Supreme Court will hear Encinitas seawall case

Supreme Court will hear Encinitas seawall case
The California Supreme Court will review an Encinitas case that will determine whether the state Coastal Commission has the authority to impose time limits on privately erected seawalls along the state's coastline. File photo

ENCINITAS —The California Supreme Court has agreed to review a case that will determine whether the state Coastal Commission has the authority to impose time limits on privately erected seawalls along the state’s coastline.

Six of the seven State Supreme Court justices—Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and associate justices Marvin Baxter, Kathryn Werdegar, Ming W. Chin, Carol Corrigan and Goodwin Liu – voted to review the Pacific Legal Foundation’s request to review the state appeals court’s decision that sided with the Coastal Commission on the issue.

Associate Justice Joyce Kennard was the lone justice to not vote for review.

The fact that the state’s high court agreed to review the case emphasizes its significance:  In 2013, the high court granted 61 of the 4,182 review petitions received and rejected 4,032 requests.

The Pacific Legal Foundation filed its petition to review the case Oct. 20.

Prior to the review, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals — by way of a 2-1 reversal of a lower court ruling — has sided with the Coastal Commission in its argument that it has broad discretionary authority over the regulating the structures.

Superior Court Judge Earl Maas originally ruled that the state commission overstepped its authority when it applied a clause requiring Barbara Lynch and Thomas Frick to reapply for a permit for the seawall for the families’ homes on Neptune Avenue after 20 years.

The appeals court decision also reversed Maas’ reversal of the Coastal Commission’s decision to deny the families a permit to reconstruct a private staircase from their properties to the beach below.

The homeowners, however, have argued that the commission’s imposition of the clause overstepped its boundaries and amounts to an illegal state takeaway of private property rights, which was the same argument made by dissenting appellate judge Gilbert Nares.

“The panel’s majority noted that landowners’ legal right to protect their property from erosion is subject to any limitation the commission wants to impose,” attorneys for the families said. “However, the dissenting judge held that regulations can not be so excessive that they cancel statutory and constitutional rights, and imposing a 20-year expiration date on a seawall permit was an unnecessary, extreme and invalid demand that did not constitute genuine mitigation.”

The families were applying for a permit to build a 100-foot-tall, state-of-the-art concrete seawall to replace their aging wooden one and rebuild the private staircase from their homes to the beach below, after storms in 2010 largely wiped out both structures.

The city of Encinitas approved their applications, but the Coastal Commission stepped in and denied the permit for the staircase and would only allow the families to rebuild the wall with the 20-year stipulation, to which the families agreed.

The Coastal Commission has argued that by agreeing to the conditions, the families waived their rights to sue. The families contend they signed the documents under protest and duress, as not signing them would delay the construction of the seawall and put their homes in peril.

Because the appeals court’s opinion is published, it could have far-reaching implications on property owners with private seawalls across the state, because it affirms the commission’s authority and discretion over their approval and conditions of approval.

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