Procedural victory in Beach & Bluff Conservancy v. City of Solana Beach & California Coastal Commission

March 13, 2015 | By JENNIFER THOMPSON

Good news. We obtained a victory this week in our lawsuit challenging the City of Solana Beach’s unlawful restrictions on seawalls and coastal homeowners’ property rights. The City and the Commission filed demurrers to our complaint, asserting that our case should not move forward because of alleged, fundamental procedural flaws. The court rejected all of their arguments and overruled the demurrers. As a result, our case can now move forward for a hearing on the merits of our claims.

The case began back in 2013 when the City, under pressure from the Commission, adopted a coastal land use plan containing unlawful and unconstitutional restrictions on coastal property owners’ ability to protect their property from erosion by building seawalls. The plan also calls for the “phasing out” of private beach stairways in favor of public ones, and contains various other troubling restrictions on Solana Beach residents’ ability to use and enjoy their property.

Our lawsuit argues that these restrictions violate the Coastal Act. For example, the Act mandates seawalls be allowed where they are required to protect property from erosion. Therefore, the City may not impose onerous and arbitrary restrictions on that right. It also argues that some of the policies violate the unconstitutional conditions doctrine under the Fifth Amendment. As established in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission and Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District, conditions attached to land use permits are only constitutional where they mitigate—in nature and extent—for the negative impacts of the property’s use on the public. The Solana Beach land use plan does not follow that rule. For example, one of the policies we challenge states that if you need a permit from the Commission to do anything on your property, you must forever waive your right to get a seawall in the future, should you ever need one. Such a condition violates the Nollan/Koontz rule by imposing a condition regardless of the impacts of an individual’s use of property on the public.

Having defeated the City’s and the Commission’s demurrers, we now await their Answers to our Complaint. We are one important step closer to vindicating the rights of Solana Beach residents.