“It’s just so punishing to build all these houses and not be able to build one for your family” – Chris Adamski PLF Client
PLF fights California Coastal Commission’s latest permitting scheme
Chris Adamski set out for California in 2005 , leaving behind his Columbus, Ohio, remodeling business with only his dog and a dream—much of which has since come true: he met and married his wife, Courtney, with whom he’s built a thriving development company and bustling family of six.
Soon, Chris was down to just one more wish. “Building our dream home,” he says, describing a home large enough for the Adamskis’ four young daughters in the Monterey County area they’ve grown to love. But the California Coastal Commission buried his plan, his dream, and his property rights.
The project started uneventfully in 2014, when Chris joined forces with Mike Pietro. A seasoned contractor who is 40 years Chris’s senior, Mike took Chris under his wing during the financial crisis, and the two have been business partners and close friends ever since.
“Mike has been such a force in my life as a mentor and role model,” Chris explains. “We had been looking for a project to do together. We found this one, and it was perfect.”
The pair bought four of the few vacant lots left in Monterey’s mostly built-out Carmel Point neighborhood. They planned to develop two houses to sell, which would help fund construction of their own homes—Chris’s for his large family, and Mike’s for retirement.
As was typical of the neighborhood’s other homes—with small lots and height restrictions—and in line with the county’s Local Coastal Plan, the homes’ blueprints included basements. They finished and sold their first home accordingly and thought the rest would follow just as smoothly. They thought wrong.
The county balked at the remaining permit applications after two local activist groups protested the basements. The groups, called Save Carmel Point Cultural Resources and the Open Monterey Project, insisted any basement excavation could disturb Native American remains that might be under the property.
A few years later, the county relented only after $200,000 in 17 archeological surveys, core samples, trench excavations, and state- of-the-art ground-penetrating radar found no archeological or tribal cultural resources whatsoever.
With less money in the bank but permits in hand, Chris and Mike resumed their work only to have the CCC barge in with a new, unheard-of permit condition of the Local Coastal Plan: no basements allowed unless applicants can prove with 100 percent certainty their land is artifact-free.
Chris was dumbfounded. Not only is it impossible to prove a negative, but every one of his neighbors’ homes built over the past 50 years had basements. In fact, roughly 90 projects in Carmel Point have been approved with basements since the coastal plan’s adoption—a plan the CCC certified and in doing so, transferred its permitting power to the county.
The Commission’s new, unprecedented no-basement rule required Chris and Mike to start over with new blueprints and meet new permitting conditions that severely restrict excavation for the homes’ foundations. Though such conditions were nearly impossible given the neighborhood’s sandy topsoil, the partners tried to work with the Commission to find a viable solution.
“We even agreed that if, in the infinitesimal chance we encountered something of significance, we would stop mid-project and completely re-design it,” says Chris. “It was probably a step too far for us, but we were desperate.”
Nothing the partners did was good enough for a permit. It’s now been five years, and the running tab of $1.3 million in expert and legal fees has nearly bled them dry.
“It’s just so punishing to build all these houses and not be able to build one for your own family,” Chris admits. “At first, I asked myself, ‘What do I do? Do I throw in the towel?’”
Then Chris’s mentor spoke up.
“Mike said, ‘We can’t let them bully us. You can’t get to the end of your life and look back and regret that you didn’t stand up for what’s right’,” Chris recalls. “He’s 89, and he’s been such an influence on my life. I want him to be able to see the end of this.”
Chris and Mike decided to fight back.
“The CCC can’t give itself veto power over local permits that it has no jurisdiction over, nor can it impose impossible conditions on the permits,” says PLF attorney Jeremy Talcott. “It’s clear from the Commission’s massive new expansion of power that the agency learned no lessons from Pacific Legal Foundation’s two previous Supreme Court victories over unconstitutional permit conditions.”
Represented by PLF free of charge, Chris and Mike are suing to stop the Commission’s illegal use of permits to overstep its lawful authority and create a new de facto ban on basements.
“My approach has always been to have faith that if we take the steps everyone else takes and follow the rules everyone else follows, we would be treated like everyone else,” says Chris. “That just is not the fact.”
Government cannot force landowners to give up property rights in exchange for permit approval. The California Coastal Commission cannot simply reinterpret established law to expand its authority to veto local building permits, even for a basement.
PLF first defeated the California Coastal Commission’s permitting abuse at the Supreme Court in 1987. Your support for PLF ensures that Chris Adamski, Mike Pietro, and all Americans can fight back whenever government bureaucrats defy clear Supreme Court opinions. Thank you!Donate
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