June 14, 2012

Court rejects Coastal Commission's bridge expropriation

By Court rejects Coastal Commission's bridge expropriation

Today, the California Court of Appeal resoundingly rejected the California Coastal Commission’s attempt to expropriate a private bridge in Newport Beach, in a highly publicized case called Bay Island Club v. California Coastal Commission. PLF filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the bridge owner, Bay Island Club.

The Club is a cooperative of residents who live on Bay Island, off the coast of Newport Beach, California. A channel, whose waters the City owns, separates the island from the mainland. A 1927 deed and a 1928 court judgment recognize the Club’s exclusive right to build, maintain, and use a “private” bridge for residents’ access to and from the island. Over the years, the Club has acted to keep trespassers off its bridge, including by erecting a gate on the mainland side.

In 2006, the Club applied to the Commission for a permit to rebuild the bridge. The new bridge will be safer and relocated so that the public has more shoreline access for recreation along the waters. The Commission approved the permit, but on the condition that the Club make its private bridge public-for 24-hour access to whomever wants to use it.  The reason?  Public access would be “beneficial.”

The Club rejected the condition, as did the City. Because of the risk of injury to the public from recreational use of the bridge, the City opposed making the Club’s bridge public.

The Club sued the Commission, arguing that the Commission’s extortionate condition was unlawful.  When the trial court ruled in the Commission’s favor, the Club appealed and, with the City’s and PLF’s support, prevailed.  In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeal held that the bridge is indeed private—for the exclusive use and enjoyment of Club residents—and that no amount of past trespassing by the public could make the bridge public.  The court struck down the condition, which leaves the Club free to pursue its rebuilding efforts without having to satisfy the Commission’s extortionate demands.

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