Property rights are a little bit stronger as a result of a California seawall case in which state officials were demanding that a family give up the right to protect their home from relentless Pacific Ocean erosion.
Highrise dwellers in Manhattan and cabin residents high in the Rocky Mountains may not have first-hand experience, but those who live on ocean-front property know that a seawall to protect a home from the effect of ocean waves often is essential.
Sometimes the seawall is a natural cliff, sometimes it’s a concrete or rock barrier, but without it, the eventual loss of structures near the waves is nearly inevitable.
For ultra-environmentalists who apparently want nothing to interfere with nature, nevertheless, that apparently is all right.
The case developed when a family in San Clemente, California, that owned an old and deteriorating mobile home in Capistrano Shores Mobilehome Park made plans to replace it.
The Pacific Legal Foundation said the family didn’t want to do any expansion, they just wanted to replace the mobile home.
The California Coastal Commission then informed Eric Wills and his family that to get the necessary permit, they would be required to give up their right to maintain, repair or replace that vital protection against the ocean.
But because of a decision by the Orange County Superior Court, the commission now has granted the permit.
“This case demonstrates an important lesson that property owners who test abuses of power by the commission can win,” said Larry Salzman, a principal attorney for PLF.
“Coastal homeowners have a right to protect and preserve their property against storms and tides, and the commission can’t leverage its permitting power to take away those rights simply because it prefers to see less development along the beach.”
Wills told the legal team that worked on his case: “It is a great relief to finally have this long struggle with the Coastal Commission over with. My family and I are extremely happy that the agency has finally ended its attempt to wash away our right to protect our home and our property.”
Although the case went through the courts last year, the permit was recently issued.
The court’s decision had said “it appears to be overrreaching to have the [property owner] give up any rights to possible repair or maintenance of’ the seawall.”
The demand for the waiver “seems unreasonably broad and contrary” to U.S. Supreme Court rulings on property rights, the court said.
The foundation has described the commission’s demand for the property right waiver as “outrageous.”
In fact, it put “the value of the Wills’ home a risk, in violation of California’s Coastal Act and the California and U.S. Constitutions.”
The lawyers noted the park is on about eight acres in San Clemente and was built in 1960. It now has 90 well-maintained mobile homes.
The family began leasing space there in 2001, when it was owned by an absentee landowner and was run by an “ineffective rental company.” Deterioration resulted.
But in 2008 the homeowners got together and acquired title to the property, set up a nonprofit and set about making repairs.
“The effect of the change was dramatic: A new management company was installed, deferred maintenance was done, and many mobile homes were refurbished or replaced – the market price of homes nearly doubled in a few short years.”
“Each resident’s investment is now substantial, with home prices at Capistrano Shores averaging around 2 million dollars,” PLF said.
The home that the Wills acquired had passed 40 years of age and had mold and failing systems when the family started plans for a replacement. They spent $120,000 on the new structure but then found out the commission’s restriction on protecting it from the sea.
Pacific Legal pointed out that the state’s Coastal Act itself provides that “seawalls … retaining walls and other such construction … shall be permitted when required to … protect” property from erosion and storms.
The legal team explained: “The commission’s demand [was] not really about protecting public resources. Rather, the commission [was] leveraging the Wills’ vulnerability – their need to receive a permit to replace their deteriorating mobile home – to advance antidevelopment policies inconsistent with the Coastal Act.
“The commission is committed to a course of action that will see virtually all beach-adjacent development such as Capistrano Shores eliminated or eroded out of existence in the coming century. By depriving homes of the shoreline protection they need for long-term safety and security, the commission hopes that property will be bandoned, clearing the coast of man-made structures — a state of affairs that some on the commission deem favorable.
“It calls this a policy of ‘managed retreat’ (i.e., they are managing development so that people will retreat from the coastline over time as beachfront structures become uninhabitable through erosion and other hazards).”
See the PLF lawyer discuss his team’s victory: