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City of Malibu et al v. the California Coastal

May 10, 2012


(Los Angeles County Super. Ct. Nos. BS 121650, BS 121820) APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles. John A. Torribio, Judge. Affirmed.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Grimes, J.



In this case, we decide the California Coastal Commission acted in excess of its jurisdiction when it approved amendments to a city's certified local coastal program at the request of state agencies, over the objections of the city, where the amendments were not requested to undertake a public works project or energy facility development, but instead changed the city's land use policies and development standards as they would apply to future plans for development within the city. Having found the Coastal Commission exceeded its authority by amending the city's certified local coastal program for such purposes, we need not decide whether the trial court erred in finding the Coastal Commission was required to comply with the 30-day public review period applicable to environmental impact reports under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), rather than with the seven-day period provided in the Coastal Commission's regulations.


The city in this case is Malibu. The state agencies proposing changes to the land use policies and development standards in Malibu are the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA), a joint powers agency of which the Conservancy is a constituent member (collectively, the Conservancy). The Conservancy owns four noncontiguous park properties within the city. Malibu asked the Coastal Commission to certify changes to its certified local coastal program to accommodate most, but not all of the proposals of the Conservancy. Dissatisfied with Malibu's amendment, the Conservancy asked the Coastal Commission to certify different amendments, over the objections of Malibu and the Ramirez Canyon Preservation Fund, a nonprofit mutual benefit corporation whose members are residents of Ramirez Canyon, where one of the Conservancy's park properties is located. The Coastal Commission rejected Malibu's amendments and approved the Conservancy's proposed changes under a provision of the Coastal Act (Pub. Res. Code, § 30515) known as the "override" provision.*fn1 The override provision allows the Coastal Commission to override a local government's refusal to amend its local coastal program, but only under specific, narrow conditions.

1. The Legal Background: Goals, Policies and Local Coastal Programs

The California Coastal Act was passed in 1976. In it, the Legislature announced five "basic goals of the state for the coastal zone." (§ 30001.5.) One of these is to "[m]aximize public access to and along the coast and maximize public recreational opportunities in the coastal zone consistent with sound resources conservation principles and constitutionally protected rights of private property owners." (Id., subd. (c).) The Legislature declared both local and state involvement necessary, finding it was "necessary to rely heavily on local government and local land use planning procedures and enforcement" (§ 30004, subd. (a)), and that it was "necessary to provide for continued state coastal planning and management through a state coastal commission." (Id., subd. (b).) Cities and counties remained free "to adopt and enforce additional regulations, not in conflict with [the Coastal Act], imposing further conditions, restrictions, or limitations with respect to any land or water use or other activity which might adversely affect the resources of the coastal zone." (§ 30005, subd. (a).)

The Coastal Act requires every local government in the coastal zone to prepare a local coastal program containing "a specific public access component to assure that maximum public access to the coast and public recreation areas is provided." (§ 30500, subd. (a).) "The precise content of each local coastal program shall be determined by the local government . . . in full consultation with the commission and with full public participation." (§ 30500, subd. (c).) Chapter three of the Coastal Act (§§ 30200-30265.5) describes the policies that "shall constitute the standards by which the adequacy of local coastal programs . . . and the permissibility of proposed developments subject to [the Coastal Act] are determined." (§ 30200, subd. (a).) These include the policy that "maximum access . . . and recreational opportunities shall be provided for all the people consistent with public safety needs and the need to protect public rights, rights of private property owners, and natural resource areas from overuse." (§ 30210.)

A land use plan is one part of a local coastal program (sometimes referred to herein as LCP). A land use plan is defined in the Coastal Act to mean the local government's general plan, describing the kinds, location, and intensity of permissible land uses, resource protection and development policies and, where necessary, a list of implementing actions. (§ 30108.5.) "Implementing actions" are ordinances, regulations or programs that implement a certified LCP. (§ 30108.4.) An LCP includes a land use plan, as well as zoning ordinances, zoning district maps, and other implementing actions. (§ 30108.6.)

The Coastal Commission "shall certify a land use plan, or any amendments thereto, if it finds that a land use plan meets the requirements of, and is in conformity with, the policies" delineated in chapter three. (§ 30512, subd. (c).) The Coastal Commission's review of a local government's land use plan is expressly limited to its determination that the plan "does, or does not, conform with" the requirements of chapter three. (§ 30512.2, subd. (a).) The Coastal Commission "is not authorized by any provision of [the Coastal Act] to diminish or abridge the authority of a local government to adopt and establish, by ordinance, the precise content of its land use plan." (Ibid.) Further, the Coastal Commission is to require conformance with chapter three policies "only to the extent necessary to achieve the basic state goals specified in Section 30001.5." (Id., subd. (b).)

2. The Legal Background: Amendments to a Certified Local Coastal Program

Malibu (or the city) has had a certified local coastal program since 2002. Malibu did not prepare and submit its own program, and in 2000, the Legislature enacted a law requiring the Coastal Commission to submit an initial draft of the land use portion of the local coastal program to the city (§ 30166.5, subd. (a)), and to adopt a local coastal program for the area (after public hearing and consultation with the city). (§ 30166.5, subd. (b).) The Coastal Commission did so, and Malibu's local coastal program was "deemed certified" and "constitute[s] the certified local coastal program for the area" for "all purposes of [the Coastal Act]." (Ibid.)

A local government may amend its certified local coastal program "and all local implementing ordinances, regulations, and other actions," but no such amendment may take effect "until it has been certified by the commission." (§ 30514, subd. (a).) An " 'amendment of a certified local coastal program' includes, but is not limited to, any action by a local government that authorizes the use of a parcel of land other than a use that is designated in the certified local coastal program as a permitted use of the parcel." (§ 30514, subd. (e).)

Other than the local government itself, an amendment to a certified local coastal program may be proposed only by "[a]ny person authorized to undertake a public works project or proposing an energy facility development . . . ." (§ 30515.) " 'Public works' means the following: [¶] . . . [¶] (c) All publicly financed recreational facilities, all projects of the State Coastal Conservancy, and any development by a special district." (§ 30114.) An amendment may be proposed only "if the purpose of the proposed amendment is to meet public needs of an area greater than that included within such certified local coastal program ...

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