The California Supreme Court has upheld an order requiring a Laguna Beach couple to remove an unpermitted seawall in front of their beachfront home and pay a $1 million fine for its illegal construction.
The March 25 decision ends a lawsuit more than three months after an appellate court upheld the California Coastal Commission’s fine and cease and desist order.
“In limited circumstances, shoreline armoring or seawalls may be an appropriate adaptation tool to protect communities, infrastructure, and public access facilities,” Noaki Schwartz, California Coastal Commission spokesperson, told The Epoch Times via email.
“They can provide immediate, short-term protection, but they also cause significant adverse impacts to beaches. Seawalls can lead to increased erosion, loss of public beaches, and harm to neighboring properties.”
Resting on Victoria Beach, the 11-foot seawall served as an 80-foot-long protection against the Pacific Ocean.
Jeffrey and Tracy Katz earlier petitioned the Fourth Appellate District Court, arguing that the home remodel that prompted the fine was permitted as “repair and maintenance” rather than a new development.
The California Coastal Commission said in a statement following the Supreme Court ruling: “The commission is committed to ensuring the protection of our coast in a careful and thoughtful way, and the court’s action this week puts an end to years of litigation seeking to undermine those efforts at this site.”
“Protecting California’s beaches and the public’s access to them is at the very heart of the Coastal Act. Our obligation to ensure that the public has good access to healthy beaches is more challenging than ever in light of the threats from sea level rise, and we must take care of this precious resource.”
A three-panel judge appellate court last December unanimously upheld an order by the coastal commission that required the couple take down the seawall and pay the fine.
The Katz’s argument rested on whether construction at their 11 Lagunita home constituted a major remodel or if it was merely a routine “repair and maintenance,” which doesn’t require as much government oversight.
The home’s previous owners had made a deal with the commission in 2014 that would allow them to build a seawall on the condition that the seawall “would not be used to protect any future development at the site. The purpose of this condition was to ensure that any future residence on the site would be located further back from the bluff to avoid the continuing need for a seawall,” a report states.
The permit specified that when the new owners—the Katz family —bought the property, that approval for the sea wall would expire if the home were significantly remodeled.
“These requirements were crafted to protect the home as it existed at the time, but also ensure that any new construction which extended the life of the structure would have to be relocated further from the ocean bluff to avoid the need for a future seawall, and the beach could be restored,” a report said.
The Katz bought the property in 2015, and decided to make changes to the home.
Laguna Beach city officials offered building permits to the family in 2016 for repair and maintenance, rather than a major remodeling. The owners would have needed a development permit in order to do a major remodeling.
A neighbor complained that the Katz’s residence was undergoing extensive construction, and requested a cease-and-desist order from the coastal commission.
The coastal commission deemed the Katz remodeling an “expansive rebuild” that increased the home’s value from $14 million to $25 million.
The commission doesn’t usually allow seawalls because they “damage beaches by preventing sand from reaching the beach, which eventually causes beaches to shrink until they disappear,” a report states.
In 2018, the coastal commission ordered the seawall to be removed and the Katz pay a $1 million fine for not obtaining the proper permits.
The state Supreme Court decided not to review the $1 million penalty and cease and desist order, and the original order was upheld.
The Katz’s lawyer was not immediately available for comment.