Sometimes you CAN beat city hall. But the city, even after a court loss, can still win.
Municipal law attorney Peter Prows discusses strategies to keep in mind if you ever go up against the city.
The key takeaway: Once its made up its mind to do something, a city (or agency or whatever) will keep trying until it gets its way. So if you sue the city, don’t bring a claim that is easy for it to fix. You want to prevail on a claim that will constrain its discretion the next time around.
Even Supreme Court Justice William Brennan remarked on how difficult it is to beat a city attorney, in this passage, quoting a city attorney giving advice to colleagues at a conference of the National Institute of Municipal Law Officers in California:
"IF ALL ELSE FAILS, MERELY AMEND THE REGULATION AND START OVER AGAIN. "If legal preventive maintenance does not work, and you still receive a claim attacking the land use regulation, or if you try the case and lose, don't worry about it. All is not lost. One of the extra 'goodies' contained in the recent [California] Supreme Court case of Selby v. City of San Buenaventura, 10 C.3d 110, appears to allow the City to change the regulation in question, even after trial and judgment, make it more reasonable, more restrictive, or whatever, and everybody starts over again. . . . . . "See how easy it is to be a City Attorney. Sometimes you can lose the battle and still win the war. Good luck."
(San Diego Gas & Elec. Co. v. City of San Diego (1981) 450 U.S. 621, 655 n.22 (Brennan, J., dissenting) (quoting Longtin, Avoiding and Defending Constitutional Attacks on Land Use Regulations (Including Inverse Condemnation), in 38B NIMLO Municipal Law Review 192–193 (1975)).)