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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On June 21, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States decided Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania, 588 U.S. __ (Case No. 17-647), a closely-watched property rights case that was argued first in October of 2018 and again in January of 2019 after Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the Court.  Knick addressed the requirement, established in Williamson County Regional Planning Comm’n v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City, 473 U.S. 172 (1985), that property owners must seek just compensation under state law in state court before bringing a federal takings claim under 42 U.S.C. section 1983.

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On May 8, 2019, in Cedar Point Nursery v. Shiroma, __ F.3d __ (Case No. 16-16321) (2019), a 2-1 Ninth Circuit panel majority held that a California regulation allowing union organizers access to agricultural employees on employers’ private property, to communicate about union organization under certain limited circumstances, is not a Fifth Amendment taking.

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On April 5, 2019, in a case originally filed March 8, 2019, the Second District Court of Appeal certified for publication York v. City of Los Angeles, __ Cal.App.5th __ (Case No. B278254) (2019), an inverse condemnation case filed when the City of Los Angeles approved the construction of an 8,000 square foot home, 1,300 square foot guest house, driveway, swimming pool, tennis court, storage sheds, retaining walls, and “wine caves” on a 40-acre parcel in the Hollywood hills but denied the landowners’ request for approximately 79,000 cubic yards of grading that accompanied the proposed project.

Under the then-applicable version of the City’s grading ordinance, the maximum grading permitted on the property as a matter of right was 3,300 cubic yards.  But the ordinance provides the zoning administrator discretion to grant a “deviation” to allow additional grading in excess of the maximum allowed “by-right” if the zoning administrator makes certain required findings.


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Takings cases involving transportation agencies such as Caltrans typically involve physical occupations of land under the law of eminent domain.  In a twist on such physical occupation, in a case originally filed on December 12, 2018, and published January 11, 2019, the Third District Court of Appeal held, in Prout v. Department of Transportation, 31 Cal.App.5th 200 (2019), that Caltrans’ physical occupation, without compensation, of a strip of land fronting State Highway 12 in the County of Calaveras to make highway improvements was a valid acceptance of an offer of dedication that did not amount to a taking under the law of inverse condemnation.

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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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In 2005, in Lingle v. Chevron U.S.A. Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overruled the first prong of a regulatory takings test established 25 years earlier, in Agins v. City of Tiburon.  In Agins, the Court held that a regulation effects a taking if it (1) does not “substantially advance legitimate state interests” or (2) “denies an owner economically viable use of his land.”  Writing for a unanimous Court in Lingle, then Justice Sandra Day O’Connor recognized that “the language the Court selected [in Agins] was regrettably imprecise” and “reveals nothing about the magnitude or character of the burden a particular regulation imposes upon private property rights.”

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The City of Rancho Palos Verdes is the site of the ancient Portuguese Bend and Abalone Cove landslides, both of which remain active.  In 1978, in response to movement of the Abalone Cove landslide, the City adopted an “urgency ordinance” establishing the “Landslide Moratorium Area,” which generally prohibits new residential development in the landslide area.  The moratorium area is divided into eight zones of varying stability.  The ordinance and subsequent amendments created various categories of exceptions to and exclusions from the moratorium that have been the subject of extensive litigation.

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On July 23, 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 1689).  Sponsored by Wisconsin Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. and California Congresswoman Maxine Waters, the Act intends to address Kelo v. City of New London, the controversial 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that affirmed the right of a city to use the power of eminent domain to take and transfer property from one private party to another for the “public purpose” of economic development.

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