The three parcels of land that Mike Pietro bought in Monterey County, California, in 2014 represented the culmination of his lifelong dream. The longtime builder had constructed countless buildings and homes for others. This time, one of the homes he planned to build in the mostly built-out Carmel Point neighborhood would be his final retirement home.
Like 90 other homes in the neighborhood, his building plans included a basement; many of the others had been approved under the local coastal program (LCP).
Mike built and sold one home with a basement without a hitch. But when he submitted permit applications for the remaining properties, his plans hit rock bottom—because they included basements.
Facing pressure from local groups called Save Carmel Point Cultural Resources and the Open Monterey Project, the county’s planning department balked at the plans, saying that basements could disturb Native American archeological remains that might be under the property.
The county ultimately approved the permits after $200,000 worth of 17 archeological surveys, core samples, trench excavations, and ground-penetrating radar turned up no archeological or tribal cultural resources. Mike also agreed to have an archeologist and tribal representative oversee all digging on the property.
The two activist groups then appealed to the California Coastal Commission. The commission itself had previously certified the county’s land coastal program—and for 40 years, basements were approved without issue. Nevertheless, the commission said that no permits for basements can be issued unless applicants can prove with 100 percent certainty that the land contains no archeological resources.
There are two big problems with the agency’s decision. First, there is no way any land owner can prove with 100 percent certainty that something doesn’t exist below the ground. Second, the commission’s drastic new interpretation of a long-certified LCP constitutes a power the agency does not have—effectively, it has amended the existing LCP, something only local governments may do.
Rather than giving in, Mike is fighting back. Represented by PLF free of charge, he is suing the CCC in California courts for its illegal meddling in local permitting decisions to overstep its lawful authority and create a new de facto ban on basements.