Pacific Legal Foundation v. California Coastal Com.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Citation33 Cal.3d 158,655 P.2d 306,188 Cal.Rptr. 104
Decision Date20 December 1982
Parties, 655 P.2d 306, 18 ERC 1856 PACIFIC LEGAL FOUNDATION et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION et al., Defendants and Respondents. E. William JACKSON et al., Plaintiffs and Respondents, v. CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION, Defendant and Appellant. L.A. 31564.

Ronald A. Zumbrun, Thomas E. Hookano, Elleene A. Kirkland, Sacramento, Howard E. Susman, San Diego, Harold J. Hughes, Sacramento, and Darlene E. Ruiz, Los Angeles, for plaintiffs and appellants and for plaintiffs and respondents.

Sanford Jay Rosen, Rosen & Remcho, Catherine P. Rosen, Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe, Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro, Noble K. Gregory, Robert M. Westberg, Kevin M. Fong, San Francisco, O'Neill & Huxtable, Hill, Farrer & Burrill, John N. McLaurin, Los Angeles, Herman H. Fitzgerald, Burlingame, Gary R. Rinehart, Oakland, Oliver, Stoever & Laskin, Los Angeles, Redwine & Sherrill, Justin M. McCarthy, Riverside, Ogle, Gallo & Merzon, Morro Bay, Thorpe, Sullivan, Workman & Thorpe, Roger Sullivan, Los Angeles, Desmond, Miller, Desmond & Bartholomew, Richard F. Desmond, Sacramento, Asaro & Keagy, Roscoe D. Keagy, San Diego, Dankert & Kuetzing, Thomas M. Dankert, Ventura, Richard L. Johnson and Renee C. Benjamin, Oakland, as amici curiae on behalf of plaintiffs and appellants and on behalf of plaintiffs and respondents.

George Deukmejian, Atty. Gen., N. Gregory Taylor, Asst. Atty. Gen., Peter H. Kaufman

and Richard D. Sinclair, Deputy Attys. Gen., for defendant and appellant and for defendants and respondents.

Mark I. Weinberger, San Francisco, Alletta D'A. Belin, Los Angeles, E. Clement Shute, Jr., Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, San Francisco, Michael B. Wilmar, Alan Pendleton, Frank Broadhead, San Francisco, and Jonathan Smith, Hillsborough, as amici curiae on behalf of defendant and appellant and on behalf of defendants and respondents.

MOSK, Justice.

In recent decades, the People of California have become painfully aware of the deterioration in the quality and availability of recreational opportunities along the California coastline due to the combined factors of an increasing demand for its use and the simultaneous decreasing supply of accessible land in the coastal zone. Growing public consciousness of the finite quantity and fragile nature of the coastal environment led to the 1972 passage of Proposition 20, an initiative measure entitled the California Coastal Zone Conservation Act (the 1972 Coastal Act). (Former Pub. Resources Code, §§ 27000-27650.)

The 1972 Coastal Act created the California Coastal Zone Conservation Commission and directed it to oversee the orderly process of planning for the future development of the California coastline. The 1972 Coastal Act paralleled earlier legislation establishing state-supervised regional planning agencies for the protection of San Francisco Bay (Gov.Code, § 66600 et seq.) and Lake Tahoe (Gov.Code, § 67000 et seq.).

One of the stated purposes of the 1972 Coastal Act was to increase public access to the coast. 1 The 1972 Coastal Act was an interim measure, destined by its own terms to expire at the beginning of 1977. It authorized the interim Coastal Commission to prepare a study summarizing the progress of planning in the coastal zone and delineating goals and recommendations for the future of California's shoreline for the guidance of the Legislature. The study, labeled the California Coastal Plan, was completed in December 1975 and submitted to the Legislature, which used it as a guide when drafting the California Coastal Act of 1976 (the Coastal Act). (Pub.Resources Code, § 30000 et seq.) The Coastal Act created the California Coastal Commission (the Commission) to succeed the California Coastal Zone Conservation Commission. One of the objectives of the 1976 version of the Coastal Act was to preserve existing public rights of access to the shoreline and to expand public access for the future. The Coastal Commission was directed to prepare a set of guidelines explaining its interpretation of the public access provisions of the Coastal Act. (Pub.Resources Code, § 30620, subd. (a)(3).) 2

Since the passage of the 1972 Coastal Act, both Coastal Commissions have adhered to a policy of requiring potential developers to dedicate easements through their property as a precondition to obtaining permit approval for proposed developments. Predictably, property owners have opposed the imposition of such conditions, occasionally resorting to litigation to express their dissatisfaction with the Commission's access policies. The present proceeding derives from two suits filed against the current Commission: one is an action filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation and a group of coastal property owners seeking a declaratory judgment, an injunction, and a writ of mandamus to correct the asserted facial invalidity of the Commission's public access guidelines; the other is an action for administrative mandamus filed by two property owners (Jackson and Hunter) seeking to compel the Commission to strike a specific permit condition.

