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Lynch v. California Coastal Commission

Supreme Court of California

July 6, 2017

BARBARA LYNCH et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents,
v.
CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION, Defendant and Appellant.

         Superior Court, San Diego County, No. 37-2011-00058666- CU-WM-NC Ct. App. 4/1 D064120 Earl H. Maas III Judge.

          Kamala D. Harris and Xavier Becerra, Attorneys General, Mark J. Breckler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, John A. Saurenman, Assistant Attorney General, Jamee Jordan Patterson and Hayley Peterson, Deputy Attorneys General, for Defendant and Appellant.

          Janis L. Herbstman for California State Association of Counties, League of California Cities and International Municipal Lawyers Association as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Appellant.

          Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, Fran M. Layton and Catherine Malina for American Planning Association and American Planning Association California Chapter as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Appellant.

          Ralph Faust; Environmental Law Clinic Mills Legal Clinic at Stanford Law School, Deborah A. Sivas, Alicia E. Thesing and Matthew J. Sanders for Surfrider Foundation as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Appellant.

          Axelson & Corn, Jonathan C. Corn; Pacific Legal Foundation, James S. Burling, John M. Groen, Paul J. Beard II and Jennifer F. Thompson for Plaintiffs and Respondents.

          Briscoe Ivester & Bazel and Peter Prows for Beach and Bluff Conservancy, Protect the Beach.org, Seacoast Preservation Association and Coastal Property Owners Association of Santa Cruz County as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiffs and Respondents.

          Alston & Bird and Paul J. Beard II for California Association of Realtors and National Association of Realtors as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiffs and Respondents.

          Rutan & Tucker and David P. Lanferman for California Building Industry Association, California Cattlemen's Association and California Farm Bureau Federation as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiffs and Respondents.

          Corrigan, J.

         After winter storms damaged the seawall protecting their blufftop properties, homeowners sought a permit from the California Coastal Commission (Commission) to build a new seawall and repair their beach access stairway. The Commission granted the permit subject to several mitigation conditions. The owners filed an administrative mandate petition objecting to two conditions but then proceeded with construction. We hold that the owners forfeited their challenge because they accepted the benefits the permit conferred.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Barbara Lynch and Thomas Frick own adjacent oceanfront properties in Encinitas. Their homes sit on a coastal bluff that cascades steeply down to the beach and Pacific Ocean. The Encinitas shoreline is especially susceptible to landslides. Since 1986, the properties have been protected by a shared seawall at the base of the bluff and a midbluff erosion control structure. The original seawall contained 20-foot wooden poles embedded in the sandy beach and cabled to the bluff. In the midbluff structure, railroad ties and supporting wooden poles were tied into the bluff with steel cables. A shared stairway provided the only access from the blufftop to the beach below. In 1989, the Commission retroactively approved a coastal development permit for the seawall, midbluff structure, and stairway. Plaintiffs later added concrete footings at the base of the poles.

         When the wooden poles showed significant decay, plaintiffs applied to the City of Encinitas (City) for authorization to replace the wooden seawall and midbluff structure with an integrated concrete wall. They also sought to rebuild the lower portion of the stairway, which would be attached to the new wall. The City approved the project in 2009, finding it consistent with the general plan and municipal code. Final approval required a coastal development permit from the Commission. While plaintiffs' application for this permit was pending, unusually heavy winter storms caused the bluff below Lynch's home to collapse, destroying part of the seawall, most of the midbluff structure, and the lower portion of the stairway.

         Plaintiffs sought a new permit to demolish the old structure, construct a new tied-back seawall across both properties, and rebuild the lower stairway. Commission staff recommended approving the proposed seawall, even though the existing support under Frick's property was adequate, because the new wall would provide greater stability and visual appeal. The proposed seawall would be located eight feet inland from its current location, providing additional beach area for recreation. But staff recommended disapproving the stairway, finding it inconsistent with local coastal plan requirements discouraging private access stairways on the bluff.

         Ultimately, the Commission approved a coastal development permit[1] allowing seawall demolition and reconstruction, with the addition of midbluff geogrid protection below Lynch's home. The permit was subject to several conditions, three of which are at issue here. Special condition No. 1(a) prohibits reconstruction of the lower stairway. Special condition No. 2 provides that the seawall permit will expire in 20 years and prohibits future blufftop redevelopment from relying on the seawall as a source of geologic stability or protection. Special condition No. 3 requires that, before ...


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