Judge rules the Coastal Commission violated the Sterlings’ constitutional rights…again!


Author: J. David Breemer

For the second time, a California Superior Court judge has held that the California Coastal Commission violated the constitutional rights of property owners Dan and Denise Sterling by imposing an unlawful permit condition on their application to build one home on 143 acres of land in San Mateo County, California.
The court specifically ruled that the Commission had acted unlawfully, and violated the Takings Clause of the United States Constitution, in demanding that the Sterlings record an open space deed restriction on all their property outside their single family home building site—about 140 acres—in order to acquire a permit for the home.
This is the second oppressive condition the CCC has tried to force on the Sterlings and the second condition the Court has struck down.  Originally, the Commission demanded that the Sterlings dedicate an affirmative agricultural easement as a permit condition. This condition would have required the Sterlings to actively farm or agriculturally use 142 acres of their land—forever—in order to build one home on a 10, 000 square foot site.  The Court held this easement condition was “flat out unconstitutional.” It sent the case back to the Commission so it could reconsider the Sterlings’ application.
After settlement negotiations, the CCC held another hearing.  Against the advice of its staff and the Sterlings’ wishes, the Commission imposed a new condition that was as objectionable as the first. The new condition did not require the Sterlings to accede to perpetual, active farming, but did demand that the Sterlings record a deed restriction permanently converting 140+ acres of their land outside the home site into open space for the public good.  This condition wiped out the Sterlings’ development rights, and would have prevented them from building a second home at some point for their children.
At the Commission hearing, the Sterlings informed the agency that the new condition was unconstitutional and that the Sterlings would take the Commission back to court if it was adopted. The Commission responded, “So be it.”
And so it was. PLF filed a new complaint, and on July 22, the superior court held that the Commission lacked authority to impose the deed restriction condition, and that, even if had authority under state law, the condition failed the “nexus” and rough proportionality” takings standards of Nollan v. California Coastal Commission and Dolan v. City of Tigard,  “on all scores.”
The court concluded: “The new condition, in the form of an open space deed restriction is not tailored to the development and is once again irreconcilable with Nollan and Dolan. As compared to the Commission’s prior failed attempt to impose an agricultural easement on the property, the Commission’s new attempt is a distinction without a difference.”
Lets hope the Commission will get the message and just let the Sterlings build their family home.