A lawsuit filed on behalf of property owner Eric Wills and his family by the nonprofit Pacific Legal Foundation contends that the California Coastal Commission is violating the U.S. Constitution and state law by compelling the family into giving up their right to protect their luxury beachfront mobile home from erosion. A statement by the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing the Wills family free of charge, said that this is part of commission’s “crusade against seawalls.”
Filed in Orange County Superior Court, the lawsuit is Capistrano Shores Property, LLC v. California Coastal Commission.
Attorney Larry Salzman of PLC is leading the suit against the state. In an exclusive interview with Spero News, Salzman said that California is effectively using eminent domain to seize private property.
According to PLC’s website, when the Wills sought to replace their aging mobile home at Capistrano Shores Mobile Home Park, the Coastal Commission insisted that they needed a “coastal development permit.” As a condition for receiving a permit, bureaucrats demanded that the Wills family agree to never maintain, repair, or replace the seawall that safeguards their property and the 89 other homes in the 56-year-old park.”
The PLC quoted Eric Wills as saying: “The Coastal Commission is putting my family’s home in danger, and eroding our rights in the process.”
The Wills family eventually did replace their mobile home, the lawsuit is challenging the condition imposed by the Commission. Initially, the Wills family spent heavily in lawyer fees to fight the government. Attorney Salzman took over the case and is litigating free of charge. Salzman declared in a statement, “The Coastal Commission is putting the security and the value of the Wills’ home at risk, in violation of state law and the California and U.S. Constitutions.”
According to PLC, the California Constitution (Art. I, Section 1) guarantees property owners the right to protect their property, while the California Coastal Act gives oceanfront property owners the right to safeguard their property with a seawall. It provides that “seawalls . . . retaining walls, and other such construction . . . shall be permitted when required to . . . protect” property from erosion and storms. (California Public Resources Code section 30235.) “By forcing the Wills family to surrender their right to protect their home as a condition for getting a permit, the commission is abusing its authority under state law and violating federal and state constitutional protections for property owners,” said Salzman.
PLC argues that the lawsuit has broad implications, because the Commission is pursuing a misguided policy of “managed retreat” from the California coastline. “By depriving property owners of the shoreline protection they need for long-term safety and security,” said Salzman, “the commission’s policy will force many people to abandon their homes and businesses to erosion in the coming decades.” Arguing that the law is clear, Salzman said that the Commission may not prohibit landowners from protecting their property with shoreline protection devices that do not harm coastal resources. “If the commission wants to remove property owners from their land instead, it should be required to pay them for their property.”
In the Spero News interview, Salzman agreed that decisions made in California can have wider repercussions. “The question is,” said Salzman, “is whether the government can demand from you a part of your property or that you waive your property rights as a condition of doing something ordinary and productive with your property,” such as adding a mobile home or making an addition to an existing structure.
A building permit, Salzman said, can only be conditioned by a local government if it can show that the conditioning can be shown to offset “some kind of public harm, some kind of public hazard, some kind of public cost as a result of the development.” In this, Salzman said, the Pacific Legal Foundation agrees with precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision of the case before the court in California, said Salzman, could easily migrate to courts elsewhere in the United States. At the very least, it could have an impact on states with significant shorelines, including the states on the Great Lakes.
The Pacific Legal Foundation is a public interest legal organization. Based in California, it offers legal counsel free of charge in cases involving property rights and government over-reach. It has won seven cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.