Grupe v. California Coastal Com.

Decision Date27 March 1985
Citation166 Cal.App.3d 148,212 Cal.Rptr. 578
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesGreenlaw GRUPE, Jr., et al., Petitioners, Plaintiffs, and Respondents, v. CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION, and the State of California, Respondents/Defendants and Appellants. A019818.

Dennis J. Kehoe, Adams, Levin, Kehoe, Bosso, Sachs & Bates, Santa Clara, for petitioners, plaintiffs and respondents.

John K. Van de Kamp, Atty. Gen., Andrea Sheridan Ordin, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., N. Gregory Taylor, Asst. Atty. Gen., Linus Masouredis, Deputy Atty. Gen., San Francisco, for respondents/defendants and appellants.

KLINE, Presiding Justice.


The California Coastal Commission and the State of California appeal from a judgment for damages and a judgment granting a writ of mandamus ordering the Coastal Commission to remove from a new development permit a condition requiring respondent to offer to dedicate a public access easement along the beach fronting his property. We examine the disputed condition and conclude that it was properly imposed and does not offend applicable constitutional principles. We therefore reverse the judgments accordingly.


This case concerns the validity of a condition imposed on a permit for coastal development issued by the Central Coastal Regional Commission (Regional Commission) of the California Coastal Commission. The subject property--a beachfront residential lot in the Aptos area of Santa Cruz County--was purchased by respondent Greenlaw Grupe 1 in September of 1979. The lot covers approximately 15,250 square feet and is located just seaward of Beach Drive in Aptos. Respondent's lot is one of 29 lots seaward of Beach Drive, and, in 1980, was one of only six undeveloped lots in that area. The Beach Drive enclave is a private "locked gate" residential community. Beach Drive itself is a dead end street; to gain access to the beach front homes along the drive, it is necessary to pass through a privately maintained gate at the north end of the enclave. (A map of the Beach Drive Area is set forth in the Appendix to this opinion.)

The Beach Drive enclave is between two beaches open to public use--Seacliff State Beach to the north and Seascape Beach to the south. (See, Aptos Seascape Corp. v. County of Santa Cruz (1982) 138 Cal.App.3d 484, 500, at fn. 7, 188 Cal.Rptr. 191.) The beach above the mean high tide line in front of the Beach Drive enclave, however, is privately owned, and signs proclaiming "Private Beach" are posted along the boundaries between the public and private beaches to discourage trespassing.

In December of 1979 Grupe applied to the Regional Coastal Commission for a permit to build a large single family home on his lot. The home was to be built behind a cement seawall on the landward third of the lot and involved total coverage of 5,500 square feet.

The Coastal Commission staff recommended approval of the permit, subject to a number of conditions. One of the recommended conditions, condition 3.d, provided as follows:

"The Executive Director shall certify in writing that the following condition has been satisfied. The applicant shall execute and record a document, in a form and content approved in writing by the Executive Director of the Commission irrevocably offering to dedicate to a public agency or a private association approved by the Executive Director, an easement for public access and passive recreational use along the shoreline. Such easement shall be from the cement retaining wall seaward to the mean high tide line. Such easement shall be recorded free of prior liens except for tax [liens] and free of prior encumbrances which the Executive Director determines may affect the interest being conveyed. This area shall be mapped and attached as an exhibit to the recorded document. [p] The offer shall run with the land in favor of the People of the State of California, binding successors and assigns of the applicant or landowner. The offer of dedication shall be irrevocable for a period of 21 years, such period running from the date of recording." (Italics added.)

The Coastal Commission's Public Access Interpretative Guidelines define "passive recreational uses" as used in the condition as all activities normally associated with beach use except for organized sports activities, campfires, or vehicular access for other than emergency or maintenance purposes. The area covered by the easement--from the cement retaining wall to the mean high tideline--was found by the trial court to encompass approximately 8,000 to 10,000 square feet, or approximately two-thirds of the total area of respondent's lot.

