We’ve all heard about how the California Coastal Commission loves to micromanage and bully coastal cities and counties. Whether it’s second-guessing the most insignificant local project, or requiring municipalities to include in their local laws severe restrictions against property owners, the Commission is rightly seen by many localities as one of the most unhinged agencies in the State — totally disconnected from reality and utterly disdainful of the rights of individual property owners. However, recently, the Commission stooped to a new low.
Every coastal city and county must prepare its own Land Use Plan for regulating land use within its jurisdiction. The municipality is charged with drafting the plan, which the Commission must then certify as consistent with the Coastal Act (the state law governing land use in the coastal zone). The Coastal Act is crystal clear that the Commission may not write the plan for the municipality.
For years, the City of Solana Beach has been negotiating with the California Coastal Commission to come up with a certifiable Land Use Plan. When the City presented its last Land Use Plan draft to the Commission for certification, the Commission insisted that hundreds of modifications be made. When the plan was re-submitted with the modifications, the Commission actually rejectedthe plan in favor of its own staff’s version. The Commission-written plan contained many policies that violate the rights of coastal landowners, including the right of blufftop homeowners to protect their homes with seawalls, and their right to keep and maintain private staircases to the beach.
A group of coastal homeowners formed a nonprofit called Beach & Bluff Conservancy and brought a legal challenge to the Land Use Plan in San Diego Superior Court.
First, BBC sued the Commission after it rejected the City’s plan and adopted its own version. Then, represented by Pacific Legal Foundation attorneys, BBC sued the City a year later (in April 2013), when the City formally adopted the Commission’s unlawful action and made it the law within the City’s jurisdiction. BBC believed it was proper to sue both government actors separately, since both played separate, but key, roles in the final product: a Land Use Plan containing numerous unlawful policies violative of the rights of property owners.
The Commission was bold enough to write the City’s Land Use Plan for it and require it (by threat of non-certification) to formally adopt that plan. But the Commission had cold feet when it came to defending the plan in Court. The Commission asked the superior court to dismiss the lawsuit against it, claiming that the plan was the City’s — not the Commission’s — and that the Commission therefore had no reason to be sued!
The superior court dismissed the suit against the Commission, thereby forcing the City to defend on its own the very plan that the Commission wrote and rammed down its throat. We believe the superior court’s ruling was wrong, but in order to challenge the offensive policies in the plan, the only defendant we need is the City.
The City is doubtlessly wondering where the Commission has gone, after it pressed so hard to have its unlawful policies included in the Land Use Plan. But to outside observers of the Commission, the Commission’s betrayal comes as no surprise: The Commission has long viewed coastal cities and counties, not as partners in carrying out the Coastal Act’s mandate, but as lackeys who carry out its mission of destroying the rights of coastal landowners, one policy and one permit at a time.
Let’s hope that this latest episode awakens more coastal cities and counties to the reality of the Commission’s fairweather ways, and emboldens them to stand up to the powerful agency — and for the rights of the citizens they serve.