Holding the Cal. Coastal Commission Accountable

December 01, 2017 | By LARRY SALZMAN

Last week, PLF filed a petition with California’s Office of Administrative Law, asking the agency to review and determine whether a long-running California Coastal Commission policy against seawalls is illegal. We represent the Coastal Rights Coalition, a non-profit organization representing the interests of thousands of coastal homeowners throughout California.

California’s Coastal Act was designed to preserve coastal resources and public beach access while also protecting private property rights. The Coastal Commission is notorious for ignoring the latter. Since 2010, it has required property owners applying for permits to build new homes (or to substantially redevelop old ones) to forever waive their right to protect the home against storms or erosion with a seawall or other shoreline protective device. This is despite the fact that the Coastal Act specifically recognizes the right of property owners to protect homes and other structures from erosion with shoreline protective devices. Among other wrongs, the policy leaves homeowners in the awful position of having to tear down or move their homes in the event of catastrophic storms or a collapsing bluff.

Remarkably, the policy is as illegal as it is harmful to coastal property owners. Under California’s Administrative Procedures Act (APA), the Commission cannot implement any new policy such as this one without going through a formal process, including public notice, comment, and hearings. The Commission did not do any of that: the new policy was implemented with no input from property owners or anyone other than a cloistered circle of people around the Commission and its staff.

The Office of Administrative Law is an agency that reviews the policies of other state agencies to determine their compliance with the APA. We hope they accept the petition and take the Commission to task–likely within the next 90 days. It is the first step in bringing the Commission to heel, or else further legal action in the courts may be required.