The California Coastal Act governs land use planning for California’s entire coastal zone, directing the state Coastal Commission to maximize the public access to and along the coast consistent with the rights of property owners.  The Act protects public access by, among other things, precluding development from interfering with such use and protecting oceanfront land suitable for recreational use.  The Act also requires the Commission to minimize potential conflicts between the public and beachfront property owners and to resolve potential conflicts between the Coastal Act’s policies in a way that, on balance, is most protective of significant coastal resources.
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“Out here, due process is a bullet!” – John Wayne

As a general principle, the federal and state constitutions prohibit governmental entities from depriving persons of property without due process of law.  But as the Second District Court of Appeal reminded us on January 9, 2019, in Venice Coalition to Preserve Unique Community Character v. City of Los Angeles, __ Cal.App.5th __ (2019), not all governmental actions in land use matters sufficiently implicate property interests to require the procedural due process protections of reasonable notice and an opportunity to be heard.


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On October 17, 2018, in Beach and Bluff Conservancy v. City of Solana Beach, __ Cal.App.5th __ (2018) (Case No. D072304), the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled against a coastal property owner’s group in its facial challenge to amendments to the City of Solana Beach’s Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan.  The amendments adopted policies encouraging greater public access and restricting the use of seawalls and other shoreline protection devices.

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The harsh effects on property rights resulting from the California Coastal Act’s broad definition of “development” are on display again following the Second District Court of Appeal’s March 27, 2018 opinion, in Greenfield v. Mandalay Shores Community Association, __ Cal.App.5th __ (2018) (Case No.B281089), where the Court held that “[t]he decision to ban or regulate [short-term rentals] must be made by the City and Coastal Commission, not a homeowner’s association.”

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Martins Beach, near Half Moon Bay in the County of San Mateo, is the subject of protracted litigation on various fronts stemming from tech billionaire Vinod Khosla’s 2009, decision to change the public’s access to and use of Martins Beach by permanently closing and locking a gate to the public across Martins Beach Road, adding signs to the gate, changing the messages on a billboard on nearby Highway 1, and hiring security guards to deter the public from crossing or using the property to access the beach.  From the 1930s or earlier, Khosla’s predecessor encouraged the public to use the road to access Martin’s Beach.  They also erected the billboard, which invited the public to use the beach, and provided a general store, public toilets, and a parking area.  For some of that time they charged a $.25 entry fee.

We wrote about one strand of the litigation last year—Friends of Martin’s Beach v. Martin’s Beach 1 LLC, 246 Cal.App.4th 1312 (2016)—in which the California Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District addressed an unincorporated association’s lawsuit seeking access to the coast at Martins Beach based on claimed rights of access under various theories.  In Friends of Martins Beach, the Court of Appeal held that a plaintiff group had alleged facts sufficient to state a common law dedication claim and thus remanded that claim to the trial court.  Because the Friends of Martin’s Beach case is still pending there, the existence of public access rights to Martins Beach is presently undetermined.


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California’s courts have frequently addressed a party’s due process rights to a fair and impartial decision maker in quasi-judicial proceedings, holding that during such proceedings there must be separation of prosecutorial functions from advisory functions. Those cases do not, however, address the litigation conduct of an administrative agency and its staff when (1) the agency is a party to litigation and, thus, not acting as a decision maker, and (2) staff’s participation cannot affect the fairness and impartiality of the decision maker, which is the court.

On October 28, 2016, in a case of first impression, the Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District ruled that the participation of California Coastal Commission staff members in litigation after they advocated for enforcement orders against Drakes Bay Oyster Company in Commission proceedings does not violate the company’s due process rights. Drakes Bay Oyster Company v. California Coastal Commission, __ Cal.App.5th __ (2016) (Case No. A142820).


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On September 29, 2016, in a case of first impression, the Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District addressed the tensions between the requirements of the Housing Accountability Act, Density Bonus Law, and Mello Law (establishing minimum requirements for affordable housing within the coastal zone) with the California Coastal Act. Kalnel Gardens, LLC v. City of Los Angeles, __ Cal.App.5th __ (2016) (Case No. B264434).

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