Judge: Public should have access to Bay Island bridge

An Orange County judge ruled against the residents of a private island in Newport Bay in their fight to keep their footbridge from being opened to the public.

The Bay Island Club, an association of 24 homeowners, had sued the California Coastal Commission after the commission ordered the association to make the bridge to the island accessible to everyone. One of the commission's charges is to expand the public's access to the coast.

Superior Court Judge Tam Nomoto rejected most aspects of the residents' case late last year, and the ruling was announced in January.

Only reachable by foot or golf cart, Bay Island is considered an idyllic and exclusive hamlet of luxurious homes. Its bridge meets a public boardwalk about halfway down the Balboa Peninsula, but a gate blocks access to the 130-foot bridge.

Bay Island applied for coastal development permits to replace the span in 2009 and to seismically retrofit other portions of the island.

The commission seized the opportunity to open access to the bridge, which spans a city-owned, man-made canal.

As a condition for the permits, commissioners required island residents to make it public, but allowed them to keep a gate on the island end.

The residents sued in 2009, saying that the commission overstepped its jurisdiction and that its easement over the canal allows restrictions on who can use the bridge.

In denying the residents' request to overturn the commission order, Nomoto said, "The findings support the decision to require public access to the bridge."

But the judge ruled that the two parties should take the case to trial to determine whether the state took private property without justly compensating residents.

The Coastal Commission contends that there was no private property to be taken in the first place.

"There's nothing about the easement that the club holds that gives them the right to exclude the public from that bridge," said Christopher Pederson, deputy chief counsel for the commission.

A trial has been set for May, and a settlement conference before that. The Bay Island Club can decide whether to appeal once the trial is over, Pederson said.

The attorney representing the island residents did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

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