a nonconforming use after a fixed period a reasonable exercise of police power, or is it a violation of due process and an unconstitutional impairment of property rights?

Holding: Ordinance 90,500, as applied to Gage's property, is a constitutional exercise of the police power; the court finds in favor of the plaintiff, the City of Los Angeles.

Rationale: There is a presumption of validity that the zoning districts are a constitutional exercise of police power to begin with; the issue under examination is the amortization aspect. Amortization of nonconforming uses has been expressly authorized in many states and cities. "The distinction between an ordinance restricting future uses and one requiring the termination of present uses within a reasonable period of time is merely one degree, and constitutionality depends on the relative importance to be given to the public gain and to the private loss." The court found that the amortization scheme was an equitable means of reconciliation of the conflicting interests in satisfaction of due process requirements. In Gage's case, lots 220 and 221 are not a logical extension of a business center, and property zoned for plumbing supply can be found within half a mile of the existing site. The cost of moving from lot 220 is $5,000, or less than 1% of Gage's minimum gross business for five years; further, lot 220 can be improved for residential purposes. Thus, Ordinance 90,500 is neither arbitrary nor unreasonable, and it does have substantial relation to the public's health, safety, morals or general welfare.