The California Coastal Commission attacks beach stairwells


Author:  Damien M. Schiff

The County of Santa Barbara has, over the past year or so, been drafting a new land use ordinance for areas within its jurisdiction falling within the coastal zone.  To make the new ordinance effective, the County must obtain the California Coastal Commission's certification.  The Commission, at its November meeting, certified the new ordinance, but with several important conditions, among them an amendment to the County's existing regulation of private beach stairwells.

As things now stand, the County allows private beach stairwells to be constructed to allow homeowners atop beach cliffs to access their own private beach at the cliffs' base.  The ordinance also allows for the repair of existing private beach stairwells.

The Commission likes none of this, and so has proposed "Modification 21," which would change two things to the County's new ordinance:  (1) it would ban all new private stairwells; and (2) it would ban all significant repairs to existing private stairwells.  These bans would be lifted, however, if the homeowner were to agree to make the stairwell public.  The problem with this approach should be clear:  there is absolutely no connection between the condition that the Commission wants to exact from the property owner—public beach access—and any harm stemming from private beach stairwells.

Accordingly, PLF has submitted a letter to the County's Board of Supervisors advising it that adoption of Modification 21 would likely result in the violation of property owners' constitutional rights.  The County will meet next month to vote on the Commission's proposed amendments.