California Coastal Commission Certifies Marin County’s Unconstitutional Local Coastal Program

February 07, 2019 | By DAVID DEERSON
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Marin County’s Local Coastal Program (LCP) is currently the subject of ongoing litigation between the estate of Willie Benedetti, represented by PLF, and the County.

Yesterday, the California Coastal Commission voted to certify amendments to Marin County’s LCP over PLF’s objections, which we made in a public comment letter and re-iterated at yesterday’s Commission meeting.

The amendments preserve and exacerbate the Constitutional violations at the heart of the Benedetti lawsuit.

For example, the amendments still require that each farmhouse be owned by someone who is “actively and directly engaged in agricultural use on the property”—essentially requiring landowners to participate in commercial agricultural markets for life. This mandate is at the heart of our current lawsuit against the county, and the proposed amendments only exacerbate the issue. Similarly, the proposed amendments would require a permanent restrictive covenant against subdividing the land as a condition for constructing a farmhouse.

Furthermore, the proposed amendments contain provisions which would significantly reduce the development rights of landowners. Under the existing plan, which was certified by the Coastal Commission in 1982, landowners may seek a conditional use permit to build additional residential units on their land—up to one house per 60 acres in the Agricultural zone. But the proposed amendments would limit the total number of structures to three units per “farm tract,” defined as “all contiguous legal lots under common ownership.” Because many agricultural landowners have multiple lots that cover thousands of acres, these provisions would effect a substantial diminution of development rights for agricultural landowners in Marin County’s Coastal Zone.

Finally, the amendments leave nearly unlimited discretion for local government officials to say which agricultural activities count as “ongoing” and which do not—a distinction that determines whether farmers and ranchers will have to undergo the lengthy and expensive process of obtaining a coastal development permit. This definition will generate significant uncertainty about which practices require a permit—especially given the flexibility needed for commercially viable agriculture—and could shift the burden onto landowners to show that their historical farming and ranching practices constitute “ongoing activities” under the new plan.

Although PLF raised objections at both the County and State levels, the Commission ultimately voted to certify the problematic amendments. PLF will continue to fight these drastic limitations on property rights in the courts.