By Eric Heinz
On Wednesday, Aug. 24, Judge Theodore Howard ruled in favor of Capistrano Shores homeowner Eric Wills, who sued the California Coastal Commission over an agreement that if he brought in a new mobile home, he would have to waive his rights to repair, replace or do just about anything to a seawall that protects his home.
“This is an important victory that is likely to impact property rights up and down the California coast,” Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) Attorney Larry Salzman, who represented Wills, stated in a press release. “Simply put, the ruling stops the Coastal Commission from abusing its authority. Property owners are most vulnerable when they need a permit from the government, and the Commission leveraged its power to unlawfully strip the Wills of their property rights. Similar permit conditions have been imposed on more than 100 coastal property owners in recent years.”
In his ruling, Howard said the condition to not allow for repairs to the seawall was “overreaching” with the intent of the California Coastal Act.
Prior to Judgment
The civil case regarding whether Capistrano Shores resident Eric Wills can replace his mobile home and maintain the rights to protect it went to court Aug. 18.
The lawsuit asked the court to allow for a development permit without the condition to waive the property owner’s right to repair the seawall or any other kind of protection listed in the Public Resources Code and enforced by the California Coastal Commission (CCC).
Attorneys with PLF filed a motion for summary judgement prior to a court hearing in Orange County Superior Court.
Howard said he had all but made his decision on the case, but he allowed PLF attorney Larry Salzman and U.S. Department of Justice attorney Hailey Peterson, representing the CCC, to make final arguments.
As part of an agreement between Wills and the CCC, he would be able to replace the existing house as long as he accepted six conditions, one of which was to forfeit any right to repairing or adding to the seawall that protects his home from the ocean, as the CCC defined replacing the home as new development.
Wills accepted the conditions except for waiving his rights to protect the wall. He said he wanted to bring in the new home because the original structure, built in 1977, according to a letter, had basically been left to rot.
Peterson said the CCC is concerned that if Wills can continue to protect his property, then other development would be allowed to refurbish and further develop on their properties.
Howard said he did not believe the terms of the Coastal Act applied to the argument Peterson was making.
Prior to the hearing, PLF sent out a press release with links to videos they made for their case.
“I think most people would agree that rolling out a mobile home and rolling in a new mobile home should be a pretty simple process,” Wills said during the video, “but it’s just not the case.”
“The Coastal Act gives coastal property owners a right to protect their property from storms and erosions with seawalls or retaining walls or other shoreline-protective devices,” Salzman said in the video. “The (California Coastal) Commission can’t use someone’s simple need for a permit to advance their anti-development agenda. That’s unfair and it’s beyond the powers granted to the Commission by the Coastal Act.”
Located between the railroad tracks and the ocean along the Pacific Coast Highway, the revetment wall was constructed more than 50 years ago, according to property owners.
Peterson argued this would bind the Costal Commission to allowing more improvements and development to change more than what the Coastal Act has intended.
“Some of the mobile home owners submitted reports from GeoSoils, and they were assured for the 30 to 40 year expected life no improvements would be needed to the revetment,” Peterson said during the hearing. “You can’t come back in 10 years and say, ‘We didn’t need changes to the seawall, but now we do.’ It puts the park on notice of the fact that this is new development.”
A quick search on Zillow shows a few properties within the subdivision are valued at about $2 million.