California court rulings for Coastal Commission favor costly permiting process


Author:  Paul Beard

Imagine this scenario:  Your city grants you a permit to build on your land.  The permit is appealed—say, by some disgruntled neighbor—to a state land-use agency with limited authority to review locally approved projects.  You sue the state agency on the ground that it lacks the authority in your case to second-guess your permit approval. 

Next thing you know, the court dismisses your case.  The reason?  Your case is premature.  You are required to spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on consultants, studies, and the like to defend your permit before the state agency—even if, at the end of the day, it turns out the agency never had the authority to drag you through its review process in the first place.

Sound bizarre? 

Well, that is precisely what happened in two recent cases against the California Coastal Commission, in which PLF represents petitioners in a challenge to the Commission’s authority to hear certain permit appeals. 


In DeCicco v. California Coastal Commission (San Luis Obispo) and Citizens for a Better Eureka v. California Coastal Commission (Eureka), both courts ruled that, even if it actually lacks the authority to do so, the Commission nevertheless is entitled to set aside the locally approved permits, to review the merits of the projects, and to impose conditions on or outright prohibit those projects—all at a tremendous cost in time and money to the petitioners.  Only after the entire review process is finished may the petitioners challenge the Commission’s authority.  The courts were unsympathetic to PLF’s argument that there is no reason to subject petitioners to a long, drawn-out administrative process in order to reach the preliminary question of the agency’s jurisdiction.

PLF plans to appeal both decisions to the court of appeal.  Stay tuned for further developments in these cases.