Pacific Legal Foundation's suit did not challenge any individual permit condition; rather, it attacked the general access policies of the Commission. When the guidelines were adopted, the Pacific Legal Foundation amended its complaint to challenge the policies embodied therein. The apparent goal of the suit was to severely restrict the use of dedication conditions as a mechanism for fulfilling the Commission's obligation to maximize public access to the coast. The court denied the relief requested, and entered summary judgment for the Commission.

The action filed by Jackson and Hunter, in contrast, arose out of a disagreement with the Commission over the proper application of the Coastal Act's access provisions to a particular permit application. The two named plaintiffs were co-owners of a parcel of land abutting on the Pacific Ocean, in the Mussel Shoals area of Ventura County. The western boundary of the property is the line of mean high tide. From that line, for a distance of approximately 100 to 140 feet in an easterly direction, the parcel consists of a sandy beach. At the edge of the beach there is a subsurface revetment or seawall, adjacent to a single-family residence.

During unusually severe winter storms in early 1978, high waves threatened to damage the residence. To protect their property, the owners improved the existing seawall by adding armour rock below the sandy surface. Subsequently, the Commission notified them that a permit was required for the repairs that had been made. The owners ultimately applied for a permit, which was granted on condition that they dedicate a lateral easement for public access across the entire sandy beach from the line of mean high tide to the toe of the seawall.

The property owners challenged the permit condition by petitioning for a writ of administrative mandamus in the superior court. (See Pub.Resources Code, § 30801; Code Civ.Proc., § 1094.5.) The court granted the writ, finding that the improved seawall was necessary to protect the residence from the ocean. It also found that the area where the improvements were made was stable because the beach was accreting, i.e., accumulating sand as it advanced seaward. The seawall had no adverse impact on the supply of sand to the beach, and it did not interfere in any way with the natural processes in the shorezone. Finally, the court found the evidence insufficient to support the Commission's finding that the seawall improvement adversely affected public access to or across the beach. Legal support for the court's grant of mandamus is found in Public Resources Code section 30235, which specifically allows the construction of seawalls to protect existing structures, and in Public Resources Code section 30212, subdivision (b), which provides exemptions from the access requirements of the Coastal Act for repairs and improvements that do not adversely impact on public access.

The Commission appealed from the ruling, but then moved for a dismissal with prejudice after the completion of briefing (see Cal.Rules of Court, rule 19(b)) and admitted in a letter to the Court of Appeal that "the evidence in that record was not, upon further reflection, sufficient to support the imposition of such [an access] condition given [the Commission's] present interpretation of the public access requirements of the Coastal Act."

Attorneys for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which was representing Jackson and Hunter as their appellate counsel, stated in a letter to the Court of Appeal that they would not oppose the dismissal; however, they explained that they intended to file a post-dismissal motion for attorney fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5. The appeal was dismissed and the remittitur issued. The Court of Appeal later recalled the remittitur, consolidated the motion for attorney fees in Jackson with the pending appeal in Pacific Legal Foundation, and issued a single opinion disposing of the motion for fees and the merits of Pacific Legal Foundation. We then granted a hearing to examine the validity of the Commission's access guidelines.

I. Jackson v. California Coastal Commission

Before proceeding to the merits, it is necessary to discuss at the outset whether the motion for attorney fees was properly before the Court of Appeal. Pacific Legal Foundation first requested attorney fees under section 1021.5 on November 11, 1981, in its letter responding to the Commission's motion to dismiss the appeal. Dismissal was ordered on December 16, 1981, and the remittitur issued on December 24. On January 1, 1982, Pacific Legal Foundation submitted a formal motion for fees but was informed by the clerk that the remittitur had already issued. The following day, the remittitur was recalled and the motion was filed. Subsequently, the Jackson case was consolidated with...

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