August 1, 2017

Commission dashes a couple’s retirement dreams

By Commission dashes a couple’s retirement dreams

When a powerful unelected bureaucracy muscles its way into your life, it’s not just your rights that can be at risk, but also your hopes and dreams for your family and your future.

This is what Mark and Bella Greene learned from the oppressive treatment they have received at the hands of the California Coastal Commission.  This infamous agency has destroyed their retirement plans by making it impossible for them to move into the seaside home where they were all set to live out their golden years.  Bella has health issues that require some modifications to the house.  Local officials approved the remodeling plans, which conform to neighboring properties.  But the Coastal Commission, acting with its notorious high-handedness, said, “No!”  It slammed the Greenes with a slew of inflexible conditions, including an order that the home must be set back at least five feet from the edge of the property line.  This strips away the crucial space needed to install a chair glide that Bella needs because she tore her meniscus a couple of years ago.

The Greenes have turned to Pacific Legal Foundation for help, and we have launched a lawsuit to defend their constitutionally protected property rights — and, by extension, their right to retire.

Some background: Mark Greene is currently a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.  Looking forward to the conclusion of his career, he and Bella bought the modest home at issue — in the
Los Angeles neighborhood of Playa Del Rey — so they could relocate and be near their children and grandchildren.

Their renovation plans called for more floor space and a chair glide to help Bella avoid unnecessary use of stairs.  These plans, including a one-foot setback from the beachfront property line, were in line with neighboring properties, and the City of Los Angeles gave its OK.

An agency acting capriciously — and unconstitutionally

But the Coastal Commission’s outrageous demands have not only made their home smaller than their neighbors’ houses, but they make it totally unfeasible for the Greenes to retire there.

“We were shocked, because our plans met all governing laws, and we’d received an OK from the city without trouble,” says Mark Greene.  “Moreover, our architect had recently received approval from the commission for a bigger remodel to his own home, which is adjacent to ours.”

The commission’s dictate was as capricious as it was oppressive, because the commissioners had already approved one-foot setbacks for neighboring homes.
In short, the Greenes were being introduced, in a painful, personal way, to the Coastal Commission’s famously high-handed way of operating.

“What I saw at the commission hearing on our permit was deeply disturbing,” says Dr. Greene.  “I had come believing in individual rights, which include property rights.  I left wondering how the agency could act so arbitrarily.

“As an academic and a scientist, I am used to students who exaggerate points based on little or no facts,” he notes.  “I would not imagine the same from a government agency, and would expect the members and staff to be somewhat prepared on the issues.  What a shock to discover how cavalierly most members treated the important questions at stake, including basic principles of fairness and legality.  “One member explicitly said they were not necessarily guided by the law or fairness to all household owners.”

Calling high-handed officials to account

It is common to call this agency “unaccountable” because the commissioners are politically insulated and don’t answer to the voters.  Thankfully, however, there is one key sense in which they are very much accountable — to the laws and the Constitution.  Through our litigation, PLF is determined to hold the Coastal Commission to account for stripping the Greenes of their constitutional property rights.

As our lawsuit points out, the commission’s demands bear no connection to any needs or issues created by the Greenes’ remodeling plans, so they amount to an unlawful abuse of the permitting authority.

“The Coastal Commission doesn’t have the power to upend property owners’ reasonable development plans on a whim,” says PLF Senior Attorney Larry Salzman.  “All the Greenes want is to update their home to make it comfortable in retirement, including a modest expansion similar to their neighbors’ properties.  Neither the Coastal Act nor the Constitution permits the commission to stop them, because their proposed development imposes no negative impacts on their neighbors or the public.”

You empower us to champion justice

“We are fortunate to have found Pacific Legal Foundation, a champion of justice that understands that the California and U.S. Constitutions protect the right to own and use property,” says Mark Greene.  “Our lawsuit has implications for all property owners, because no government agency can operate as if it were above the law.”

To our donors: Thank you for empowering us to represent the Greenes and other victims of abusive regulators, without charge.  With your continued support, we will continue as America’s most powerful ally for justice and core constitutional rights, in courtrooms from coast to coast.

What to read next