When Mark and Bella Green bought a modest home on the beach in Los Angeles 11 years ago, they dreamed of moving from Pennsylvania to enjoy the sun in retirement near their grandchildren. But the California Coastal Commission turned that dream into a nightmare, forcing them to spend tens of thousands of dollars in a year-long bureaucratic battle over a permit to update and expand the house.
In the end, the Commission approved a permit but only on the condition that they forgo plans for the addition; as an added insult, the Commission demanded they waive their rights to ever protect the beach-front home from storms or erosion with a seawall. These conditions exceed the Commission’s power under the Coastal Act and U.S. and California Constitutions.
Today, PLF joined with the Greenes to push back, suing the Commission in Los Angeles County Superior Court. PLF took on the case to ensure that the Greene’s right to use their property was not infringed. As several Supreme Court cases make clear (including two won at the high court by PLF in past years), the government cannot impose conditions on approval of development permits unless those conditions are proportional to an adverse impact on public resources caused by the proposed development. That is not the case here.
When the Greenes began their permit process, they hired an architect and submitted plans to the City of Los Angeles for approval. The city approved the plans and issued a permit because the Greenes proposal was consistent with Los Angeles zoning ordinances and over 50 years of practice by the City and Coastal Commission. Even with the much-needed improvements, the Greenes’ home would still be smaller than neighboring homes up and down that stretch of the coast. Despite the City’s approval, the Commission objected. Relying on mere speculation about the effects of other development in the area, it required that the Greenes resubmit new renovation plans to conform to never-before-stated requirements. All the time and money the Greenes had previously spent making sure their plans were legal was in vain.
The Commission was supposedly concerned about the impact to public access that would result from the Greene’s development. However, as a couple commissioners pointed out at a hearing, the Greenes property is 550 feet away from the ocean and nearly 300 feet from a public bike path that runs along the beach. The beach in Playa Del Rey is wide and easily accessible by the public. The Greenes remodel would be on their own private property and would not block any path to the ocean. Despite these facts, the Commission demanded the Greenes scrap plans for the remodel and resubmit new ones that would make it impossible for them to it as their retirement home.
Unfortunately, Bella tore her meniscus two years ago, and she anticipates that it will become a greater issue as she gets older. The Greenes’ plans included space for mechanized chair-glides to ensure that the Greenes could use the house for years to come. The Commission-imposed conditions remove hundreds of square feet from the Greenes remodel, with no justification.
The Constitution protects the right to own and use property and the government cannot unreasonably restrict that use. The Coastal Commission ignored that principle; hopefully the court will not.