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Beach Ruling Should Help Settle 3 County Cases, Coast Panel Chief Says

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Times Staff Writer

A U.S. Supreme Court action allowing public access to a private Ventura County beach should prompt settlements in three similar Orange County cases, the executive director of the state Coastal Commission said.

The high court on Monday let stand a state appellate court verdict upholding the commission’s order that the Whaler’s Village Club open its private beach to the public or tear down its protective seawall.

“As far as I’m concerned, the law on the question of public access as a condition is settled in California,” commission director Peter M. Douglas said in San Francisco. “I would hope this would lead to settlements in these cases rather than further expenditures on litigation that is going to be decided in the public’s favor.”

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But a lawyer for the locked-gate community of Surfside Colony in Seal Beach said the high court’s refusal to hear the case is “really no sign, rather than a good sign or a bad sign.”

“It would appear to us (that) the U.S. Supreme Court has not made a statement as to the merits of the Whaler’s Village case,” said Arthur Cook, attorney for Surfside Colony Ltd., an exclusive beachfront community of 250 homes at the south end of Seal Beach.

As in the Whaler’s Village case, the commission has demanded public access as a condition for permitting seawalls at Surfside, at Blue Lagoon, a private condominium complex in South Laguna, and at a gated community of 198 homes known as Beach Road in Capistrano Beach.

Lawsuits and countersuits are pending in all three cases, which involve the construction of barriers to protect shoreline homes from high surf.

Douglas said the commission has attached conditions before allowing seawalls because the seawalls result in erosion of sand from nearby beaches.

“Frankly, seawalls have a more dramatic impact on beaches than other structures,” Douglas said. “These devices have a scouring effect, so you tend to lose more beaches that are used by the public.”

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Deputy Atty. Gen. Steven H. Kaufmann, who represents the state in the Surfside and Blue Lagoon cases, said he believes the high court action “will strengthen the commission’s argument that it has the constitutional and statutory powers to impose public access requirements.”

The commission and the Blue Lagoon Homeowners Assn. already have a tentative settlement that involves an offer to dedicate a 250-foot strip of beach for public use, said Jack Murphy, president of the homeowners’ group. If no public or private agency accepted the offer within 21 years, he said, the beach would stay private.

Commission director Douglas said such offers--characterized by Murphy and others as “postage stamp beaches” lacking easy access--do not mean much until and unless they are linked with other strips of beach and opened for public use.

“So what we are doing, in essence, is banking opportunities for future public access,” Douglas said.

There have been no negotiations in the Surfside case. A decision on pretrial motions is pending in Orange County Superior Court, Cook said.

Litigation in the Capistrano Beach case is awaiting approval of the county’s local coastal program for the area, which the commission is expected to consider within a few months, said Deputy Atty. Gen. John Saurenman.

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