Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Zoning Ban on Auto Rentals Applies to ‘Truck Sharing,’ First District Court of Appeal Rules in Berkeley Case
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Operation of a facility where people pick up and drop off trucks and trailers that they have rented online constitutes “truck and/or trailer rental activity,” the First District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Div. Three upheld a permanent injunction barring U-Haul Company of California from operating what it called a “truck sharing” business at a specified location in Berkeley.
The company had operated a traditional rental business at the location, pursuant to a use permit that was revoked in 2007. The company challenged the revocation, but lost in the trial and appellate courts.
The city sued in 2008, seeking an injunction on the ground that the facility was operating in violation of local zoning law, and obtained a preliminary injunction, and later a permanent, injunction.
The company argued, in the trial court and on appeal, that its present business at that location is not a banned rental business, but rather truck sharing, similar to the car sharing businesses ZipCar and City CarShare, which operate in the city without use permits.
An Alameda Superior Court judge rejected the argument, saying:
“U-Haul’s Activities at the Facility in late 2008 fit within the definition of ‘Automobile Rentals’ in [the Berkeley Municipal Code] because U-Haul provided trucks to consumers for short time periods in exchange for money and U-Haul stored the trucks at the facility. In addition, a business that over a 5 week period provides over 750 consumers with short term use of trucks is a truck rental business in the common sense of the phrase.”
The judge cited People ex rel. Lockyer v. Pacific Gaming Technologies (2000) 82 Cal.App.4th 699, 700-701, in which the court said “if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, it is a duck.”
Justice Martin Jenkins, writing for the Court of Appeal in an unpublished opinion, said the trial judge was correct.
“Having considered U-Haul’s argument in light of the record at hand, we decline U-Haul’s attempt to turn a straightforward, common-sense definition of a well-known business activity into a complicated legal inquiry in order to create a disputed fact where none exist,” he wrote.
He also said that the issue of whether the defendant was operating illegally at the location was resolved in the original litigation, in which the revocation of the use permit was upheld, and that the change from a “rental” to a “sharing” business did not preclude application of res judicata.
“Truck and trailer rental is not a complicated concept. It refers to a business or enterprise charging consumers a fee for use on a short-term basis of a truck or trailer stored on the premises of that business or enterprise. The governing BMC definition reflects as much. Thus, even assuming U-Haul is correct in theory that there exists a distinct activity known as truck or automobile ‘sharing,’ such theory has no factual underpinnings in this case. As discussed above, the evidence is undisputed (and, indeed, derived from the words of U-Haul’s own representatives) that U-Haul’s activities at the relevant site…whether labeled truck renting or truck sharing, were for all practical purposes the same before and after the preliminary injunction was entered in 2008.”
The case is U-Haul Company v. City of Berkeley, A136973.
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