PLF scores victory for property owners in suit against Coastal Commission

October 23, 2014 | By PAUL BEARD

Today, the California Court of Appeal issued a published decision ruling in favor of PLF client, SDS Family Trust, in its years-long battle against the California Coastal Commission.

The case involves the constitutionality of a public-access easement that the Commission demanded as a condition of the family’s modest restoration of its home along the Harmony Coast in San Luis Obispo County.  The Commission was trying to bind the family to an earlier county-issued permit that purported to impose a similar easement condition.  But the family had rejected that county-issued permit, accepted none of its benefits, and re-applied for a new one, which the county approved without the offending easement exaction. That’s when the Commission got involved and imposed an easement exaction of its own.

The Court of Appeal rejected the Commission’s argument that the family should be bound by the earlier county-issued permit and held that the Commission’s easement exaction was unconstitutional under Nollan v. California Coastal Commission (PLF’s 1987 U.S. Supreme Court win against the same culprit) and Dolan v. City of Tigard.  The Court’s opinion explains:

Under the Nollan/Dolan test, a public entity may require an uncompensated exaction, such as an easement, as a condition of a development permit only where there is “rough proportionality” between the condition and the burden the development places on a public interest.  Here the Commission does not argue that test is met.  How could it when it is not?  There is no rational nexus, no less rough proportionality, between the work on a private residence a mile from the coast and a lateral public access easement.

The Court of Appeal’s published decision is a great victory for private property rights everywhere in California.  It upholds the principle that property owners should not be unfairly bound to old permits they never acted upon or accepted. And it reaffirms the continued vitality of the constitutional protections afforded by Nollan and Dolan.