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Coastal property owners sue city

SOLANA BEACH — Accusing Solana Beach of violating state law and the U.S. Constitution, an organization representing coastal landowners is suing the city, claiming officials enacted policies that will prevent oceanfront property owners from protecting their property from erosion with sea walls and make it significantly harder for them to keep and maintain private beach stairways. 

The lawsuit, filed on April 26 by Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of the Beach & Bluff Conservancy, is in response to the Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan adopted by City Council with a 4-1 vote at the Feb. 27 meeting.

“Our lawsuit says to Solana Beach, ‘Tear down your unlawful anti-sea wall policies, and stop eroding the property rights of coastal landowners,’” Paul J. Beard II, principal attorney with Pacific Legal, said.

According to a press release, coastal landowners who want to build a home or make improvements to an existing residence must agree they will never install a sea wall even if their property is threatened by erosion.

“This new anti-sea wall rule washes away people’s statutory and constitutional right to safeguard their property by protecting it from the destructive force of the tides,” Beard said. “As a land use permit condition, the anti-sea wall dictate is also unconstitutional because it has no relationship to any impact created by any proposed land use project. The permitting process is being misused and perverted to twist people’s arms and extort unjustified concessions.”

The lawsuit also claims costly new demands are imposed on coastal landowners who seek permission to preserve or repair private stairways to the beach.

“The city’s goal is to phase-out private stairways, or convert them to public use — of course, with no intention of paying any compensation,” Beard said. “This is another unlawful erosion of private property rights.

“California law and the United States Constitution protect oceanfront residents against infringements on their property rights, just as much as landowners far inland,” Beard said. “No matter where you live, if you own a home or any kind of property, you should be concerned when government undermines property rights, including when it happens along the coast.”

The provisions challenged in the recent lawsuit were added by the Coastal Commission. Pacific Legal Foundation attorneys have also taken over representation of the BBC (Beach & Bluff Conservancy) in an existing lawsuit against the commission over its role in promoting the unlawful policies.

“The Coastal Commission leaned heavily on the city to adopt the Land Use Plan with these unlawful policies, but that doesn’t excuse the city for buckling to the commission’s pressure,” Beard said.

“The city broke faith with the oceanfront property owners,” Chris Hamilton, spokesman for the BBC, said. “It sacrificed property rights to the persistent pressure of the commission to enact policies that are inconsistent with the Coastal Act and the Constitution.”

A Local Coastal Program, which regulates development in the coastal zone, is required by the California Coastal Act of 1976 to ensure coastal areas are used and developed according to statewide public objectives.

Each LCP contains an LUP, or ground rules for future development and protection of coastal resources. Solana Beach is unique in that the entire city, including the area east of Interstate 5, is considered the coastal zone.

It is one of a handful of cities statewide — and the only one in San Diego County — without an approved LCP.

Solana Beach has been actively working to prepare an LCP since 2000.

Council approved an LUP in February with the caveat that changes would be submitted as an amendment to be adopted later by the California Coastal Commission.

Councilman Tom Campbell said he couldn’t approve the LUP without first knowing the amendments, which are available for public review until May 10.

The lawsuit asks the court to invalidate the policies and restore the rights of coastal landowners in Solana Beach.

“My hope is that we can still engage in productive discussions to amend the LUP so it conforms with recent cases and the Coastal Act,” said David Winkler, an attorney and Solana Beach bluff-top owner who has been involved with crafting the LUP from the start.

“It would be much better to come to a reasonable compromise,” he said. “The Coastal Commission staff, through pattern and practice, has imposed its will on the city and at some point you have to draw the line and say, ‘This is illegal. One’s rights are being trampled on.’ That’s what we’re doing.

“There’s no animosity,” he added. “It’s just saying what the Coastal Commission can and can’t do legally.”