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Archive for April, 2009

The California Coastal Commission - Unrepentant Sinners

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

The Unrepentant Sins Of The California Coastal Commission
by Ronald A. Zumbrun
Thursday, 12 February 2009

What do the former mayors of Malibu and San Diego, a former member of the California Coastal Commission, and a former captain of the County of Los Angeles Fire Department have in common? In a soon-to-be released documentary film entitled “Sins of Commission”, these former public servants, along with several other aggrieved property owners, describe in painful detail the transformation of the California Coastal Commission as a protector of the environment into a radical bureaucratic monster.

Those who view the Coastal Commission as integral to the battle to protect the coast from “big developers” will be surprised to learn that it typically chooses to pursue fines against individual property owners who lack the resources to fight back.

Consider the plight of Kathleen Kenny, who was fined by the Coastal Commission for building a 742 square-foot cottage on an existing, developed pad in Topanga Canyon, California.

Not coincidentally, the California Attorney General’s Office, which represents the Coastal Commission, imposed the fines and served a lawsuit against Ms. Kenny the same day that a County of Los Angeles building inspector and two sheriff’s deputies showed up at her front door with a search warrant. The building inspector, Grant Lawseth, was miffed when Ms. Kenny published an 8-page newsletter to 3,000 Topanga Canyon residents accusing him of seeking bribes in exchange for Building Department approval.

In an amazing turn of events, a federal jury in 1997 found that Mr. Lawseth had engaged in a continued practice of racketeering and awarded damages to Ms. Kenny under the Federal Racketeering and Corrupt Organization statutes.

Despite Ms. Kenny’s recent death and the astonishing jury verdict, the Coastal Commission’s fine is still on the books against her partner, Arthur Starz, which now exceeds over $2 million.

Sadly, the practice of government extortion of private property owners is not unique to Ms. Kenny. Shortly after the Legislature designated the Coastal Commission as a permanent bureaucratic entity in 1976, the Coastal Commission embarked on an expressed policy of forcing private property owners to relinquish portions of their land to the state in exchange for a building permit––a tactic which the United States Supreme Court in 1987 labeled “an out-and-out plan of extortion” in Nollan v. California Coastal Commission.

Ignoring the high court’s rebuff, the Coastal Commission continues to engage in extortionist tactics. One of the Coastal Commission’s ongoing policy objectives is the creation of hiking trails throughout the Santa Monica Mountains. There is nothing wrong in principle with this policy objective. After all, the state can simply purchase these trails from private property owners, right? Wrong. Instead of paying for the trails, the Coastal Commission has in place the policy of requiring property owners to relinquish a portion of their land for trails in exchange for a building permit––a policy confirmed by Peter Douglas, the Executive Director of the Coastal Commission, in the above-mentioned documentary “Sins of Commission.”

In Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, the Supreme Court held that there must be damage caused by the permit seeker and a nexus or connection to the exaction. Thus, if a home is to be placed on a public path, the permit seeker can be required to dedicate a comparable path to the public. In Dolan v. City of Tigard, the high court clarified the rule: there must be a rough proportionality between the harm to the public and the exaction imposed on the property owner.

The Coastal Commission’s policy willfully ignores a fundamental attribute of private property ownership: the right to exclude others. The Supreme Court has characterized this right as “one of the most essential sticks in the bundle of rights that are commonly characterized as property.” The Coastal Commission deprives property owners of this “essential stick in the bundle of rights” by its extortionist land dedication requirements.

Indeed, the Coastal Commission has even attempted to deprive a property owner of the right to place a “no trespassing” sign on his property, contending that placement of the sign is unpermitted “development.” Thankfully, the California Court of Appeal in LT-WR, L.L.C. v. California Coastal Commission restored sanity and confirmed that Californians still have the right to place “no trespassing” signs on their own property and do not need a permit from the Coastal Commission to do so, notwithstanding the Coastal Commission’s contention that this could potentially interfere with public prescriptive rights. It is disconcerting, to say the least, that the Coastal Commission, backed by tax dollars and the Attorney General’s Office, would take such a position in a court of law in the first place.

Consider also the Coastal Commission’s decision to label chaparral vegetation in the Santa Monica Mountains to be an environmentally sensitive habitat area (ESHA)––a decision without legislative oversight and based solely on the opinion of one so-called “expert” handpicked by the Coastal Commission. This label drastically curtails a property owner’s ability to productively use private property. Even a self-sustaining organic garden would be a prohibited use without a permit. Most of the land in the Santa Monica Mountains contains chaparral. Unfortunately, chaparral also is a primary source of fuel for fires. The ESHA designation precludes fire departments and local governmental entities from adopting their own fire protection measures and prevents private property owners from clearing brush as a buffer in the event of fire. Chaparral has been a major contributor to the recent fires which have plagued the state. Local residents and their governments must now live with a high risk of fires.

