Lot Merger Provision of the Subdivision Map Act

In Morehart v. County of Santa Barbara, 7 Cal. 4th 725, the county passed ordinances providing for the merger of contiguous parcels owned by the same party where necessary to comply with the county's requirement for a minimum lot size. The Moreharts owned a parcel of property for which a subdivision map had been filed in 1888, prior to the first subdivision map statute. The subdivision had never been developed. The Moreharts applied for a development permit for one of the lots in the paper subdivision. the lot size was less than the minimum allowed for development. The Moreharts challenged the county merger ordinances as being preempted by the merger provisions of the Subdivision Map Act. ( 66451.10-66451.21.) In answering the Moreharts' complaint the county admitted the lot for which the Moreharts were seeking a development permit was created by the antiquated subdivision map. (Morehart, supra, at pp. 760-761.) Our Supreme Court ultimately concluded that the county's ordinances were preempted by the Subdivision Map Act. But because the county conceded the lot in question exists the court did not consider "'. . . any of the prerequisites to creation of a parcel that preceded California's first subdivision map statute in 1893 . . . .' (Morehart v. County of Santa Barbara, supra, at p. 761.) The question posed but unanswered by Morehart is an important one. A report of the California Senate Committee on Local Government estimates that there are between 133,000 and 424,000 lots in "antiquated subdivisions." (Sen. Com. on Local Government, Summary Rep. from the Interim Hearing of the Subcommittee on the Redevelopment of Antiquated Subdivisions (Dec. 2, 1986) p. 19.) Some of the lots are as small as one twenty-fifth of an acre. (Ibid.) Some of the subdivisions are laid out without regard to topography or geography. (Ibid.)