Issues and Cases

Coastal panel pulls the ladder out from under bluff-top owners

Lynch v. California Coastal Commission


ContactJohn M. Groen
 
Status: On July 6, 2017, the California Supreme Court ruled that the homeowners forfeited their right to challenge the permit conditions because they built their seawall during the litigation rather than waiting until all litigation concluded.
 
Summary:
PLF’s clients are bluff-top homeowners in Encinitas.  Their homes — and the safety of people on the beach below — are endangered because severe storms and erosion caused disastrous bluff collapses in 2010, destroying their seawall and the lower portion of their long-existing stairway to the beach.

The city gave them permission to rebuild the seawall and the stairway — in the same location and dimensions as before — but the California Coastal Commission refused to affirm that approval.  The Commission denied, outright, permission to replace the stairway, invoking a municipal code provision banning “new” stairways and requiring the phase-out of existing privately owned stairways.  As for the new seawall, the Commission said it could be built — but the permit would last only two decades, at which time the owners would have to apply for a new permit or tear out the structure.

A state superior court held that the Coastal Commission violated the Coastal Act by both of these rulings.  The Commission appealed and secured a reversal from the California Court of Appeals.  The California Supreme Court then granted review and oral argument is scheduled for May 4, 2017.  PLF is arguing that the trial court was correct that the commission lacked authority to veto the reconstruction of a private stairway that was destroyed by a storm, and to place a 20 year expiration date on a new seawall permit.  The Commission cannot stop property owners from protecting their homes.

 

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