The state Supreme Court will hear arguments in May on an Encinitas seawall case that could have far reaching implications on the state Coastal Commission’s authority regulating the beach barriers.
The state’s high court is scheduled to hear arguments at 9 a.m. in San Francisco on May 4 in Lynch v. California Coastal Commission, nearly seven years after a pair of Encinitas residents contested the state agency’s decision over their request for a seawall permit.
The court’s decision could determine if the state Coastal Commission has the authority to impose time limits on privately erected seawalls along the state’s coastline.
The case has garnered statewide attention and has pitted environmental activists, who believe the state’s regulatory authority over the structures protects beaches from being depleted of sand, against private property owners who say the state has encroached upon their rights by imposing time limits on such permits.
It involves the Coastal Commission’s decision in 2011 to impose a 20-year time limit on a seawall permit requested by a pair of Encinitas residents, Barbara Lynch and Thomas Frick. The families were seeking to replace their aging wooden seawall with a concrete one after the seawall was almost wiped out during the winter storms the previous year.
The Supreme Court in 2014 voted to take the rare step of reviewing the case after the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled earlier that year in favor of the Coastal Commission when it reversed a lower court’s decision in the case.
Superior Court Judge Earl Maas originally ruled in 2013 that the state commission overstepped its authority when it applied the clause requiring Lynch and 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 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.