The SINS OF COMMISSION Story
A Sin of Omission is failure to do what must do.
A Sin of Commission is to know something is wrong… and do it anyway.
July 12, 2005. Early morning. The phone rang. It was my friend Peggy.
Her voice trembled, “We received a letter from the California Coastal Commission. They claim we’ve violated the Coastal Act. There’s an inspection this afternoon…can you bring a video camera?”
Peg and Dan purchased land in Topanga Canyon. It was a dream come true. They were very happy, however, in the early dawn of this morning Peg’s voice trembled. Their dream-come-true had become a nightmare in 3 words - “cease and desist.”
Peggy and I have been friends for years. She’s a good mom, a great cook, and a gifted gardener… an alarmist, she is not. The land is zoned agricultural. It was a perfect fit. As I hung up the phone that morning her last words reverberated in my head. “Can you bring a video camera?” It sounded like a simple enough request. Something made me shiver.
A doorway into a world few people ever see opened a crack. It’s been almost three years ago to the day that everything changed.
Up until then, I didn’t know California even had a Coastal Commission, let alone one that handed out cease and desist orders to people so far from the coast you can’t even smell the sweet salt air.
It didn’t add up. Why would a government entity that claims transparency fear photography - unless there was something to hide?
I met Dan on his land that afternoon, camera in hand. The commission had been informed that filming was to take place, and arrived with a deputy district attorney general, sheriffs, and a court order prohibiting Dan from videotaping.
In the beginning…
SINS OF COMMISSION discovered The California Coastal Act came into being in response to people’s fears that the coast would be over -built and off limits. The notion that a coastal act was necessary sounds reasonable, but upon further investigation, I discovered how the best of intentions can become corrupt when absolute power is added into the equation. Most people consider a ‘coast’ to be the place where the land meets the ocean. The commission arbitrarily decreed that the coast reaches 5 miles inland. I discovered this wide belt of land that stretches from Mexico to Oregon is another world.
For instance, the legal process in the coastal zone bears no resemblance to how we grew up - believing law is supposed to work in America, that people are innocent until proven guilty, and that their day in court is swift and fair. Under the commission’s rule, you are guilty until proven innocent, your day in court can last for years, and your testimony is completely ignored. Sounds like a kangaroo court.*
Homeowners Milos and Trish Douda tell how commissioners overtly ignored them at hearing.
The Commission Couldn’t Care Less
-Milos and Trish Douda
SINS OF COMMISSION also found out that people are subject to capricious rules, onerous fines, no representative government, and live in a constant state of fear of retribution and retaliation carried out in the name of the people, at the hands of the state, and all because they bought land along the coast of California.
Cease and Desist Orders were prohibited in the original California Coastal Act but the commission pressured the legislature, and acquired a new incomparable power for a regulatory commission. Perhaps that kind of power is a good thing if it’s used properly in cases of egregious abuse of the coast, but when these same awesome powers are turned toward homeowners, this disproportionality suggests a covert ulterior motive. One such objective is a systematic bankrupting of individual homeowners so that their land can be picked up on the cheap.
Lawyer Ronald Zumbrun recounts one coastal commission land grab scheme thwarted.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The concept of insulating a commission, charged with protecting vast natural resources from the politics of politics, is a good idea.
Unfortunately, this insulated configuration allows abusive agents within the quasi-judicial regulatory agency to usurp abilities beyond its original scope. They grew to create their own laws, judge the legitimacy of the laws they created, and enforce these laws.
They became the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government in one body. Now the commission, armed with absolute power, can do whatever it wants. If the desire for a particular rule comes up, and it didn’t previously exist, they can create the necessary rule, ratify it themselves, and enforce it ruthlessly, free from any encumbrance of rationality.
For instance, in homeowner Kathleen Kenny’s case, for the permit discrepancy on her 741 sq.ft home, a $2.4 million dollar fine was renewed post mortem, and still stands against her surviving mate.
Tyranny by Small Changes
By changing course in incremental steps, over a vast period of time, no one saw the changes happening in the BIG picture. Since most every action involved individual homeowners, and the commission has case-by-case discretion, the commission’s inconsistencies could not be proven. Roman law had a phrase for this same standard, still in use today: Ipse Dixit. Literally, ‘he himself said it’. In other words, ‘because I said so.”
SINS OF COMMISSION approached many people living in coastal California who’ve had dealings with the commission, to see if they would talk about their experience on camera. People refused, either because they had a case before the commission, or were about to begin one. Nobody wanted to exacerbate their current predicament nor be forced to travel up and down the coast, attending meeting after meeting, only to be postponed or dismissed at the whim of the commission.
When People fear government there is Tyranny… When Government fears People there is Liberty.
Impunitas semper ad deteriora invitat - Impunity always leads to greater crimes.
Extortion by any other name…
In Nollan v. California Coastal Commission U.S. 825 (1987) The United States Supreme Court found the California Coastal Commission guilty of extortion and specifically prohibited the commission from conditioning building permits in exchange for land.
However, the commission found a way to circumvent the court’s ruling. By inventing a new requirement for permit approval called a “dedication of property,”** the commission was able to continue exacting land without fear of legal recourse nor loss of property tax revenue.
SINS OF COMMISSION also found out that previous attempts to restore balance and fairness to the commission by acts of legislature, no matter how slight, were greeted with the loudest howls from those who stand to lose should the lopsided system find balance. In 1988, AB 4122, a bill that would prohibit Coastal Commission members from engaging in political fund-raising activities, was introduced by Tom Hayden. It was defeated.
In yet another glaring example of the coastal commission’s deceptive self-serving m.o., Senator Denise Ducheny, a Democrat, forced Coastal Commission Executive Director Peter Douglas to halt his staff’s subversion of a law that Ducheny authored to protect, encourage, and provide affordable housing.
Senator Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, counters the staff’s audacious interpretations of state law.
The arrogance of the California Coastal Commission staff knows no bounds.
-Senator Denise Ducheny Senate District 40
In 2003 the Legislature passed Coastal Act amendments authored by Ducheny to foster residential development, particularly affordable housing. The changes required local governments and the Coastal Commission to support development by approving the highest density their local zoning and state development laws allowed, unless substantial evidence showed unavoidable harm to coastal resources.
Omitting that exception in its report, the Coastal Commission staff advised that the commissioners oppose the bill unless amended to restore the commission’s “ability to require affordable housing as a component of large development projects” in the coastal zone. That didn’t happen. Yet the staff gleaned in the legislation bogus and self-serving authority to regulate affordable housing.
In September, Ducheny wrote Commission Chairman Pat Kruer to set the record straight. Writing to Douglas in January, Ducheny noted the staff’s continued distortion of her legislation. In February, Douglas finally acknowledged that the commission “has no authority to require local coastal governments or permit applicants to provide or maintain affordable housing.” He ordered the correction of current staff reports claiming otherwise. The staff’s craftiness cost past applicants their projects, and the commission credibility.
Source: SignonSanDiego.com - San Diego Union Tribune
Misrepresenting environmental protection to take your land.
Abuse of Environmental Designation Power
But perhaps the most ominous revelation SINS OF COMMISSION discovered was that the California Coastal Commission misrepresents environmental protection policies for their own aggrandizement, and in the process, creates a hazardous situation for all Californians.
We absolutely must protect ESHA (Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas). But the coastal commission misuses the sacrosanct designation of ESHA as a tool for their ulterior motive - grabbing land, then imposing all the commission’s attendant prohibitions, including fire preventive vegetation modification. Meaning, you can’t cut brush to protect your home from wild fire.
Where do we go from here?