Ruling for the Coastal Commission against property owners represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, California's Second Appellate District cited the doctrine of collateral estoppel to find that an easement condition on a coastal development permit, once final, cannot be contested in a second permit application.

In Bowman v. California Coastal Commission, the court wrote that property owner Walton Emmick obtained construction permits and did some work to fix up a dilapidated house on coastal property, but died before San Luis Obispo County granted his application for a coastal development permit (CDP). After his death, the county granted the CDP to his successors, the trustees of a family trust. As a condition for the permit, the county imposed what the appellate court termed a "quasi-judicial determination that the lateral easement condition was valid for the proposed development because development would lead to an increased use of the property." The trustees let the decision become final without appealing it directly.

The court said the trustees later applied for a second CDP, in part to replace the property's barn, but also for much of the work already authorized under the first CDP -- and, additionally, asking the county to drop the easement condition. The county did approve the second CDP application, and did agree to remove the easement, but "the Sierra Club, the Surfrider Foundation and two coastal commissioners appealed" to the Coastal Commission, which found the easement condition from the first permit to be binding. Both the trial court and the Second District sided with the Coastal Commission.

To a claim by the trustees that they could "walk away" from the initial CDP and seek a new one, the court retorted that they "cannot walk away from collateral estoppel." It held that basic principles on the finality of judgments prevented reopening a settled determination with a new permit application.

The court found appellants showed "nothing that would compel the Commission to modify the access easement condition." Contrary to appellants' claim, it said the Coastal Commission did not try to expand the easement beyond what the original CDP required.

The court found the appellants' contention that they never accepted the easement condition did not prevent it from taking effect. It found that since the construction work was completed under the initial CDP, appellants accepted the benefits of the permit, hence were bound by its condition. The court said this was so even though the work had been completed under the decedent's local construction permits while his application for the first CDP was still pending. The court said the work done then was only legalized by later issuance of the CDP that carried the condition.

In a seeming inconsistency, the opinion's initial procedural history says Emmick obeyed an order to stop construction but the concluding paragraphs say he "completed the improvements".

In a December 2013 blog entry, an attorney for the trustees, Paul Beard II of the Pacific Legal Foundation, gave a somewhat different account. He wrote that the work Emmick did on the property was under local construction permits for repair work that is "categorically exempt" from CDP requirements, and that Emmick completed it while his CDP application for larger-scale work was still pending. Beard wrote that "no further work on the property has been done since the repairs were completed." He contended that "the family did not sign or in any way exercise" the first CDP. His account of the second CDP application says the Planning Department first "eliminated one-half of the public-access easement" and then, per the family's appeal, the Supervisors agreed to drop the easement entirely -- after which the environmentalists' appeal to the Coastal Commission followed. See A recent posting by the organization (via says the decision is 'based on an utterly confused understanding of the facts, as alleged by the Commission.'

The case is at