Court Upholds Off-Site Mitigation Deal for Impact of New Houses
The California Coastal Commission's decision to allow Malibu property owners who are building new houses to exchange existing public view corridors on their property for dedication of an off-site public access to the beach has been upheld by the Second District Court of Appeal.
The court rejected a variety of arguments about the Coastal Commission's statutory ability to permit the deal, the panel's findings and its compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act.
"We find," Justice Robert Mallano wrote for the court, "nothing in the Coastal Act or in any other statute, regulation or legal opinion that would circumscribe the Commission's exercise of discretion in this case and forbid it to conclude that the public will receive a greater public benefit from the mitigation parcel, with its uninterrupted 80-foot view and public beach access, than from retaining separate view corridors adjacent to the residences that real parties have been authorized to build."
The controversy involved the rich and famous who tend to congregate in Malibu. In 1999, cartoon producer Haim Saban, developer Eli Broad and Nancy Daly Riordan, the wife of former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, filed applications with the Coastal Commission. They sought permits to demolish a total of six existing houses in the Carbon Beach area of Malibu, and to build three new houses ranging from Broad's 4,690-square-foot structure to Daly's 14,210-square-foot monster (see CP&DR Environment Watch, August 2002).
While approving all three projects, the commission required a "lateral" public easement along the beach and "public view corridors" across each property from Pacific Coast Highway to the ocean. The property owners then sought to amend their permits. They offered to donate a vacant, 80-foot-wide parcel roughly half a mile down the road to the California Coastal Conservancy to provide access to the beach. In exchange, the Commission would drop the public view corridor condition.
Noting that the nearest public access to the sandy beach was more than a mile from the proposed access site, the commission voted in 2000 to accept the deal and modify the permits.
The La Costa Beach Homeowners' Association — whose members include actor Ryan O'Neal, who lives near the proposed access site — filed a lawsuit. The homeowners' association argued that the commission did not have authority to trade on-site view corridors for off-site mitigation. The opponents also contended the commission did not make adequate findings about public safety and that it failed to conduct adequate environmental analysis.
Last year, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David Yaffe ruled for La Costa. The Coastal Commission then appealed, and a unanimous three-judge panel of the Second District, Division One, reversed the lower court.
The opponents said that nothing in the Coastal Act (Public Resources Code § 30000 et seq.) allowed the commission to mitigate the impacts of a project off-site. But the court disagreed, citing the Coastal Act's goal of maximizing public access and recreational opportunities. Nothing in the statute "‘requires the commission to condition development' at any specific site," the court held.
The court upheld the commission's findings and said that the site is no more hazardous than any other on the congested Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. In fact, there is street parking available at the mitigation site, as well as a bus stop and a nearby traffic signal, the court said.
The court also found no CEQA violation. "[N]othing in the record demonstrates that the commission failed to provide adequate public notice of hearings or evaluate the impact of the use of the beach …," the court ruled.
La Costa Beach Homeowners' Association v. California Coastal Commission, No. B152304, 02 C.D.O.S. 7977, 2002 DJDAR 9996. Filed August 29, 2002.
For La Costa: Patricia Glaser, Christensen, Miller, Fink, Jacobs, Glaser Weil & Shapiro, (310) 553-3000.
For the commission: John Saurenman, Attorney General's Office, (213) 897-2702.