May 01, 2017

May 4: High Court hearing on commission’s anti-seawall crusade

Where:California Supreme Court, 350 McAllister Street, San Francisco, CA 94102.
What:Oral Argument in Lynch v. California Coastal Commission, Pacific Legal Foundation’s challenge to illegal Coastal Commission restrictions on seawalls and private beach staircases.
Who:John Groen, PLF Executive Vice President and General Counsel, will argue for PLF’s clients, Encinitas residents whose right to protect their coastal homes from storms and erosion is under attack.
When:Thursday, May 4, 2017; 9:00 a.m. (PDT) docket.

ENCINITAS, CA; May 1, 2017:  This Thursday, May 4, the California Supreme Court will hear Pacific Legal Foundation’s challenge to the California Coastal Commission’s attack on some Encinitas residents’ right to protect their oceanfront homes from storms and erosion.  The court will hear Lynch v. California Coastal Commission in its San Francisco chambers, as part of the 9:00 a.m. docket.

PLF represents, free of charge, two Encinitas bluff-top homeowners, Thomas Frick and the neighboring property owner, Jennifer Lynch.  A monster storm in 2010 destroyed their seawall.  When Thomas, along with Jennifer’s late mother Barbara Lynch, sought to rebuild it, the Coastal Commission refused anything other than a temporary permit.  They were told they must re-apply for a new permit after 20 years — an ultimatum that could force the rebuilt seawall to be torn down at that time.

“The Coastal Commission’s treatment of these homeowners is part of an anti-seawall agenda that the agency has been imposing up and down the coast,” said John Groen, PLF’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel, who will argue the case for Lynch and Frick before the California Supreme Court.  “This case offers the state Supreme Court an opportunity to affirm the rule of law against an agenda-driven bureaucracy.  Coastal homeowners have a statutory and constitutional right to protect the integrity of their property, and the commission’s subversion of that right must end.”

Background:  The Coastal Commission picked 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 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.  Instead, the commission attached a condition that the seawall permit would expire in 20 years, forcing the homeowners to apply again or tear out the seawall.

In April, 2013, a trial court struck down the Coastal Commission’s anti-seawall restriction as a violation of the commission’s duty under the Coastal Act to allow people to protect their property from erosion. However, a panel of the California Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed that decision by a 2-1 vote and sided with the commission.  The panel’s majority claimed that landowners’ legal right to protect their property from erosion is subject to any limitation the commission wants to impose.  In contrast, the dissenting judge held that regulations cannot be so excessive that they cancel statutory and constitutional rights, and imposing a 20-year expiration date on a seawall permit was an unnecessary, extreme, and invalid demand that did not constitute genuine mitigation.

The appellate court majority also held that the homeowners waived their right to challenge the time limit on the seawall and the denial of their right to rebuild their stairway, by going ahead and rebuilding.  But as PLF is arguing to the Supreme Court, the homeowners preserved their right to challenge these conditions by clearly objecting to them at every stage, and expeditiously challenging them in court.  As a practical matter, they had no choice but to proceed this way, because of the urgent need to rebuild in order to protect their property — as is their right under state law and the U.S. Constitution.

Case Documents

No files available.

About Pacific Legal Foundation

Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 39 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 12 victories out of 14 cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

For Media: If you are on deadline or need immediate assistance, please call/email our media team at 202-465-8733 or media@pacificlegal.org

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