And then there is the ongoing plight of Dan Norris and Peggy Gilder, who purchased raw land in Topanga Canyon––not to live on, but to organically garden and hike with their children. The land came with an old, preexisting road, which over time had become obstructed with debris, rocks, and foliage. It never occurred to Norris and Gilder that the Coastal Commission would require a permit to clear a preexisting road to ensure access to private property. After receiving a notice of violation from the Coastal Commission for unpermitted “development” in an ESHA, the Coastal Commission arranged for an inspection of the property. Norris and Gilder wanted to film the inspection to protect their rights, but the Coastal Commission objected to being filmed. Without notice to Norris and Gilder and their legal counsel, the Coastal Commission then sought a civil inspection warrant from a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to allow the inspection to occur without filming and to allow forcible entry onto the property. Sensing the constitutional implication of precluding a private property owner from filming a government inspection on private property, the judge requested briefing on the issue. Rather than run the risk of an adverse ruling, the Coastal Commission withdrew its request for the warrant.

The California Legislature bears much of the responsibility for the Coastal Commission’s flagrant abuses of power. It created an entity that acts as a legislator (as in the ESHA definition), adjudicator (it hears appeals brought by aggrieved property owners), and executive administrator (imposing fines). The English historian Lord Acton famously remarked that “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and the Coastal Commission is a prime example. The Coastal Commission’s treatment of Ms. Kenny and numerous others has nothing to do with environmentalism, and everything to do with selective intimidation and violation of basic civil liberties.

Backed by the power of the state’s v’s Office, what chance do private property owners in California have of fighting back? Very little. The vast majority of private property owners are just like Ms. Kenny, who desire only a residence to live in and do not have the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to pay for attorneys to battle the state. In short, only the people through their legislative representatives can make the changes necessary to restore both environmental protection and freedom of property ownership in California.

In the documentary film, Peter Douglas takes delight in describing himself as a “radical pagan heretic” and characterizes property owners who assert their constitutional rights in court as “jihadists.” It is submitted that no one, radical pagan or otherwise, should be acting as judge, jury and executioner over the people of California.

*Ronald A. Zumbrun is Managing Attorney of The Zumbrun Law Firm, a Sacramento-based public issues firm. Timothy V. Kassouni, Legal Director with the firm, substantially assisted in the preparation of this column and also is lead counsel for Dan Norris and Peggy Gilder. You can learn more about The Zumbrun Law Firm at http://www.zumbrunlaw.com/. “Sins of Commission” is produced by Richard Oshen of Pacific Coast Highway Productions. See http://www.sinsofcommission.com/ for more information.

California Coastal Commission- engineers without a permit

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

California Coastal Commission’s boots were made for walking over California’s coastal families… like the song says:

One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you.

With regulatory commissions like the California Coastal Commission bulldozing what is left of our freedom and constitutional rights at every turn, Is it any wonder that California ranks 47th out of the 50 states in terms of overall freedom?

According to a recently published study, California aggressively interferes in the personal lives of its citizens. Political science professors William Ruger, of Texas State University, and Jason Sorens, of the State University of New York, accounted for factors including regulations, state fiscal policies and the protection of rights.

We develop and justify our ratings and aggregation procedure on explicitly normative criteria, defining individual freedom as the ability to dispose of one’s own life, liberty, and justly acquired property however one sees fit, so long as one does not coercively infringe on another individual’s ability to do the same.

Only residents of Rhode Island, New Jersey and New York were classified as having less freedom than Californians.

The three freest states, in order, were New Hampshire, Colorado and South Dakota.

California ranked 48th in the nation on economic freedom, 46th on regulatory policy freedom, 44th on fiscal policy freedom, and 37th on personal freedom.

Categories most out of line with the rest of the country are public safety, natural resources and environment, and administration.

Now that’s some Sin of Commission.

Are you ready boots?  Start walking!

CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION - SHAME ON YOU

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

California Coastal Commission screws over another local community.

The Pacific Palisades Community Council voted 13-1 with nine abstentions last Thursday ‘to support the efforts of the community to resurrect the community swimming pool in Temescal Gateway Park.

What is most impressive to me is the support [Friends of Temescal Pool] has received.

To me, that is the community speaking about what they want.

-Council member Peter Fisher

Despite what the community wants, the California Coastal Commission voted unanimously at its April 8 meeting to allow the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to keep the Temescal Pool permanently filled in with dirt and covered with sod.

They just don’t understand what the Coastal Act is all about.

- Peter Douglas, Executive Director California Coastal Commission

-from the documentary film Sins of Commission

Once again the California Coastal Commission sends a clear ANTI-FAMILY message, shows its disdain for human beings, and clearly demonstrates the commission’s number one goal is to destroy family and community by destroying infrastructure.

As is so typical of the CCC, when the Commission gave permission in January to fill in the pool, ‘neither the local government nor interested parties had any notice.

(Source: Palasadian Post April 16, 2009)

The California Coastal Commission must really have an axe to grind with the good people of Pacific Palisades, especially defenseless children who need to learn how to swim, and the elderly, who use the pool for exercise - because they issued an emergency permit January 9.

