Coastal Commission’s war on seawalls targets two Encinitas homeowners
ENCINITAS, CA; December 23, 2013: Even after a trial court judge blasted its actions as “arbitrary and unreasonable,” the California Coastal Commission continues to fight two Encinitas coastal homeowners who seek replacement permits for a seawall and a stairway to the beach that were destroyed by a 2010 storm.
Unchastened by a decisive defeat in San Diego County Superior Court, the commission is pushing forward with its crusade against bluff-top homeowner Barbara Lynch and her neighbor Thomas Frick. This week, the agency filed an opening appellate brief with the California Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Because the cost to defend against further Coastal Commission litigation is so high, Lynch and Frick have turned for help to Pacific Legal Foundation, a watchdog organization that defends property rights in courts nationwide. PLF has agreed to represent them against the commission’s appeal, free of charge.
“The Coastal Commission lost, hands-down, at the trial court, but in its fanatical opposition to seawalls and privately owned beach staircases, it refuses to let go,” said PLF Principal Attorney Paul J. Beard II. “It’s outrageous that this bureaucracy won’t give these two homeowners their lives back and call off its assault on their property rights. However, the Coastal Commission won’t be able to impoverish them with the high cost of litigation, because Pacific Legal Foundation is now representing them. As with all our clients, we’re defending Barbara Lynch and Thomas Frick without charging them a penny for legal representation.”
The Coastal Commission picks up where a violent storm left off
The homeowners’ troubles date back to December, 2010, when a severe storm and erosion destroyed their seawall and the lower portion of their long-existing stairway that led from their homes down to the beach.
“The Coastal Commission has picked up where the violent storm of 2010 left off, by mounting a frontal assault on these homeowners,” said Beard.
The City of Encinitas gave Lynch and Frick permission to rebuild the seawall and the stairway. But the Coastal Commission balked, and refused to affirm that approval. The commission denied permission to replace the stairway, and would grant only a temporary permit for a replacement seawall. After 20 years, the property owners would have to apply for a new seawall permit or tear down the structure.
The trial court’s decisive ruling against the commission
This past April, San Diego County Superior Court Judge Earl I. Maas III issued a categorical ruling against the Coastal Commission on both permit issues.
On the staircase issue, the judge found that the Coastal Commission misapplied a city ordinance that restricts new beach stairways. Specifically, the commission ignored an exception that allows rebuilding when staircases have been destroyed by disasters, such as the storm of 2010.
On the commission’s refusal to grant an unrestricted seawall permit, the court pointed out that this flouted the agency’s statutory obligation to allow people to protect their property against erosion. The commission’s “arbitrary and unreasonable conditions” on a seawall permit were a direct violation of the Coastal Act, wrote Judge Maas.
The commission’s latest scheme to erode the legal limits on its power
“As the trial court pointed out, the Coastal Commission has no legal authority to deny Barbara Lynch and Thomas Frick the permits they seek,” said Beard. “In fact, the commission has a legal duty to grant those permits.
“By appealing that decision, the commission is engaged in another power grab, seeking to erode the legal limits on its authority,” Beard continued. “It’s hoping for an appellate ruling that will water down its duty to allow seawalls and other measures to protect homes and property from the elements.”
“The bluff was our property to keep up, that was our responsibility,” said Barbara Lynch. “But suddenly, the Coastal Commission considers it to be theirs. Why they believe they can take control is hard to understand.”
“This is like David versus Goliath,” added Tom Frick. “The Coastal Commission has state attorneys and state money to litigate against us. It’s a bureaucratic agency that started for good but has gotten way too much power. At some point, you’ve got to make a stand and say, this is just unfair. But when you’re up against Goliath, taking a stand is expensive. We were completely exhausted by what we went through so far, and now the commission is pushing things further, into the court of appeal. If Pacific Legal Foundation weren’t standing with us, we wouldn’t be able to go forward.”
“PLF has fought abuses by the Coastal Commission many times — and we’ve won landmark court victories against the agency, including at the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Beard. “We’re privileged to be able to stand up for Barbara and Tom, and their right to protect their homes from erosion and to maintain a staircase on their own private property. The commission wants court permission to behave illegally, and we’re determined that it won’t receive that permission. We’re pushing back against its war on protective seawalls, private beach staircases, and the property rights of people up and down the coast.”
About Pacific Legal Foundation
Donor-supported PLF is a watchdog legal organization that litigates for limited government and property rights in courts nationwide. Up and down the California coast, PLF is the leading litigator against abuses of coastal property rights by governments at all levels.
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