May 22, 2018

Should the Coastal Commission be required to follow the law?

By Larry G. Salzman Senior Attorney

Today, as part of its ongoing campaign to defend property rights and hold administrative agencies accountable to the rule of law, PLF has brought a new lawsuit against the California Coastal Commission. The case was filed in the state’s Superior Court for Orange County this morning.

At issue is a Coastal Commission policy that forces oceanfront homeowners to give up the right to protect their property with seawalls as a condition of getting building permits to construct or remodel their homes. The Commission has been imposing the policy for nearly a decade, depriving homeowners up and down the state of important property rights. The lawsuit is filed on behalf of the Coastal Rights Coalition, a non-profit group that represents thousands of coastal homeowners along California’s coast.

Under California law, a policy like this must go through a formal process before it is imposed—including notice to the public, holding hearings, and allowing people affected by the policy to comment. The Commission did none of this—it simply began enforcing its anti-seawall rule on its own whim (and at the behest of some environmentalist constituencies).

The enforcement of this policy is as illegal as it is harmful to coastal property owners. Last year, CRC petitioned California’s Office of Administrative Law (OAL) to review the policy in a lengthy brief compiling a mountain of evidence against the policy. The OAL is a state-government department tasked with determining whether other state agencies’ policies are lawful. In a two-paragraph response to CRC, the OAL declined to consider the matter at all—leaving a lawsuit in state court as the only remedy.

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Coastal Rights Coalition v. California Coastal Commission

When coastal property owners seek permits for new residential development, the California Coastal Commission requires them to agree never to build a seawall to protect the structure from storms and erosion. This policy was imposed by fiat, without public notice, hearings, and opportunity for public comment, as required by the California Administrative Procedure Act.

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