ENCINITAS, CA; July 6, 2017: The California Supreme Court today held that local homeowners could not sue over the Coastal Commission’s onerous restrictions on a new seawall to protect their property, because they had gone ahead and built the seawall to replace the earlier one that was destroyed by a devastating 2010 storm. The commission proposed to issue only a 20-year permit, which the homeowners argued violated the agency’s statutory duty to allow them to protect their property.
Homeowners Thomas Frick and the heirs of Barbara Lynch were represented, free of charge, by attorneys with Pacific Legal Foundation.
PLF’s John Groen issued this statement in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling today:
“This decision makes it harder for property owners to fight when the Coastal Commission imposes unlawful conditions on permits to use or build on one’s property,” said John Groen, PLF’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel. “It is particularly bad for small property owners. The court has shrunk their right to move forward with projects under protest while litigation proceeds. Instead, they will be forced to put their lives and projects on hold for years while a court battle over an unlawful condition goes on. The result is predictable: Many property owners will be forced to accept unlawful, even unconstitutional, restrictions on their property simply because they can’t afford to fight.”
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 them 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 for a renewal at that time or tear out the seawall.
Although they rebuilt the seawall, PLF argued that the homeowners preserved their right to challenge the commission’s 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.
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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.