March 6, 2015

Arguing with the California Coastal Commission

By Arguing with the California Coastal Commission

Last week I had a hearing in San Diego in one of PLF’s Coastal Land Rights cases: Beach & Bluff Conservancy v. City of Solana Beach & California Coastal Commission. The case challenges certain policies in the City’s Coastal Land Use Plan that unlawfully restrict residents’ ability to protect their property from erosion by building seawalls.  While the Coastal Act guarantees to property owners the right to build a seawall, the Commission tries to make it as difficult as a possible for property owners to exercise that right.

You may recall that another PLF case, Lynch v. California Coastal Commission, addresses this same issue.  There, the Commission imposed an arbitrary 20-year expiration date on our clients’ seawall permit.  Here, the Solana Beach land use plan also requires seawall permits to expire.  And, it requires anyone applying for a permit to sign a waiver, surrendering his or her right to ever to build a seawall in the future.  Our case challenges those and other similar policies that conflict with the Coastal Act’s seawall guarantee and with the state and federal constitutional right to use and protect property.

In their briefs and at the hearing, the City and the Coastal Commission argued that the court should not even consider the merits of our arguments for various procedural reasons. None of their arguments were new; they’d all been raised before when both parties objected to our filing amended complaints after the City amended its plan. The judge dismissed those arguments then, and allowed us to amend. This time around, he issued a tentative ruling in our favor the day before the hearing. As a result, we are cautiously optimistic that he will once again reject the other side’s procedural shenanigans and allow us to obtain a ruling on the merits of our claims.  We await his ruling.

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Beach and Bluff Conservancy v. City of Solana Beach

The City of Solana Beach enacted regulations to prohibit beachfront owners from building retention walls or other protective structures to safeguard their homes from erosion unless they agreed to grant public access to their property. The regulations also require homeowners to grant public access as a condition for a permit to repair damaged staircases that provide beach access from their homes. A coalition of homeowners challenged the regulations as violating the California Coastal Act and the constitutional prohibition on takings without just compensation. The San Diego County Superior Court invalidated the regulations to the extent they required public access as a condition for protecting existing homes or repairing existing staircases, but refused to invalidate the regulations as applied to future development.

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