SAN CLEMENTE – A
judge has ruled that the state agency responsible for overseeing land use and
public access to the California coast overreached when it tried to force a
beachfront homeowner to waive his rights to repair and maintain a rock wall
that protects his and other homes from erosion and storms.
A San Clemente family trying to replace an old mobile home with a new one sued
the California Coastal Commission for allegedly violating California’s Coastal Act and
the California and U.S. Constitutions because the commission included a
condition on a necessary permit that would have stopped them from repairing or
replacing a seawall that runs the length of the mobile home park.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Theodore R. Howard determined the waiver
“seems unreasonably broad” and out of step with U.S. Supreme Court precedent.
Larry Salzman, a Pacific Legal Foundation attorney who represented the family
in the case, said the ruling is a “major victory” for property owners in the
state, starting with the Wills.
“It means their property is more secure and the value of their home is likely
to be preserved over time,” Salzman told the Northern California Record.
Eric Wills and his family own a beachfront mobile home in the Capistrano Shores
Mobile Home Park in San Clemente. In 2014, they bought a new, slightly smaller
but mostly identical home to replace the old one that had been on the property
for 40 years. The process of replacing the home, which should have taken about
a week, was dragged out for nearly a year when the commission determined the
Wills needed a coastal development permit.
When the Wills were granted approval to replace their mobile home, permission
came with a caveat: They’d have to waive their rights to repair or maintain a
seawall that protects the mobile home park from erosion and storms.
The commission’s concern is that eventually the seawall will have to be
expanded toward the public beach, which it hopes to prevent because of the
impact it will have on accessibility. The commission has the authority to set
restrictions and conditions on permits to reduce a development project’s impact
on public resources, including public beaches. But Wills’ attorneys argued that
the California constitution guarantees property owners’ right to protect their
property. Additionally, the Coastal Act includes seawalls as a viable way to
protect against erosion and storms.
“The case is basically a conflict between the interests of the private person
versus the public interest sought to be discharged by the coastal commission.
However, it appears to the court that the (property owner) has the better
arguments under the facts here,” Howard wrote in his ruling dated Aug. 22.
The judge found that the commission could take a different course of action,
“rather than compelling what appears to be a preemptive waiver of any rights.”
His suggestion includes requiring residents to acknowledge that future
expansions or alterations must consider private and public interests. But in
this case, the Wills’ application doesn’t involve any alterations because the
new mobile home fits the pre-existing site.
“Therefore, it seems unreasonable to require a waiver from this applicant of
this magnitude,” Howard wrote.
The commission has about 90 days to take any next step to appeal or submit to
the judge’s ruling. Salzman said the Wills’ new mobile home is already in place
on the property after both parties agreed to abide by a court ruling over
whether they have to give up their rights. He said they’re gratified by the
“They just took a big risk and went forward to put their new home on the lot
without really knowing if it would be secure in the long haul,” Salzman said.
The commission has made it a common practice to require California property
owners to submit to the condition at issue in this case, he added.
Legal Foundation, a public interest property rights law firm, took up the
Wills’ case as part of its ongoing effort to monitor the coastal commission,
which they’ve seen “overreaching its authority” on numerous occasions.
He hopes this lawsuit will stop the commission’s inclusion of this waiver.
“It’s probably too late for people who have agreed to this waiver in the past,”
Salzman said. “Our hope is that the commission would take this ruling very
seriously and reconsider the conditions it places on property owners going