Coastal Commission erodes mobilehome owner’s property rights

April 18, 2016 | By LARRY SALZMAN

It shouldn’t require a team of lawyers, tens of thousands of dollars in legal expense, and years of fighting just to replace an aging mobile home within a mobile home park. But that’s the reality in California when your mobile home replacement requires a permit from the state’s Coastal Commission.

When Eric Wills and his family sought permission to remove their modest beachfront mobile home in San Clemente with a (slightly smaller, 1,228 sq. ft.) new one, the Commission demanded they go through a costly “coastal development permit” process, which lasted nearly a year. At the end of it all, the Commission made a shocking demand.

In exchange for the permit, the Wills were forced to waive their right to maintain the existing seawall that protects their property from erosion and other hazards, and to also give up their right to construct any new shoreline protection in the future. Without a seawall, it will be only a matter of time before their treasured property is damaged and lost. The case illustrates in a very direct way how one’s safety and prosperity depends on property rights.

The right to protect one’s property from natural hazards is guaranteed by the California Constitution. Neither the Constitution nor California’s Coastal Act (the source of the Commission’s authority) gives the Commission power to take the Wills’ rights away from them in exchange for their permit.

PLF has established the principle time and again, in cases all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, that government may not take one’s property rights as a condition of a permit except to mitigate public harms caused by the development project at issue. It is incontrovertible that nothing about the Wills’ simple replacement of a mobile home within an existing mobile home park could possibly harm public resources.

Yet the Commission has ignored the law—and its overreach means that coastal mobile home owners might spend more on legal fees to replace a mobile home than the cost of the actual home itself.

That’s why the Wills have joined with PLF to fight back. This week PLF filed an opening brief in the Wills’ lawsuit to force the Commission to set aside its illegal demand.

You can read the full story on the Wills’ case here.