All along the nation’s coastlines, the line between public and private property is continually blurred by regulations and lawsuits seeking to restrict the rights of landowners to own and use what’s theirs.
The California Coastal Commission (CCC) is among the nation’s worst offenders. By twisting its own agreed-upon and certified language of Local Coastal Programs (LCPs,) the CCC has become a super-zoning board, overriding local governments’ permitting power with its own, in violation of state law.
The California Coastal Act allows local governments within the Coastal Zone to prepare and adopt LCPs to establish guidelines for development that are responsive to unique, local needs. Once the CCC certifies an LCP, coastal property control is supposed to lie with local governments.
The CCC has taken to reinterpreting or even ignoring LCP language—that the agency itself signed off on—to reverse local permit approvals. This robs landowners of their ability to make responsible and productive use of their property. It also robs local governments of their authority to regulate local land use as intended by state law.
In 2001, concerns over a limited water supply prompted San Luis Obispo County to impose a moratorium on new development. The County formalized the moratorium in its LCP in 2007 but specifically included an exception that allows longtime landowners who were paying water customers before the moratorium to develop on their property.
This exception is important to Al Hadian and Ralph Bookout (pictured above). The water meters and service on their neighboring properties pre-date the moratorium. The son of a Pakistani father and French mother, Al worked hard for decades to save for his property. He planned to build his retirement home and move closer to his son and grandchildren. He retired when he was ready to build and move out of Los Angeles County and closer to his family.
Ralph is also retired after a long career in nearby Visalia and, like Al, he bought property more than 20 years ago. In addition to the careful stewardship of his own land, Ralph has worked with local and state environmental agencies to remove sick and dying Monterey pine trees and plant new trees.
Both properties were hooked up to water service in 2001, and both Al and Ralph have been paying water customers ever since. In line with the LCP’s moratorium exemption and after careful review that included environmental impact reports and testimony from the Cambria Community Services District, the County approved development permits for both properties.
Nevertheless, with complete disregard for the LCP’s clearly stated exception, the CCC reversed their county-approved permits. Al and Ralph are now unable to build their homes on their lots in built-out subdivisions.
The moratorium and LCP represent a compromise between protecting the limited resource of water in SLO County and recognizing the fundamental rights of people who bought land and took concrete steps toward developing it by obtaining a water meter. The CCC cannot now ignore the plain language of the LCP that it certified.
Represented by PLF at no charge, Al and Ralph are challenging the CCC’s permit denials in state courts.
A win will vindicate their right to build homes on their own land, force the agency to stick to LCPs as written and thus to the rule of law, and lay a firm legal foundation for all citizens to fight back whenever the CCC or any other government agency tries to rewrite regulations at will to deny individual rights.