The California Coastal Commission is known as being exceptionally antagonistic toward private property rights, an attitude embodied in the Commission’s late executive director Peter Douglas. Charles Lester, Douglas’s successor, recently spoke in Humboldt County before a large audience of government officials and environmental activists. During the course of his remarks, Lester defended the Commission against charges of prejudice toward property owners, citing a statistic that, since the 1980s, the Commission has granted 20,000 permits and denied only 85. Lester’s “statistic” is, to put it mildly, rather misleading.
To begin with, the statistic does not reflect that many permit applicants withdraw their permits once the Commission staff makes clear that the permit will not be granted. Further, the Commission routinely grants permits with onerous conditions, such that the permit “grant” is, for the property owner, a functional denial. Indeed, PLF’s first great win in the U.S. Supreme Court, Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, dealt with precisely this scenario.
Statistics notwithstanding, the Commission remains a very formidable opponent to productive use of private property in California’s coastal communities.