Victory for property rights in California

Today, in a ruling likely to impact property rights up and down the California coast, an Orange County Superior Court ruled in favor of a San Clemente family whose rights to protect their beachfront mobile home with a seawall were under assault by the California Coastal Commission.

When property owner Eric Wills and his family applied for a permit to replace their mobile home in the Capistrano Shores mobile home park with a nearly identical, slightly smaller one, the Commission conditioned the permit on the Wills’ waiving their rights to ever maintain, repair or replace the seawall that safeguards the property (and 89 other homes in the 56-year old park). California state law guarantees coastal property owners the right to protect their property from natural hazards, including with shoreline protective devices such as seawalls. Donor-supported Pacific Legal Foundation took on the Wills’ case pro bono.

Judge Theodore R. Howard wrote that “it appears to be overreaching to have the [property owner] give up any rights to possible repair or maintenance of” the seawall that protects their home. And that the Commission’s “waiver seems unreasonably broad and contrary to” U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

“This is an important victory for property rights” said PLF Attorney Larry Salzman, “because it stops the Coastal Commission from abusing its authority. Property owners are most vulnerable when they need a permit from the government, and the Commission leveraged its power to unlawfully strip the Wills of their property rights.” Similar permit conditions have been imposed on more than a hundred coastal property owners in recent years.

“The U.S. Supreme Court and other courts have repeatedly said that government may not demand property or cash in exchange for a permit except to mitigate an adverse public impact of the property owners proposed development. PLF argued in this case that nothing about the Wills’ simple replacement of their mobile home had a negative impact on the beach or other public resources and, therefore, could not justify a waiver of their property rights.

Judge Howard’s ruling concluded that “it appears unreasonable to require a waiver from this applicant, of this magnitude,” because the “condition does not seem reasonably, closely, substantially tied to the specific project at hand (replacing one mobile home inside the park).”