March 11, 2013

Can you fill in a hole on your own property in the state of California?

By Can you fill in a hole on your own property in the state of California?

That’s the question Gregg Stevens, the owner of a Mendocino campground asks in recounting his outrageous experience with the California Coastal Commission. When a tree fell across a river in his campground, he applied for a permit from several federal and state agencies, including the Commission, in order to remove it. To his surprise, the Commission told him he did not need a permit to remove the tree, but he did need one to fill in the hole where the tree once stood. So he applied for the permit, paid $2,500 and then waited for more than a year until the Commission sent him a letter threatening him with fines of up to $15,000 per day.

The threats stemmed from the fact that Stevens had put a small amount of dirt back into the hole to cover up some exposed utility lines and had erected a fence around the hole—in order to protect campground guests from injury. Several months later, the Commission sent him another letter, stating it could not issue him a permit for filling in the hole, because filling in the hole did not require a permit afterall. (Stevens had tried to explain this to the Commission more than a year previously, but his words fell on deaf ears). Finally, after submitting an erosion control plan and jumping through some more hoops, the Commission issued him a “waiver” for the project so he could legally fill in the hole. He notes, “[i]t took a couple hours to do the work. It took 16 months, $4,000 and countless office hours to get a permit we didn’t need and never received.” The full story is well worth the read, although it may cure you of ever wanting to own property along the California Coast subject to the Commission’s jurisdiction.

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