At the hearing before the Regional Commission respondent was represented by his architect, who objected to condition 3.d. In addition, representatives of the local homeowners association and improvement association spoke at the hearing and also objected to the condition. After these objections were expressed there followed a lengthy debate among the commissioners and staff concerning the propriety of the condition. A motion was made to delete the condition, but was rejected. The Regional Commission then approved the development permit, subject to condition 3.d.

Subsequently, respondent appealed the Regional Commission's decision to the State Coastal Commission which found that the appeal did not raise a substantial issue and therefore let the Regional Commission's decision stand.

Respondent then filed the present action in the Santa Cruz Superior Court alleging two causes of action. The first cause of action was for administrative mandamus pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1094.5 and sought invalidation of condition 3.d on a variety of grounds. The second cause of action presented a claim for damages for violation of federal constitutional rights under section 1983, Title 42, of the United States Code on the ground, inter alia, that the condition amounted to an unconstitutional taking of respondent's property without compensation in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

The second cause of action for alleged violation of respondent's constitutional rights has generated protracted trial court and appellate writ proceedings which have complicated the procedural history of this case. Appellants contend--and have contended throughout the proceedings below--that the State Coastal Commission, its regional agencies, and the State of California cannot be sued for damages under section 1983 since they are not "persons" within the meaning of that section. 2 After appellants' demurrer and motion for judgment on the pleadings as to the second cause of action were denied, appellants sought an extraordinary writ in the Court of Appeal dismissing the federal civil rights claim. This court stayed trial of the federal civil rights claim and later issued an alternative writ. However, after oral argument, the court declined to rule on the merits and dismissed the writ on the ground that the alternative writ had been improvidently granted.

The appellate proceedings in this case effectively severed the federal civil rights claim from the administrative mandamus claim. Because the administrative mandamus claim was not stayed, that cause of action was tried in October of 1980 before Santa Cruz Superior Court Judge Donald O. May. The claim was tried solely on the basis of the administrative record; no additional evidence was produced at trial. After arguments were presented, Judge May found in favor of respondent, holding that imposition of condition 3.d amounted to an abuse of discretion. (Code Civ.Proc., § 1094.5, subd. (b).) Although Judge May's opinion detailing his decision is somewhat ambiguous, it appears he concluded that: (1) the Regional Commission did not proceed in the manner required by law ( § 1094.5, subd. (b)) because condition 3.d "could not reasonably carry out the purposes for which the Coastal Commission was created," and (2) the decision to impose condition 3.d was not supported by the findings since the Commission did not find that similar conditions would be applied with respect to the remaining parcels along the beach. 3

Following Judge May's decision, 4 the parties entered into an agreement whereby the Regional Commission allowed respondent to construct his home on the parcel, and respondent agreed to execute the offer of dedication as required by condition 3.d and to hold the offer in escrow pending the final outcome of this litigation. Construction began in June of 1981, and the home was completed in December of 1981.

The federal civil rights claim was finally tried in July of 1982 before Judge Roland K. Hall. This trial was not limited to the administrative record and extensive evidence was presented by both sides. At the trial, appellants attempted to prove that the private beach in front of the Beach Drive enclave had been impliedly dedicated because of longstanding public use (see Gion v. City of Santa Cruz (1970) 2 Cal.3d 29, 84 Cal.Rptr. 162, 465 P.2d 50), and that condition 3.d therefore did not effect a property interest vested in respondent, since respondent's rights to the beach had already been impliedly dedicated to the public. Respondent, of course, resisted this contention and claimed that (1) condition 3.d amounted to an unconstitutional taking of his property without just compensation; and (2) the condition denied him substantive due process.

After a two day trial, Judge Hall found in favor of respondent and awarded him $150,000 in damages unless condition 3.d was stricken by the Coastal Commission within 90 days. Specifically, Judge Hall found that: (1) Both the State of California and the California Coastal Commission are "persons" within the meaning of section 1983 and both are amenable to a suit for damages under that statute; (2) condition 3.d amounted to a taking of private property for a public purpose without just compensation in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth...

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