San Diego

California Supreme Court Rules in Encinitas Seawall Case

The California Coastal Commission has a 20-year time limit on how long any homeowner can have a seawall.

The California Supreme Court says property owners can't file lawsuits challenging restrictions in building permits once they construct the project.

The court's unanimous ruling on Thursday came in a dispute between coastal homeowners in San Diego County over the construction of a seawall.

But legal experts say it has implications for landowners throughout the state.

NBC 7 spoke with one of the plaintiffs, Encinitas homeowner Barbara Lynch, in December 2010. 

Lynch went to the California Coastal Commission for permission to fix the bluff that runs along the back of her home at Grandview and Neptune Streets.


At the time, Lynch said she had been trying for a decade to get approval from the Coastal Commission to build something to better restrain the bluff from collapsing.

She and neighbor Tom Frick applied to the City of Encinitas for a permit to replace a seawall that eroded over time. The permit was approved and construction took two years. 

In December 2014, Frick showed NBC 7 the seawall constructed to protect his property.

The California Coastal Commission has a 20-year time limit on how long any homeowner can have a seawall. They argue the walls prevent natural erosion needed to keep beaches healthy.

In a ruling released Thursday, justices ruled that Lynch and Frick effectively waived their right to challenge the conditions of their seawall permit.

“The crucial point is that they went forward with construction before obtaining a judicial determination on their objections. By accepting the benefits of the permit and building the seawall, plaintiffs effectively forfeited the right to maintain their otherwise timely objections,” the ruling stated.

The court said allowing such challenges could leave agencies with no way to address a project's impacts. The ruling was a victory for the California Coastal Commission and cities throughout California.

John Groen, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the ruling was particularly bad for small property owners.


Copyright AP - Associated Press
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