Coastal Rights Coalition v. California Coastal Commission

California coastal homeowners at risk by Coastal Commission’s illegal seawall policy

Cases > Property Rights > Coastal Rights Coalition v. California Coastal Commission
Lost: Court denied our legal challenge on procedural grounds.
Case Court: Orange County Superior Court

When coastal property owners seek permits for new residential development, the California Coastal Commission requires them to agree never to build a seawall to protect the structure from storms and erosion.  This policy was imposed by fiat, without public notice, hearings, and opportunity for public comment, as required by the California Administrative Procedure Act.

The California Coastal Act is designed to protect public access to California beaches and preserve coastal resources while also respecting the private property rights of those who live and own land along the shoreline. The Coastal Commission, which enforces the Coastal Act, however, is notorious for acting without due regard for the rights of property owners.

Although the Coastal Act recognizes the right of coastal property owners to protect homes and other structures from erosion with seawalls, the Commission generally opposes their construction. Since 2010, the Commission has required property owners seeking permits to build new homes (or substantially redevelop existing homes) to forever waive their right to build a shoreline protective device. Homeowners saddled with this permit condition must tear down their homes in the event of catastrophic storms or bluff collapse.

However, the Commission’s seawall-waiver policy is as illegal as it is harmful to coastal property owners. Under California’s Administrative Procedures Act, the agency cannot implement a new policy such as this without going through a formal process, including public notice, comments, and hearings. The Commission did none of that: the new policy was developed without input from property owners or anyone outside a cloistered circle of agency staff and unelected Coastal Commissioners.

PLF has joined with Coastal Rights Coalition, a non-profit organization representing the interests of thousands of coastal homeowners throughout California, in filing a petition with the state’s Office of Administrative Law (OAL) to review this policy. The OAL is a governmental department tasked with reviewing and determining whether other state agencies have acted unlawfully in implementing policies and regulations. Unfortunately, the OAL declined the request to review the policy, leaving a lawsuit in state court as the CRC’s only remedy. On May 22, 2018, PLF and CRC teamed up again to sue the Commission in the California Superior Court in Orange County, where we will hold the Commission accountable for its lawless policy of stripping coastal homeowners of their rights.

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What’s at stake?

  • Through a heavy-handed, one-size-fits-all edict against protective seawalls, the California Coastal Commission is prohibiting oceanfront residents from safeguarding their homes from the ravages of waves and storms.
  • The regulation is not just destructive, it is illegal: Bureaucrats imposed it, in essence, by fiat—without input from the homeowners who will be hurt or from any other members of the public, even though the law requires a process that is transparent and open to all.
  • This is another example of the commission’s pattern of undermining people’s property rights by trying to push beyond the legal limits on its power. PLF’s challenge is part of our mission to check the power of the administrative state and hold it accountable to the law.

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