California Supreme Court to hear dispute over Encinitas seawall

California Supreme Court to hear dispute over Encinitas seawall
The California Supreme Court will review a court case pitting Encinitas homeowners against the Coastal Commission over a seawall. (Tom Frick)

The California Supreme Court has decided to hear a case involving a seawall dispute between homeowners in Encinitas and the California Coastal Commission.

The decision could set a precedent on how much authority the commission can wield, according to attorneys from the Pacific Legal Foundation, representing two families that own blufftop property.


A storm in 2010 destroyed an existing seawall in the northern San Diego County community. To get permission from the Coastal Commission to build a new wall, the homeowners had to agree to a 20-year sunset clause.

The homeowners would need to reapply in 20 years to renew their permit and, if rejected, tear down the wall. They signed the agreement, built a replacement wall and challenged the clause in court.

A San Diego County Superior Court judge in 2013 agreed that the 20-year limit was an illegal "power grab" by the Coastal Commission. But in September, the 4th District Court of Appeals overturned that decision.

After the storm, the property owners -- the Lynch and Frick families -- were presented with a dilemma: watch their property destroyed by high waves or sign away their property rights to get permission to rebuild the wall, said attorney Paul J. Beard II.

"We don't think property owners should have to make that choice," Beard said.

The Coastal Commission, he said, "has been on a crusade to do away with protective devices" such as seawalls. The seawall is 100 feet long and 29-feet high.

The appeals court decision has been published and has set a precedent giving the Coastal Commission authority to impose the 20-year limit, Beard said. A decision by the California Supreme Court would reverse that, he said.

The state attorney general's office, representing the Coastal Commission, had asked the Supreme Court to decline to review the appelate court decision.

A request by Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris and several subordinates noted that the appeals court found that the Coastal Commission has “broad discretion to impose conditions” on seawall applications.

Also, the 20-year limit will allow the commission to review whether the Encinitas seawall has led to "accelerated erosion" on adjacent properties, Harris said.

Without comment, the Supreme Court this week, in effect, rejected Harris's request and agreed to review the appelate decision. No date was set for oral arguments.