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The following guidelines are intended to help local decision makers draft findings that will survive a court challenge. The emphasis is on how to avoid making some common mistakes.
1. State all assumptions. One of the easiest “findings pitfalls” for local planning officials to fall into is to rely on unstated assumptions or to forget to articulate all of the logical links in the decision making process. For example, every member of a planning commission may know that the existing traffic on a particular road is bad, and will be made worse by a proposed development. However, if that observation is not explicitly stated in the commission’s written decision, it will not be considered by a court reviewing the decision.
For particularly complex decisions, it may be helpful for one of the commissioners, or a staff member, to chart out the logic of the commission’s decision and to make sure that each piece of evidence and each logical link has been articulated in the findings.
2. Whenever a land use decision involves a condition, make sure there is a clear logical link articulated between the condition being imposed and the impacts of the project. A key factor in the Nollan decision was the Supreme Court’s inability to see the “nexus” or link that the California Coastal Commission asserted existed between the condition that was being imposed upon the property owner and the environmental impacts of the project. Findings should clearly articulate the connection between the burdens of a project and the conditions being imposed. …
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… article continues with discussion of the following guidelines:
3. If a project has been modified since findings for it were written, make sure that the modifications will not necessitate new or revised findings.
4. Use statutory requirements as guidelines for your findings.
5. Avoid findings that merely restate the law.
6. Put your findings in clear and understandable language.
7. Suspect Classes. Local agencies should carefully prepare decisions that may be challenged as discriminatory.