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California Coastal Commission Loses Its Land Grab In Orange County; Racks Up Another Due Process Violation

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The California Court of Appeal in Southern California recently prevented the California Coastal Commission from once again imposing draconian permit conditions in violation of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which provides that private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation. The case is Bay Island Club v. California Coastal Commission.

In 1903 the Bay Island Club purchased Bay Island in Newport Beach, California. The Club is comprised of 24 owners of homes. In 1927 the Club was granted permission to build a private bridge connecting the island to Balboa peninsula. The bridge was built in 1958 and has been privately owned and maintained ever since.

In 2006 the Club applied to the Coastal Commission for a permit to replace the bridge with a new 10-foot wide and 130-foot long bridge which would also comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and conform to seismic standards. The Coastal Commission would only grant the permit if the Club allowed public access onto the bridge, even though the bridge had been privately owned for decades. One of the approval conditions specified that the bridge “be open to the general public for use 24-hours per day,” so the public could use the bridge “for access, views, fishing, etc.” This would prohibit any gate blocking access.

Both the City of Newport Beach and the Club fought the permit conditions, citing among other things the private ownership of the bridge and the potential for liability if members of the public were injured while using the bridge. The Coastal Commission ignored these arguments and obtained a trial court judgment in its favor.

Fortunately, the Court of Appeal confirmed the overarching protection of the United States Constitution and held that the permit conditions were illegal:

“But [the Coastal Act] limits [the Coastal Commission’s] authority to
provide ‘maximum access,’ directing that it be done so only when ‘consistent
with… the need to protect… rights of private property owners,’ something
imposition of the condition did not do.”

Kudos to the Court of Appeal for upholding the rights of the property owner in this case.

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