November 1, 2017

Coastal land rights on appeal in California

By Larry G. Salzman Senior Attorney

Yesterday we filed an opening brief on appeal in Beach and Bluff Conservancy v. City of Solana Beach, an important case involving coastal property rights and the limits of local governments’ authority to restrict or take them without compensation.

More than 1,000 homes sit on roughly two miles of coastal bluffs in the Southern California town, protected from erosion by seawalls. In 2014, the City enacted a land use ordinance that prohibits or restricts bluff-top homeowners from building, repairing, or replacing those seawalls. Some of the restrictions require homeowners to dedicate private stairways to public use as a condition of repair or require property owners to entirely abandon rights they possess under state law to build a seawall.

Storms have caused bluffs to collapse in recent years, however, endangering people walking along the beach below and damaging bluff-top property. The new land use restrictions wash away the rights of the homeowners and put the public at risk of harm.

PLF took up the case, suing to strike down several of new policies for violating California’s Coastal Act and the Constitution’s prohibition against taking of private property without just compensation. Our client, Beach and Bluff Conservancy, is a non-profit that works to protect public and private property along the bluffs from natural hazards and represents the interests of nearly every homeowner living on Solana Beach’s bluffs.

Soon after filing, the California Coastal Commission, along with the environmentalist Surfrider Foundation, ganged up as intervening parties in a three-against-one fight against PLF. A trial court gave PLF a limited win earlier this year in a split decision that invalidated some of the challenged restrictions but upheld others. The brief filed yesterday is the first step to secure a more complete victory for property rights in the appellate court.

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Beach and Bluff Conservancy v. City of Solana Beach

The City of Solana Beach enacted regulations to prohibit beachfront owners from building retention walls or other protective structures to safeguard their homes from erosion unless they agreed to grant public access to their property. The regulations also require homeowners to grant public access as a condition for a permit to repair damaged staircases that provide beach access from their homes. A coalition of homeowners challenged the regulations as violating the California Coastal Act and the constitutional prohibition on takings without just compensation. The San Diego County Superior Court invalidated the regulations to the extent they required public access as a condition for protecting existing homes or repairing existing staircases, but refused to invalidate the regulations as applied to future development.

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