The California Supreme Court has declined to review a Laguna Beach couple’s appeal of the Coastal Commission levy of a $1 million fine for unpermitted construction at their beachfront home.
The state high court’s March 24 decision, first reported by The Orange County Register, ends the lawsuit more than three months after a three-judge appellate panel upheld the Commission’s fine and a cease and desist order. The order will force Jeffrey and Tracy Katz to remove the seawall and other improvements not green-lighted by the state agency.
“We are, of course, disappointed the Supreme Court declined to take the case,” Steven Kaufmann, attorney for the Katzes, wrote in an email. “The Commission certainly has an important responsibility to enforce the Coastal Act, but the manner in which it does so is of great interest to property owners and was of concern to my client and the City of Laguna Beach.”
The Katzes need to submit a plan for the removal of the wall, and once the Commission approves that plan, they can remove it, Noaki Schwartz, a coastal commission spokesperson, wrote in an email. A 60-day clock to complete the work has restarted and the wall be completely removed by the middle of May, Schwartz added.
City staffers will work with Coastal Commission’s staff to identify the appropriate process and responsibilities for the seawall removal, community development director Marc Wiener wrote in an email.
“The Commission is committed to ensuring the protection of our coast in a careful and thoughtful way, and the court’s action [on March 24] puts an end to years of litigation seeking to undermine those efforts at this site,” Schwartz wrote. “Protecting California’s beaches and the public’s access to them is at the very heart of the Coastal Act.”
The Katzes’ legal argument partially turned on whether the work at 11 Lagunita constituted a major remodel, which requires a thorough public review by city and state officials. The Coastal Commission held that construction that tore the building down to a skeletal frame, exceeded routine repair and maintenance that requires far less governmental review.
The trouble started back in 2016 after Laguna Beach issued building permits to 11 Lagunita LLC but didn’t classify it as a major remodel. The Katzes also didn’t apply for a development permit at that time, following city staffers’ determination the remodel was exempt, according to court records.
In January 2017, a neighbor requested the city issue a cease and desist order after observing extensive construction. Coastal commission staffers launched their enforcement action shortly after. The concluded legal dispute between the Katzes and Coastal Commission stretches back to August 2018.
The Supreme Court’s decision not to review the $1 million penalty is a stark warning for property owners who place protecting valuable oceanfront development ahead of public access protected by the Coastal Access.
“Seawalls are an indication of sea level rise impacts due, in part, to rising sea surface temperatures over the past 50 years,” said Mike Beanan, a co-founder of the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition.