The California Coastal Commission (CCC) has had lots of bark and very little bite for the past 38 years, but as of Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown gave CCC code enforcement a new set of teeth.
In a controversial trailer bill to this year’s state budget, the Coastal Commission was granted the ability to levy fines of up to $12,000 a day against property owners who attempt to block public access to beaches through tools such as fake “no parking” signs, an issue that may hit close to home for Malibu landowners.
The Coastal Commission is a governing body established in 1976 to help plan and regulate use of land and water in the “coastal zone,” the area right along the California coast. Much of Malibu falls within this zone and is thereby under the jurisdiction of the CCC.
“The commission could [now] say, ‘We think there is access, we’re going to order you to allow the public to obtain that access,’ and then the onus would be upon the property owner to bring an action in court to reverse the decision,” said Damien Schiff, a principal attorney for Pacific Legal Foundation, a group known to represent homeowners against the CCC.
The Coastal Commission’s new powers will come into effect with the new state budget, beginning July 1.
Perhaps the most common of these violations here in Malibu is the act of homeowners putting “no parking” signs up outside of their property, in an attempt to keep tourists and out-of-towners away from their homes and beach area. Other examples could be a fence or gate put up to block access where the CCC has decided a public access point should be.
In the past, the Coastal Commission would have to take these disputes to court. With the new bill, fines will start 30 days after a public access request is made and continue every day of a violation until it is resolved or taken to court.
According to Schiff, this could prevent justice in some cases, with costs skyrocketing for defendants.
“Let’s say the commission issues a penalty for $25,000. The cost of bringing an action — hiring your own counsel and bringing an action and successfully arguing that in a trial court — could reach six figures. Even if they thought they were absolutely right, the cost of making that point would just be absolutely prohibitive,” said Schiff.
Others, including Los Angeles Times columnist Robin Abcarian, are less sympathetic and hailed the bill as a way to crack down on NIMBYism.
“Owners of beachside homes in California have gotten so out of control — posting fake ‘no parking’ signs, along with fake ‘no trespassing’ signs and fake ‘private property’ signs — that the California Legislature was forced to take action against them last week,” wrote Abcarian in a column published Monday.
In the story, Abcarian quotes CCC enforcement chief Lisa Haage, who told her, “There is a certain kind of person who does not respond well to us asking them to do the right thing. This is designed for that population.”
However, Abcarian does concede that the fines, which, according to calculations by Damien Schiff could add up to almost $12,000 per day, are steep for the average Malibu resident.
“That may not be a heck of a lot for a billionaire, but Malibu and other desirable coastal strips are home to many middle-class folks who bought beachfront properties at relative bargains decades ago,” said Abcarian.
This move resembles bill AB 976, an attempt to give broad powers to the CCC, which died in the State Senate last year. But it’s a slimmed down version.
“The Commission would have had the ability to penalize an individual for any violation of the coastal act,” said Schiff, but the new legislation is “much more limited in scope in that it only applies to public access violations.” This trailer bill was authored by State Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), whose AB 976 failed last year.