Jane Albright, president of FRIENDS OF TEMESCAL POOL, said the California Coastal Commission gave oral permission to fill in the pool on January 7.

(Source: Palasadian Post April 16, 2009)

How does ruining a kid’s summer swimming lesson save the California Coast? When does filling in a pool rate an emergency permit?  I guess the California Coastal Commission wanted it done before kids got out of school.

Especially in light of how the emergency permit was handled, the Coastal Commission should afford the community a full, fair and meaningful opportunity to brief the commission,’ Albrecht wrote.

(Source: Palasadian Post April 16, 2009)

Even though Friends of the Temescal Pool continues to work on a viable business plan for an aquatics program at the pool, one thing looks very certain to this observer: A lot of kids ain’t going swimming in that pool this summer.

Why?  Because the pool is already filled in… and there is little motivation for the California Coastal Commission to un-fill it.

One only needs to look at the key players involved in filling the pool to understand why it will never be unfilled: The California Coastal Commission and  Joe Edmiston head of the land-grabing , Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, who would rather see unsuspecting folks camp overnight in a category 4 firehazard zone.

Given the speed at which the commission moved to fill the pool in, an emergency permit to unfill it seems most unlikely, especially since California courts tend to side with the CCC.

Outraged? Fed up with the California Coastal Commission’s anti-family agenda?

Help us spread the word.  When you donate to SINS OF COMMISSION through our fiscal sponsor, the International Doucmentary Association, a 501 c3 non profit, you’ll recieve a tax deduction… or stop and shop at the SINS OF COMMMISSION Store.

All purchases go to support the film.

The California Coastal Commission wants your home - part 2

Monday, April 13th, 2009

For over 30 years the California Coastal Commission has overzealously pursued a clear-cut course of action to control private property. The latest example: A big-home ban limiting the size of beach homes, orchestrated by Santa Cruz County,  was upheld by Coastal Commission. 

Pleasure Point residents Barry and Susan Porter sued [Santa Cruz] county two years ago, claiming that [a county] ordinance was unfair, but their lawsuit was put on hold while the ordinance made its way through the approval process.

The Porter argue the ordinance unfairly strips property owners of developable space.

The effort to trim home sizes is not over. County supervisors face a legal challenge to their ordinance, which reduces the amount of land on which a coastal property owner can build.

(Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Every form of tyranny begins by destroying property rights.

The coastal commission's idea of a dream home.

Once the Triple C gets a legal toe-hold and can cut back the size of one home today, they’ve established a precedent, and you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll push for more next year, more the year after, and so on until they  force people out of the coastal zone completely.

Give ‘em an inch, and they’ll take 5 miles inland. 

When agencies of other states see the CCC get away with this, they’ll try it too - and perhaps they’ll try it right where you live…perhaps they’ll even try your house.

Machiavellian schemes like these, often hatched by non-government corporations, foisted upon the public, and enforced by government agencies and commissions with unlimited legal resources, weaken what remains of our liberty.  

Policies like these are usually implemented without public knowledge and more importantly voter input. Driving a single family into bankruptcy goes unseen. 

If the right to life is the source of all rights, the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life.

- Ayn Rand 

Perhaps there needs to be an organization of people? People who live in homes and are tired of coastal  commission’s abusive actions. 

A recent discussion about SINS OF COMMISSION on TALK ABOUT, a blog of the HALF MOON BAY REVIEW got so heated, it  was closed on February 25th. There were well over 300 comments to that thread, making it the second most commented-on thread ever on TALK ABOUT.

Perhaps then, it is possible. People can stop the California Coastal Commission, and other quasijudicial agencies like them whatever state they are in, from destroying one of our essential freedoms along the way- the right to own property and be secure one’s home. 

If one freedom goes, so do all the others  - eventually.  

California Coastal Commission - Dastardly Villains Strike Again

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Dan and Denise Sterling plus their four children have been living in a mobile home since buying their land a decade ago, while attempting to secure a building permit for an approximately 6,000 square-foot home.

From a legal perspective, what the Coastal Commission is demanding is flat-out unconstitutional

-David Breemer, Pacific Legal Foundation

The Commission should abide by the United States Constitution. The Supreme Court’s doctrine on this issue has been well-settled for 20 years, when PLF beat the Coastal Commission in Nollan.

The Coastal Commission seems determined not to give us a fair shake. We spent two years trying to do everything the staff of the Coastal Commission asked, but nothing was enough. What’s really happening here is that we’re being forced to give this land over as a park or open space for the community, but we still pay taxes on it, and are still responsible for the other liabilities of property ownership

-Dan Sterling

The U.S. Supreme Court has clearly said that governments can’t use the building permit process to extort property from the permit applicant.

The Commission is exploiting the Sterlings’ permit application as an opportunity to seize property from the Sterlings - without paying a penny for the vast agricultural easement the Commission wants - and that’s illegal.

-David Breemer, Pacific Legal Foundation



 
 
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