San Diego Court slaps down Coastal Commission "power grab"

March 25, 2013 | By PAUL BEARD

Earlier this month, a San Diego Superior Court judge ruled against the California Coastal Commission’s decision to (1) deny coastal property owners the right to reconstruct a private staircase down to the beach and (2) impose a 20-year expiration date for a new seawall.  Specifically, before the 20-year expiration date, the Encinitas property owners would have to “submit to the Commission an application for a coastal development permit amendment to either remove the seawall in its entirety, change or reduce its size or configuration, or extend the  length of time the seawall is authorized.”

Both the staircase and seawall had been destroyed by heavy rains in 2010.

The Court set aside the Commission’s decision on the grounds that it went beyond the agency’s authority under the Coastal Act.  As to the staircase, the Court relied primarily on the fact that the owners simply were trying to repair a pre-existing staircase — not build a “new” one.  And as to the 20-year expiration date, the Court concluded that the Coastal Act requires that a seawall permit be granted without arbitrary time limitations.  The Court agreed with the owners that the Commission’s condition was simply a “power grab designed to obtain further concessions in 20 years, or force the removal of seawalls at a later time.”

The Commission likely will decide in April whether to appeal the court’s decision, and PLF will monitor the case for possible amicus participation in the event it does.  In the meantime, congratulations to the land-use law firm of Axelson & Corn for a great win for coastal property rights.