The California Coastal Commission did not have authority to modify a coastal development permit that the San Mateo County Superior Court had ordered the City of Half Moon Bay to approve, the First District Court of Appeal has ruled. The Coastal Commission, in fact, intervened in the original lawsuit on behalf of the city, so the Commission was bound by the Superior Court's ruling. The commission could not effectively overturn the Superior Court by conducting its own hearing on the permit, the First District ruled. At issue was the 24-acre Beachwood subdivision in Half Moon Bay. In 1990, the city approved an 85-lot vesting tentative map for the project. Development did not commence, however, before the city imposed a sewer connection moratorium that lasted until early 1998. In anticipation of the moratorium ending, the Beachwood developer applied for a coastal development permit (CDP), which was required because the site lies in the coastal zone. During processing of the permit application, controversy arose over the Half Moon Bay local coastal program's definition of "wetlands." In the end, the city adopted a broader interpretation than the developer liked, and the city denied the CDP because of wetlands on the site. The developer sued, asking the Superior Court to order the city to issue the CDP in conformity with the vesting tentative map. The city and the Coastal Commission — which the developer and the city allowed to participate in the lawsuit — fought the request. But the court in February 2001 ruled that the city's definition of wetlands was unreasonable and circumvented the local coastal program. The court ordered the city to issue the CDP in accordance with the subdivision map. The city approved the CDP the following month, but four people — including two members of the Coastal Commission — appealed the decision to the Commission. The developer then filed a new lawsuit, arguing that the Commission did not have jurisdiction. Before the court could hear the new lawsuit, the Commission considered the CDP appeal. The commission approved the permit but ordered a reduction of 58 lots so development would avoid wetlands. The two lawsuits were combined, and in July 2002 the Superior Court ordered the Commission to vacate its decision. The court ruled that the Commission did not have jurisdiction because it can only hear appeals of CDPs approved by a local government; Half Moon Bay was only complying with a court order. The court also ruled that the Commission was bound by the earlier court ruling, and that other administrative remedies had been available. The Commission and the city appealed, but a unanimous three-judge panel of the First District, Division Four, upheld the lower court. The court kept the issue narrow: "Where a local government approves a project in response to a writ of mandate ordering it to do so, and the Commission was a party to the writ proceedings, may the Commission assert jurisdiction to hear an appeal of the approval?" The court said no. The Commission and the city argued that the Commission was reviewing the project, not the Superior Court order. Plus, they argued, the Superior Court order had never been made final. The appellate panel rejected the contentions. "In issuing that first writ of mandate, the trial court did not merely rule that the record did not support a finding of wetlands under the correct interpretation of the LCP [local coastal program]; it ruled that Beachwood must be issued a CDP in conformance with the 1990 vesting tentative map," Justice Maria Rivera wrote for the First District. "As a party to the writ proceedings, the Commission was bound by this ruling, whether or not it was ‘final.'" The Commission and the city, Rivera continued, could have taken two other courses of action. They could have sought immediate relief from the appellate court. Or they could have litigated the remaining issues in the original lawsuit, which had remained unsettled by the court's first order, and then filed an appeal. Instead, the city complied with the court order and issued the CDP, and the Commission asserted jurisdiction. "Having opted for this procedural path, the Commission must live with its consequences: At the time it heard the appeal, the Commission was still bound by the court's order … . [T]he Commission's action in hearing the appeal and imposing new conditions on the CDP directly and impermissibly contravened the trial court's order," Rivera wrote. A court order, he noted, can be modified or overturned only by a subsequent court order. The Case: City of Half Moon Bay v. Superior Court (Yamagiwa), No. A100099, 03 C.D.O.S. 1746, 2003 DJDAR 2431. Filed February 28, 2003. The Lawyers: For the city: Julie Bond, Meyers, Nave, Riback, Silver & Wilson, (510) 351-4300. For the Coastal Commission: Tara Mueller, deputy attorney general, (510) 622-2136. For Beachwood: Edgar Washburn, Stoel Rives, (415) 617-8900.